Can the Leafs make the playoffs?

Let’s cut to the chase.  The question every Maple Leafs fan (and hater) wants to know is, can this year’s version of the buds make the Stanley Cup playoffs?Given that the Leafs are entering a re-building phase, one’s first reaction is naturally to write them off entirely this season, and instead focus the debate on landing a much-needed top 5 draft pick next June.

But is it possible that the Leafs might surprise?

Well first off, my personal preference would be for the Leafs to flounder for just one more year in order to get a shot at a top blue-chip prospect.

And if I were Pete Rose, I’d probably put money down on the Leafs missing the playoffs again.

Having said that, I also think it’s not entirely outrageous to suggest that they have a decent shot at a playoff spot.

There are also some media personnel who are also coming up with the same assessment.

Take David Bastl of Sportsnet, for instance.  In his Friday blog, he states that maybe….just MAYBE, the Leafs might get into the post-season.

Here is how he sees the roster on opening day, barring any further trades.

Forward Lines:

Nik Antropov – Alexei Ponikarovosky – Jiri Tlusty
Matt Stajan – Mikhail Grabovski – Jason Blake
Alex Steen – Niklas Hagman – Nikolai Kulemin
Dominic Moore – Jamal Mayers – Mark Bell

Extra: Ryan Hollweg  (He forgot Boyd Devereaux)

Defensive pairings:

Tomas Kaberle – Pavel Kubina
Mike Van Ryn – Jeff Finger
Anton Stralman – Carlo Colaiacovo

Extras: Jonus Frogren, Ian White


Vesa Toskala – Curtis Joseph

Now, as Cliff Fletcher noted this week, the Leafs have only one bona fide top 6 forward: Nik Antropov.

However, as Bastl notes, there are 4 important wild cards in Toronto’s offense: Jiri Tlusty, Niklas Hagman, Nikolai Kulemin, and Mikhail Grabovski.

If they flourish offensively in the next 6 months, things could get interesting, particularly if they gel with other intriguing forwards such as Antropov, Alex Ponikarovosky, Jason Blake, Alex Steen, and Matt Stajan.

We know that the Leafs are going to by quick this year, thanks to Fletcher’s roster moves during the summer.

We also know that the Leafs are deep on defence and have one of the better goalies in the league with Vesa Toskala.

So you never know.

Does anybody remember the 1998-99 season?  Well, the Leafs were also in a rebuilding phase entering that season (67 points a year earlier).

Remember what happened?  Their young players like Berezin, Sullivan, Johnson, McCauley, Markov, Kaberle, etc, suddenly made huge leaps in their game or, in the case with the latter two, were surprisingly good as rookies.

By the way, Paul Hunter of The Star provides an excellent summary of 12 Leaf players to watch out for this year:  (Check out the link below for details)

Ian White – most experienced player who could lose his spot
Mark Bell – hasn’t played well since his Chicago days
Jeff Finger – Leafs are high on him
Curtis Joseph – upgrade in backup G position, but aging
Jonas Frogren – very tough in front of the net
Nikolai Kulemin – good scoring touch
Mikhail Grabovski – has the skills and speed to possibly blossom
Nik Antropov – counted on as the No. 1 centre
Luke Schenn – will have to be a top 4 D to make the team
Jason Blake – could bounce back with Ron Wilson
Mike Van Ryn – injuries have apparently healed
Justin Pogge – Leafs still convinced he’s their future stopper

Anyway, although the Leafs are still a long-shot to make the playoffs, they might surprise a few people and hang around the 8-10 spot all season.

The take home message is: with a young, quick team, it’s often difficult to predict how well they’ll perform.

As Yogi Berra (or somebody else?) once said, everything in sports is a definite maybe.

Cited sources

132 Responses to Can the Leafs make the playoffs?

  1. cam7777 says:

    Yea, you're right about Poni over the last 3 years.  I'm just saying, it's possible he's realized that Sundin isn't there to save his career anymore.  At least he looked like he was more ready as the season closed down last year…

    I should explain my reasoning to you for that Blake-Stajan combo vs. the more obvious Hagman-Stajan combo.  As you pointed out, Blake could be troublesome with his attitude when he is the only real proven veteran out there.  So why not stick him on the third line with Mayers and Stajan?  Blake will be forced to play a smarter game on the third line, Mayers will hopefully put him in his place from time to time, AND he'll be motivated to steal Hagman's spot from him on the top line.  Also, he (like Steen/Poni)started to develop chemistry with Stajan last season.

    I don't really have a problem with Blake, but he's not the first guy I would've spent money on when July 1st rolled around.  Especially not 4 million.  My hope is that he'll have a good season this year, and start out next season decently enough to moved at the deadline to a team who'd like his 4 million dollar cap hit vs. his 3 million dollar salary (ie. Atlanta, CLB, etc…).

    Feb. 25th, 2010-Blake, Kulemin and a 1st for Rick Nash???
    pure fantasy, but a guy can hope…
    (unless Kulemin turns out to be Malkin-2)

  2. mojo19 says:

    Sorry guys, not a big White fan. I'd like to see a guy like Kronwall come in and take his spot. Kronwall is a big guy and he can hit. White is not.

  3. mojo19 says:

    1 more top 5 overall pick in the draft next June and I say the Leafs are ready to go big in free agency next summer. The years of 5 year plans are over, its 2 or 3 years now, that's it. If they can get Gaborik or Kovalchuk or Zetterberg or Hossa next summer they should go for it.


  4. turdfergusson says:

        l look at teams like Buffallo and Tampa Bay. They didn't make it last year and will be knocking on the door this season. If these two are going to replace any playoff team(s) from last year one could say Boston, Washington or maybe even Philly…all pretty solid teams and the point spread would be under ten. Here are these team's no.1 centers respectively. 
     1. D.Roy
     2. V.Lecavalier
     3. M.Savard
     4. M.Nylander
     5. D.Briere            
       Equally impressive is that arguably every team listed here has a second line center that could be #1 on alot of other teams. I'm sure you see where this is going and if anything i'm labelling you as way too loyal as opposed to ignorant as u stated your money's on the Leafs not making it.

       But deep down we both know that u and your cronies like mojo think The Leafs are going all the way. Kramer doesn't fool anyone either as he has Toskala down for The Vezina.

       This is so wrong.

  5. mojo19 says:

    You're underrating Boston man. They're gonna be good this year. They had 5 rookies in their line up last year, played without Bergeron for all but 11 games, and didn't have Manny Fernandez to compliment (all-star) Tim Thomas.

    And ya, the Leafs are going all the way… hahaha, I will cheer for them to win as much as possible until the end of November, if they happen to be at or near the bottom at that point, I'll hope they keep losing so we get Tavares or Hedman or to a lesser extent – Schenn jr. But if they're doing respectable I'll cheer for them to win as much as possible. I realized last year that I can't cheer for them to lose, I don't have it in me.

    And why am I Leafy's "cronie". Does that mean that were boys, or does that mean I'm his boy? I usually like to think that he's my boy.

    PS Antropov is diiiiirty, i heart 80

  6. mojo19 says:

    I know and theres more habs fans around these days. Back when the Leafs were good and habs were balls it was all Leaf fans on here, now its flipping.

  7. nordiques100 says:

    saw a pretty informative interview with rob zettler on leafs TV. he talked about many things including ron's style of coaching.

    zetts said:

    -wilson was one of the sharpest coaches at picking up things on the fly and getting that info to the players. he sees something, he explains it right away in lamen's terms. quick, easy to understand.

    -the staff including himself learned at stanford U about coaching styles in sports and life in general and the like and how positive reinforcement is healthy. how being brief and to the point, not over analysing and confusing the players is good. they like showing video of how things should be done, not showing what someone did wrong. good idea.

    – they use laptops on the bench for instant analysis and smartboards for practice.

    – they have a gameplan set up for practices which the players must study and prep for before every session to be ready.

    – accountability is huge with wilson and the gang. you dont buy in, you dont play, plain and simple.

    – they like to keep things loose but at the same time reinforce that there is a job to be done.

    its these simple fundamentals and such that the leafs have lacked for a long time. probably since burns?

  8. nordiques100 says:

    i'd love for another top 5 pick. any of those guys, tavares, cowen, hedman, duchene, schenn would be glorious.

    i think this is the year the leafs could do what the flyers did in 07. there are attractive assets the leafs could move. toskala, kaberle, kubina, antropov are the most attractive. now i've said before keep them and its good, move them for young assets, also good. win win. its not devastating if they all leave or all stay. but its options for the leafs which is encouraging.

    now as we have seen a good share of UFAs have re-signed with their own clubs. but the leafs have space, could have 2 top end youngsters like schenn and a potential top 5 pick in 09, and be an attraction for free agents provided there are any.

    unlikely all of these players will still be free in 09 but i see what you mean by maybe taking a healthy run at: gaborik, bouwmeester, havlat, hossa, cole, gionta, cammellari, the twins, etc. i believe they could land at least one if not two.

    they could be anywhere from 30-40 mil in cap to start with on July 1st 09. they'll have room to manuevre and make something happen.

    a big part of it is whether growth happens. if there are encouraging signs, players will want to come, see this all through and get the leafs to the next level. 

  9. mojo19 says:

    Haha, I watched that too, one on one with Paul Hendrick. Paul plays in my mens hockey league I actually got a coincidental roughing penalty with him.

    Before the Zettler interview they did a one on one with Joe Nieuwendyk, he seems to be an aspiring GM…

  10. mojo19 says:

    I think Cliff will shop one of Kaberle or Kubina if they'll move their NTC's, see if he can't bring back what he was going for last year (Carter, 1st rounder). I hope Kubina has a monster year and we deal him for some big prospects/picks

  11. Bure96 says:

    I think we have three Nuck's fans left on the site. So many Hab fans on the site, some Leaf fans, and a couple fans from each other major team (Philly, Rangers, etc.). When December and January come around though, and the rumors start flying everyone will be back. Then every goes after regular season is over and come back for 2 weeks in July.

  12. muckies says:
    Just saw Kyle Wellwood on Sportsnet and he is fat, fatter then he was last season, and he looks depressed all the time. 
  13. mojo19 says:

    Ya he's a little butterball

  14. LEAFSLEAFSLEAFS1967 says:

    I don't know about making the playoffs. I'm just not seeing it happening. I think even though it may be the truth, Fletcher's statements basically calling out the forwards on this team could have the biggest effect on our playoff chances. It could inspire the players to prove themselves as top 6 forwards, or it could tear whatever bit of confidence they have to shreds. If it's the first that occurs, than the chances improve.

    This team looks to have already improved on the defensive side of things, which was our biggest problem last year, goals against. So we've already addressed our defensive woes hopefully. In goal we are solid. All we are waiting for is to see if any of these forwards can step up in the absence of Mats to make up for the 70+ points he puts up every single year.

    There are quite a few guys who have the ability and potential to join Nik Antropov on the list of top 6 forwards. Alex Steen is looking to find the consistency he had in his first half of his freshman year with the leafs, and surpass his career-high 42 points. He's showing that he has the grit, decent speed, and can play a two way style of play. All he needs is to find his offensive game and ta-da, you've got another top six guy. Jason Blake is a guy who is capable of putting up 40 goals and 60 points, he just needs to learn to play a less selfish type of play. Move the puck, get it into the hands of guys who will set you up, and find yourself a nice spot for a scoring opportunity. If you're going to play the role of the puck hog than you're useless here. Grabovski has a lot to prove as he's been labeled as a guy with potential to contribute offensively, but came up very short last season. Maybe he disappointed himself to the point that he comes up with a big improvement? Not saying it will happen, but if he can live up to his potential he could possibly become another top 6 guy. Tlusty and Kulemin are our future up front. Tlusty played great when given top 6 minutes last season, although that didn't happen too often. Kulemin is a guy not many have seen in North America, and we are just waiting to see what he can do. Reports say that he has an offensive flair that can make him successful, while still being able to hold his own in the checking department. Sounds like could possibly end up being a poor man's Ovechkin? not saying he will be anywhere in Alex the Great's league in terms of skill, but it sounds like they play a similar style.. correct me if I'm wrong. So we have the potential on this team to make a competitive top 2 lines, but I'd say it's a longshot.

    We'll be banking on the defense and goaltending most likely under new coaching staff. Even that might not keep us in the hunt. I think it's unrealistic to expect playoffs this year. Just focus on the rebuilding process. BTW it's looking like Jonas Frogren has the advantage on gathering the fourth spot. I think the lineup will look something like this to start the season:

    First line center will go between Steen or Grabovski most likely, and either Tlusty or Kulemin will land LW spot on the 2nd line depending on the pre-season

    Antropov – Steen/Grabovski – Ponikarovsky
    Tlusty/Kulemin – Steen/Grabovski – Blake
    Tlusty/Kulemin – Stajan – Hagman
    Devereaux – Moore – Mayers

    Extras: Bell(Will have to really impress to regain a spot) Hollweg(Useless, IMO)

    Kaberle – Kubina
    Finger – Frogren
    Stralman – Colaiacovo/Van Ryn(depending on injuries and such)

    Extras: White/Kronwall (neither are a lock here anymore, only room for one)


    May play hard, but unlikely to make the playoffs I think

  15. LEAFSLEAFSLEAFS1967 says:

    probably in hiding, making sure they won't get bashed for making a positive comment about the team. Either that or we're slowly losing all our fans.

  16. wheresthesoda says:

    Thats exactly what i was thinking when i was reading it. I think most importantly they need Toskala to play like a Vezina contender and they'll have a decent year.

  17. cam7777 says:

    What do you guys figure a guy like Patrick O' Sullivan is worth when he's holding out on a contract with LA.  I would think it would significantly hurt their barganing position.  Do the Leafs have anything that could be used to attain him?

  18. Kramer says:

    I saw him too!  Here is a recent clip of him.

  19. mojo19 says:

    Maybe, but I don't think they'll deal him, or even if they do shop him, his value will still be really high and lots of teams will be interested.

  20. mojo19 says:

    I have a correction for you. You said Steen put up a career high 42 points last year. But actually he put up 45 points in his rookie year.

  21. Plekanec says:

     I hate the Leafs and I hope they don't make the playoffs but one thing they could be chasing is the Rookie of the year award, with guys like Kumelin and Schenn, We will also see Grabovski getting a lot of ice time, Grabovski hasn't played enough NHL games and still count as a Rookie year and due to his maturity he could also surprise.

  22. mojo19 says:

    I agree with your last statement but I liked Pat Quinn's style of coaching too. Don't forget Quinn was an exec with Washington and was actually Ron Wilson's mentor.

  23. mojo19 says:

    Aparently they're going to give him every oppurtunity to shine early on, putting Grabovksi on one of the top 2 lines to start the season. I guess Fletcher really see's something in this guy, he wanted him as part of the Sundin compensation, and when Sundin didn't go he traded for Grabby anyway's. We'll see how he does as a top 6 forward in the NHL.

  24. mojo19 says:

    Yo people, listen to me:

    Join hockey-insider's amazing hockey pool for htr, only 20 spots, we still need a bunch, msg him your email adress or create a new one for it for privacy. We're gonna do a draft and everything, its gonna be sweet.

    Im talking about King_Canada, Pezzz, Leafy, all you cool people are gonnna wanna be a part of this thing.

  25. LEAFSLEAFSLEAFS1967 says:

    oops my bad for some reason at the time I had thought he had only 42 in his rookie season too. Well it's basically the same deal even with 3 more points, he still hasnt put up the numbers that anyone would like him to. Maybe if he gets to be the number 1 center it will boost his confidence enough to get past his rookie stats.

  26. brott says:

    Im sure he had is C LW RW in his player pool

  27. Kramer says:

    Hey what about me?  You forgot Kramer!!!  I'm a cool guy too!  How can I participate?  Count me in, I wanna play too!!!!

  28. Luongoman says:


  29. the_word says:

    Gee a lot of posts here aren't too high on Steen. Who could have seen this coming two years ago?

  30. leafy says:

    Word, I need to know, what's your impression of Tlusty?

  31. Hockey_Insider says:

     Send me a PM with your email, or a fake one, then I'll send you the invite. You follow the link, make your team (using your HTR account name) and as soon as we get enough people we'll find a start date for the draft.

  32. leafy says:

    Because it's done live, my only concern is that I'm available only on evenings after 7pm all week, since I'm working two gigs right now.

    But I'll drop them a note saying I'm interested pending my availability.

  33. leafy says:

    Insider, I sent you an email about this. Thanks!

  34. leafy says:

    Sorry to be a wise guy, but you spelled "Einstein" wrong!  Ironic, no?

  35. leafy says:

    Reading people's comments, it's now pretty much accepted that the Leafs defence is actually the team's STRENGTH!!!  Last year at this time, I got crucified for saying that.  What a difference a year makes.

  36. leafy says:

    You're 100% bang on with Bell.  He's done very little to earn a spot ahead of Devereaux and Moore.  Thank you for putting him as an extra.

    Personally I like to see Tlusty with Antropov but that's just me.

    Finger better be good or else.

    I'm also a little skeptical about Frogren.  It's very unusual for a 28-year old to come over from Europe and excel in the NHL.  I'm going to wait until we watch him before commenting further.

    To get an idea of what the Leafs are up against, you need to finish at least 10 games over .500 nowadays to make the playoffs.

    A tall order to say the least.

  37. leafy says:

    Haha!  A major knock on Wellwood is that he's undisciplined.  He also was a bit out of shape last year at training camp.  Totally unacceptable nowadays.

  38. leafy says:

    You raise really good points.  What do we do with the guys that excel this year, trade them or sign them to lengthy contracts?

    That's often a tough question to answer.  If depends on the circumstances (how far away is the team from contending?), the player in question (how talented are they?), and their age.

    Let's take a player like Tlusty for instance.  If he makes major strides next year and breaks out with a 30-goal season in 2010, then you would absolutely consider a generous extension.  He's young and talented.

    On the other hand, if a guy like Poni somehow breaks out and scores 30 goals this year, and then comes back and demands Darcy Tucker money, I say let him walk.  He's getting close to 30, and the GM will probably decide that it's unlikely he'll have another season like that.

    Of course you also need a GM with vision.  Unlike JFJ who cannot see beyond his big nose into the future, giving out large contracts like candy.

    The the other factor is how good the team is right now.  If you're like Pittsburgh or New York, then you probably have to bite the bullet and re-sign as many good players as possible, because the emphasis is to win now, not in 3 years.

    But in the case of the Leafs, I'm sure Fletcher will focus more on acquiring younger talent, because realistically we're still about 2-3 years away.

    In my view, we need to take advantage of this re-building period to stock-pilie as many draft picks and quality young prospects as possible.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but the Leafs haven't done this since 1967.

  39. leafy says:

    That's a tough one, because he's both talented and injury prone.

    I get very nervous giving injury prone players large contracts.  It could cripple a team's chances, especially nowadays with salary caps.

    It depends on his salary demands, but if it's anything even borderline outrageous, I'd move him for quality prospects/picks.  Besides he's no Ray Bourque.

  40. Hockey_Insider says:

    Big news, O'Sullivan was told not to show up to training camp. Trade time?

  41. leafy says:

    He was an explosive scorer in junior.  The only reason he wasn't drafted in the 1st round is because he's under 6 feet.

    Like Mojo said, the asking price is really going to be high.  He's already blossoming….and he hasn't even entered his prime yet.

  42. leafy says:

    LA will no doubt be asking for an arm and a leg.  Chances are they'll re-sign him eventually.

  43. leafy says:

    I still say they should put Ricci's mug up there.

  44. leafy says:

    Cliff is doing his best.  He's no miracle worker.  It's going to take time.

  45. leafy says:

    Since May 27, 1993…Game 6, Semi-Final, Leafs vs Kings….I believe anything.

    I'm convinced Kerry Fraser is on the "payroll".

  46. nordiques100 says:

    quinn actually worked with wilson in vancouver. wilson was his assistant.

  47. the_word says:

    Thought he was a real bright spot last season. Talented player that came from a deep draft (IMO). He was what 19 last season? He showed flashes of brilliance in limited ice time, the sort of plays that catch the eye. That is exactly what I like to see in a rookie. For those of us who have been watching the Leafs long enough, its the same type of displays we saw out of a young Antropov and Kaberle. Both were criticized early in their career although both displayed raw talent. I'd see Tlusty and Starlman existing in the same ilk.

  48. nordiques100 says:

    yes they are better off because they needed a fresh start in order to implement whatever they're trying to do now in toronto. they had to get rid of the real influential players like mccabe to make it all happen.

    van ryn unfortunately is like coliacovo, kaberle, white, stralman, an offenseman. he's soft but his 2.9 mil cap hit is peanuts. he'll be solid trade bait.

    as for carlo, he brings the most after kabby and kuby. he can hit, can skate, has a strong work ethic. problem is he'll be lucky to play 50 games. thats too bad. one of my favorite leafs. i think he can be an impact player if he plays full time.

  49. leafy says:

    100% my assessment as well.  I was just wondering if I'm over-rating him.

  50. leafy says:

    And Stralman too, I agree.  He's gonna be a good one.

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