I am going to come out with complete 2009-10 season predictions for the eastern and western conferences later today or tomorrow but for now let me focus on my favourite team, the Maple Leafs.
Coming out of training camp there is a lot to be optimistic about the Leafs future. Nazem Kadri showed very well in his first NHL training camp and gave every indication that he has a bright future in the NHL. Youngsters Hanson, Bozak and especially Stalberg all played quite well and all showed that they have a future of some kind at the NHL level, especially Stalberg and Bozak who should make an impact this season. Furthermore, come some time in early November the Leafs should be inserting a 36 goal scorer into their lineup when newly acquired Phil Kessel returns from his shoulder injury. At that point there will be more speed and skill on this Leafs roster than we have seen since before the lockout. On defense the additions of Komisarek, Beauchemin and Exelby add additional toughness and a more balanced grouping and Ron Wilson informed us all that Tomas Kaberle is no longer fat so we can be optimistic that he can return to his 60+ point form.
But what Leaf fans need to be most optimistic about is goaltending. Ok, I realize that some of you may still be skeptics considering that Toskala gave up 7 goals on Sunday and looked bad and his backup is a raw rookie with just 3 periods of exhibition play, albeit good play. But what Leaf fans really need to be optimistic about is that last season the goaltending was truly dreadful and it is almost impossible for this seasons goaltending to be worse. As bad as Toskala was last season, and he was quite bad, the trio of backup goaltenders (Joseph, Pogge, Gerber) that were used were significantly worse. Last season Toskala had a record of 22-17-11 while the backup goalies had a record of 12-18-2. Even if Leaf fans assume no improvements in the forwards and defense and that Toskala is just as bad in 2009-10 as he was in 2008-09, if the backups, be it Gustavsson or MacDonald, can even be just as good as Toskala they would have posted a 17-14-1 record. Yes, if the backup goalies last season posted a similar record to Toskala, who was still a bad goalie, the leafs would have had 9 extra points. That would have given them a total of 90 points, just 3 points behind 8th place Montreal.
So, even if Toskala remains the same and the backup goaltending improves from horrific last season to a Toskala-like bad this season, the Leafs should be in playoff contention. If you believe that a now healthy Toskala can even be a little bit better or that Gustavsson is the real deal or if you believe that the there are improvements on defense or up front, you have to be optimistic that the Leafs have a very good shot at obtaining a playoff spot. If the Leafs goaltending can be anywhere close to middle of the pack they are probably a lock for a playoff spot. Even if they only take their save percentage from .885 to .900, which would put them on par with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders of last year, the Leafs should make the playoffs.
In short, Leaf fans should be optimistic because the goaltending was so horrific last season that improving goaltending enough to make the playoffs is not really a difficult task and certainly one that the trio of Toskala/Gustavsson/MacDonald should be able to accomplish.