Comparing the 2023-24 Columbus Blue Jackets to the 2015-16 Toronto Maple Leafs

By Coby Maeir on June 4, 2023 at 10:00 am
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock talks to the media after a win over the Detroit Red Wings at Scotiabank Arena.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Maple Leafs hired Mike Babcock ahead of the 2015-16 season, they had missed the playoffs in the previous two seasons and eight times in the previous decade. 

Babcock is set to become the Blue Jackets' next head coach after three-straight seasons outside of the playoffs. 

How do those two teams compare?

The 2015-16 Maple Leafs were not outwardly tanking, but they knew that Auston Matthews was waiting for a team to select him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The roster wasn't exactly star-studded, as 25-year-old Nazem Kadri's 45 points led the team in scoring. However, that team had future Maple Leafs stars Morgan Rielly, who was the team's fourth-leading scorer with 36 points, and William Nylander, who scored 13 points in 22 games in his first NHL season. While the club had already selected Mitch Marner with the No. 4 pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, he spent the season with the OHL's London Knights, helping them capture the Memorial Cup. 

While that team was not built to win, it was also hampered by injuries. Tyler Bozak missed 25 games, James van Riemsdyk missed 42, and Leo Komarov missed 15. At the end of the season, the Maple Leafs finished with a league-worst 69 points, won the Matthews sweepstakes, and the rest is history. 

It's not a stretch to say that the 2023-24 Blue Jackets, even as currently constructed, are far better than the 2015-16 Leafs. This is a team with Johnny Gaudreau, Zach Werenski, and Patrik Laine, three players who have established themselves as high-level NHL players, with the former two playing at an elite level for long periods. Those players are surrounded by a bevy of young and talented players like Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko, Adam Boqvist, Cole Sillinger, and possibly David Jiricek. Their leader is captain Boone Jenner, who is coming off a season where he scored 26 goals in 68 games. 

Because this Blue Jackets team is better positioned to win right away than the 2015-16 Maple Leafs, Babcock is going to be under pressure to get this team back in the playoffs immediately. 

While both teams were in the midst of a rebuild, the Blue Jackets are much-farther along, at least in the mind of general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, than the Maple Leafs were at the time. However, the Leafs made the playoffs in 2016-17 with the help of major contributions from rookies Matthews and Marner.

It's obvious who the Blue Jackets will expect to be key contributors in 2023-24, but will there be any players that they acquire that make an impact or will players already on the roster step up their game?

We don't know what the Blue Jackets roster will look like on opening night, but we do know it is going to be one that Kekalainen believes can return to the playoffs with Babcock behind the bench.