Analyzing The Blue and White
It still may be a little bit early to view the full rosters of certain NHL teams, but when looking at the situations that certain teams are in, whether it be financially stricken due to the cap, or in binds with certain contracts and arbitration, one can suspect the upcoming rosters of some teams in the upcoming season. Being a Leaf fan, it seems only necessary that I analyze and then come up with some type of realistic expectation for the Leafs to accomplish. When looking at the upcoming 06-07 Leafs roster at this point and time, it may be safe to say that this is the team that will hit the ice, come opening night of the NHL season. Having a salary cap of 44 million dollars, and being roughly around the 42.8 million dollar mark, we as Leaf fans must realize that there will be no more acquisitions, and the money left over will simply be for wiggle room. (Possible trade deadline deal, injury pick up, etc…)
So in order to analyze the whole Leafs roster it is probably best to start at the back end. Yes of course, the Leafs went out and picked up Andrew Raycroft. And yes of course, Raycroft showed flashes of brilliance and showcasing talent, but with that brilliance and talent came inconsistency and inability to play under pressure situations. Something that Mr. Raycroft will need to work on, being the goaltender here in Toronto. Behind him will be J.S. Aubin, and as the third stringer, Mikael Tellqvist. In my opinion, Tellqvist needs to be traded. He’s to good to be on the Marlies, but not good enough to have a starting position, or even the backup. Let him go…. grab a pick…. free up half a million… and thats that.
When looking at the defence, yes of course, it may have been the only shimmer of hope that we had last year, in that dismal performance we called our NHL season. Everytime an injured Leaf defenceman fell down, one new young one rose to the occasion and played very well. With saying that, in the past years our defence was always suspect, entering the season, at this point, we have addressed the situations with our d-core. Even though Pavel Kubina is overpaid, and Hal Gill is exactly the same as Aki Berg only with some balls, our defence finally looks like it can handle the firepower that teams like Buffalo and Ottawa can bring. Lets not forget one thing however, your defence is only as good as your goalie, and your goalie is only as good as your defence.
The only knock on the Maple Leafs off season may be the fact that they had the finances to go out and attain a proven scoring winger for Mats Sundin to finally play with, but decided to spend the money on defence and goaltending. Maybe John Ferguson Jr. thinks that the Leafs forwards are good enough to compete with the rest of the NHL’s. I personally think we are still lacking on the wings. I mean, after Tucker, Steen, O’Neill and Ponikarovsky, our wingers aren’t exactly consistent threats. Yes Stajan can play, and yes Kilger looked good with Sundin, but its players like Erik Westrum, Jeremy Williams, Ben Ondrus and Bates Battaglia who will be getting some extra ice time with the lack of forwards that the Leafs posess. Down the middle of the ice, we look very promising. It is well known that three of the four forwards will be Sundin, Peca and Wellwood, but for the fourth one, it is a toss up between Antropov, Stajan, or even John Pohl.
The most intriguing part of the Leafs new team however is an individual who will not even be taking the ice during the game. Yes of course, Paul Maurice as the new head coach will be the most exciting acquisition of the new roster. His ability to handle the pressure, his new motto and philosophy of the game, and most importantly the way in which he handles the highs and lows of the season will keep all Leaf fans in constant attentiveness.
Before I make my prediction on what the Leafs will do come Mid April, of 2007, I will make an assumption of the opening night lineup for the buds.
Steen Sundin Ponikarovsky
O’Neill Peca Tucker
Stajan Wellwood Battaglia
Kilger Antropov Ondrus
Prediction – I personally think that the Leafs will actually make the playoffs, somewhere around the range of 96 points, and good enough for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.