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Monday, August 29, 2011

Northeast Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

by Louis Moustakas

With the offseason quietly winding down and summer transactions mostly behind us, it seems like the perfect time to contemplate the moves made by Montreal and its various division rivals. Over five parts, we will take a look at each team and venture a guess at where they will finish in 2011-12. Today, we will analyze one of Montreal’s oldest rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Last season: 37-34-11, 85 points (fourth place Northeast, 10th place East)

Additions: Tim Connolly, C; Philippe Dupuis, C; Cody Franson, D; John-Michael Liles, D; Matthew Lombardi, C;

Subtractions: Tim Brent, C; Alex Foster, F; Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G; Christian Hanson, D; Brett Ledbda, D; Fredrik Sjostrom, W; Danny Richmond, D; Robert Slaney, LW;

A challenging first quarter last year made Toronto’s climb into the post-season a difficult one, but the team showed promise as the campaign wore on. While the Leafs were a pedestrian 8-9-3 after 20 contests, they posted an excellent 8-2-4 record in February. James Reimer was superb in net, going 20-10-5 with a .921 save percentage. Meanwhile, to the displeasure of many Habs fans, former Canadien Miklhail Grabovski continued on his upward trajectory, posting career bests with 29 goals and 29 assists, and Clarke MacArthur was a pleasant surprise last season, contributing 62 points. Nonetheless, those efforts would be for naught as the Leafs missed the spring dance for the sixth straight year.

As expected, Brian Burke was busy in the off-season, adding punch to his attack by acquiring centers Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi. Both should prove to be a tremendous help on a team short of skill up the middle. If they remain healthy, their additions could go a long way to making this team worthy of a playoff spot. In reality, though, it almost feels like the Maple Leafs added two players to fill one position, as they would be fortunate to get a combined 82 games out of the oft injured pivots.

And, regardless of that question mark at center, there are many other interrogations concerning the Leafs attack. Can MacArthur and Grabovksi build on their career numbers? Will Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak grow into solid, offensive contributors? What kind of performance will Joffrey Lupul, now on his fourth NHL team, offer?


As for the blueline, adding Cody Franson and Jonh-Michael Liles brings an element of scoring to the backend, but it is uncertain if they truly improved defensively over the past year. Subtracting Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle and Brett Ledba leaves more than a few holes to fill on the back. Improved performances from Mike Komisarek, whose stock has declined precipitously since his departure from Montreal, and Dion Phaneuf would go a long way to filling those gaps. Somehow though, Ron Wilson will have to improve upon his squad’s 19th worst shots against average and 28th ranked penalty kill. James Reimer could certainly help cover up for his teammates if he can continue his outstanding play from late last season, but that may be demanding too much from a 23-year old sophomore.

In the end, the Maple Leafs face far too many questions. Each team enters a new season with its share of uncertainty, but the uncertainty for Toronto permeates each and every position. Will the centers stay healthy? Will the wingers produce? Can the defense improve? Can Reimer continue his solid play? If the answers to the above are favorable, than the Leafs chances of qualifying for the post-season will be significantly buoyed.

If.

Prediction: 4th in the North East.

What do you think? Where will the Leafs finish next season? Can they qualify for the post-season?



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Louis is an editor at HabsWorld.net and has been writing about Canadiens and NHL hockey since 2009. Louis was born in Chicago but grew up in Quebec City where he earned Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Université Laval. He currently lives in Ottawa and works for the Coaching Association of Canada. He can be reached at l.moustakas@habsworld.net.

2 comments:

You lost all credibility to me the moment you mentioned that Hanson's departure leaves a hole on their backend. He's a forward and was buried in the minors all year. Do some research and editing before finishing an article.

Re: Anonymous

I appreciate having this mistake pointed out. However, I fail to see how it undermines my credibility as a whole. Even the most seasoned writers and publications feature the occasional brain cramp, and my point about the Leafs losing some of their defensive depth still holds true.

Thank you for reading.

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