Sep 242010
 

While I am not yet ready to make formal predictions on the upcoming season (that’ll come in a couple weeks) I believe that the Leafs have the potential to be a dramatically improved team and could/should contend for a playoff spot.  Last year was a disaster year for the Leafs and nothing went right for the team, at least until late in the season when the team seemed to come together a bit.  Here are the three keys to watch for during the Leafs upcoming season.

Giguere/Gustavsson – The Leafs have suffered through several seasons of inconsistent and troubled goaltending, and that is being generous.  For much of the past 4 seasons it has been downright awful.  Giguere is probably past his prime and no longer an elite goalie but he is a dependable presence in goal which they haven’t had.  Even with just dependable goaltending the team should be much improved.  In Gustavsson there is more upside potential than in Giguere and combined they should provide the Leafs with the best goaltending they have had since before the lockout.

Tyler Bozak – The Leafs have an abundance of decent wingers (Versteeg, Kulemin, Armstrong, etc.) and one very good one in Kessel but their center ice position is a bit uncertain.  Bozak is the key here.  He finished strong last season and ended up with 8g, 19a, 27 points in 37 games which is pretty solid performance for a rookie.  Had he scored at that pace for the full season he would have ended up with almost 60 points to lead all rookies.  If the Leafs are to become a middle of the pack offensive team the Leafs Bozak needs to repeat that performance, if not improve on it, for a full season.  I think he has the potential to score 20 goals and 70 points which would give the Leafs an unspectacular, but more than decent first line (with Kessel and Kulemin).  Bozak also represents the down low playmaking presence on the PP that the Leafs desperately lacked for much of last season.

Phaneuf/Versteeg/Armstrong – For much of the past 5 seasons the Leafs have lacked any true identity or personality.  They had a bunch of decent players but none of whom really could light a spark for their teammates.  Phaneuf, Versteeg and Armstrong should all play with more passion and intensity than the guys they replaced and should give this team with an identity.  It isn’t just about the truculence and toughness that GM Brian Burke desires, but the energy and passion that they bring that can be contagious.  A healthy Komisarek will help as well as might Caputi or Kadri should they make the team, either right from camp or as a mid-season callup.  These guys are like the Tucker’s, McCabe’s, Robert’s and Domi’s of the past.  Energy players that define what it is to be a Maple Leaf and have a contagious passion for the game.

If Giguere/Gustavsson can provide dependable to good goaltending and Bozak can be a 65-70 point player and the contagious energy of Phaneuf, Versteeg and Armstrong spread throughout the team, there is no reason to believe that the Leafs cannot be in the hunt for a playoff spot.  Getting off to a good start to the season to build some confidence would be helpful but there are a number of reasons to be optimistic about the Leafs upcoming season.

  2 Responses to “Three keys to Maple Leafs Season”

  1.  

    I like your reasoning, but I am not so optimistic. Call it a case of ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ – or 5 times bitten. I am most worried about the goaltenders. I haven’t seen anything to make me believe this area is improved over the days of Raycroft or Toskala. Maybe I am exaggerating a bit.

    NHL.com has stats on 47 goalie leaders.
    Last year Gustavsson ranked 38th out of 47 in GAA. (Tosk had the honor of being 47th).

    To counter the argument that a goalie on a bad defensive teams sees more shots and thus has a higher GAA, I think a better measure of a goaltender’s effectiveness is by seeing how many goals they allow on average in every 1000 shots. (Goals Against / Shots Against) * 1000. This stat, I believe, levels the playing field a bit.

    Here Gustavsson with 98 goals on every 1000 shots ranks 37th out of 47. That’s not good. (Tosk is still last allowing 120 goals).
    Tuukka Rask ranks first allowing only 69 goals.

    Trading Tuukka for Raycroft was the BIGGEST MISTAKE JFJ did in his tenure.

    Back to the point. I am concerned that Gustavsson is not the monster he’s made out to be and will not be the savior for the team. With bad goal tending any energy produced by Phaneuf,Versteeg or Armstrong will be sapped right away. And what Bozak does will be of little relevance.

    Sorry. But I hope I am wrong about Gustavsson.

  2.  

    The goaltending is the key. I have been a little disappointed in Gustavsson so far this pre-season. He’s been a little shaky at times. But, I can’t imagine him being worse than Toskala and he has the potential to be significantly better. I have more confidence in Giguere too. He is a veteran with a track record who I think the players will be comfortable and confident playing in front of and want to play well for and I am not sure that was the case for Toskala. The Leafs were 22-22-11 behind Gustavsson/Giguere last year (8-16-3 under Toskala/MacDonald). That is an 82 point pace so a little more improvement elsewhere and they have a chance to get to the 88-92 point range and a shot at the playoffs.

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