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. the_word says:

    Just read this thread after replying to your question. Tlusy and Steen were pretty much polar opposites in terms of their rookie campaigns.

    I've always been pretty critical of Steen (perhaps this is an understatement) and what bugged me most was how quickly carving Steen after his rookie year would degenerate into trolling (of which I was also guilty). Rarely was the argument against Steen addressed.

    If you look at the case I made, I said his was a very polished game when he came into the LNH. He was a mature rookie (22 I believe) and a second generation LNHer, no doubt he was wise beyond his years growning up with such a rolemodel, needless to say he develop some good habits and hockey smarts. The downside is that this left little room for further development. He lacked the upside you'd expect from other rookies as he was further along in his developoment. Not surprisely to me, his performance in the next two seasons can be described as stagnate at best.

    Quinn also gave him every oppertunity to shine, plenty of top six minutes and time on the PP.

    Tlusty on the other hand, showed great ability and inconsistency, typical of most rookies who are projects. With Tlusy you had little flashes of greatness coupled with growning pains. There remains great strides for him to make at the pro level.

  2. DandoEagle says:

    Of course they can and I'd almost bet a million dollars that they not only make the playoffs but they make a little noise in the first round.

    This team could be the surprise team of the Stamkos Derby and not even come close to etting him yup yup yup.

  3. nordiques100 says:

    problem was that maurice didnt like his defensive play so he cut his ice time accordingly. fine, not following the program you get benched.

    unfortunately veteran players were also committing the same errors and as punishment they got more ice time, time on the PP and more faith and trust.

    thankfully that will end with wilson.  i see him as someone who takes no bull from anyone.

  4. arigold says:

    How can we judge a team that has so many new players.  Let em play a few games before you judge em.

  5. lafleur10 says:

    anythings possible but highly unlikely! they'll be lucky to finish higher than 12-13 in the conference! the leafs need a few years of being the laughingstocks and the gauranteed win nights before leafs fans can realistically be having this conversation1 so i say no they have 2 chances slim and none and slim has left town and that leaves none! sorry leafs fans ,but that is a cold hard fact and reality!

  6. lafleur10 says:

    also last years leafs team was way better than this edition and missed the playoffs by 11 points this year they'll be lucky if they come within 20 points of a playoff spot! i see them get around 73-75 points in the standings! and you need at least 94-96 to have a shot!

  7. mojo19 says:

    Steen's a good player overall though you guys.

  8. mojo19 says:

    Ya I got a couple classes until 6 so 7 or later is good for me too

  9. mojo19 says:

    Frogren was praised for his play at the World championships, so I think he can handle the speed and size of NHL players. He levelled Jason Spezza last spring.

    And as for Steen, 3 seasons in the NHL and he's posted 45, 35, 42 point totals. That's not spectacular but its not bad at all. I think even if he only puts up 40-50 again this year, he'll be a good contibutor. And at $1.5 million, that's a good guy to have.

  10. mojo19 says:

    Ya sorry Vancouver, of course.

  11. mojo19 says:

    I was always with you when you said Steen will never be a star, but he is a good player, and he does have fantastic hands. I can think of 2 absolutely highlight-reel goals he's scored, most noteably the one where he lets the puck slip through his legs as he's turning (vs. Vancouver?).

    So what's wrong with having a guy who could potentially put up 40-50 points, kill some penalties, play solid defensive hockey at centre or on the wing, and earn $1.5 million? I like him.

  12. cam7777 says:

    i don't think they're much worse than last years team.  we replaced tucker, mccabe, and raycroft with hagman, vanryn, finger, and cujo.  those are all win win in my books.  the only real loss is grabovski replacing sundin on the first line.  granted, that is a huge blow.  but, sundin may yet return,

    i think you're right, and they will finish closer to the bottom(which is their goal), however, i dont think there are really any teams in the league that are guaranteed win nights.  as much as everyone likes to bash the leafs, they were a fringe team last year.  Only detroit was far and away better than everyone else during the season last year.  otherwise, there was no night where a team was guaranteed victory.  Remember, the Leafs beat the Red Wings last year, and posted winning records against some of the league's better teams (montreal, ottawa, philly, and i believe the new york rangers).

    even the lightning and the kings could burn you last season if you weren't giving them their due diligence. 

  13. lafleur10 says:

    you didn't post a winning record against the habs! the season series was tied!

  14. cam7777 says:

    im pretty sure points favored the leafs….

    4-3-1 vs 4-4-0

  15. mojo19 says:

    Its true the Leafs took 9 pts vs the Habs 8 pts. Guess that habs fan forgot the NHL had 3 point games.

  16. the_word says:

    Nothing is wrong with Steen, he's medoicre. After his rookie year the Leafs had a chance to capitalize the modest hype he conjured. At that time we probably could have landed Zherdev or a 1st round pick for him. Everyone drank the koolaid and over valued him though (IMO).

    I still think he's too weak on the puck and soft to be considered a quality defensive forward. Sure he back checks, will be the first on the scene in his own end but he doesn't really contribute defensively once there.

    That said, I don't have any issues with him as a depth forward with a modest offensive spark.

  17. the_word says:

    Is he still an asset though? Does he really bring a dimension greater than say Mark Bell?

  18. lafleur10 says:

    that is still an even record! that still is a split! now if you said more points then i agree but you didn't have a winning record it was tied! 3 wins and  and 1 in a shoo tout is 4 wins that's a split!if you are going to say you guys came away with more points clarify it! don't say you won it when if you look at what  said because that show's you didn't win it,it was even!

  19. mojo19 says:

    4-3-1 vs. 4-4-0. Which is better? Who won? Wow, lafleur10 get yourself a calculator.

  20. mojo19 says:

    Ya I'd say so, here's a guy who's put up 122 pts in 233 games, which is respectable, and he backchecks hard. Like you said he's never going to be a superstar, but as a 2nd-3rd line guy he is an assett, and at $1.5 million, what do you want? Plus at 24 its possible he could develop into a consistant 50 point type two way forward. That would be good, no?

  21. mojo19 says:

    Ya, cool. And hopefully Ron wilson can turn him into a Stu Barnes type pest.

  22. the_word says:

    Not going argue against consistant 50 point player.

    He's stats have been fine, I don't take issue with the 35-50 points he's capable of putting up and now that we have some breathing room with respect to the cap there is no need to put his 1.5 hit under scrutiny.

    I compared him to Bell for the reason that the LNH is littered with players that if given the chance (a regular shift) they can put up 35-50 points. I've always put Steen in this catagory. It can become counter productive when management gets to attached to these type of players.

  23. mojo19 says:

    Ya its littered with those calibre players, but you need a couple of those guys in your line up. I'd hang on to both Steen and Bell. Or deal Bell at the deadline if he's having a good year and you can get a good return for him, because I guess he's replaceable.

    Matt Stajan so far is a consistant 30 point guy, hasn't put up much more than that in 4 years in the league. Seems to always finish with like 32 points give or take. He needs to step it up a bit this year and try to prove he can be a 2nd line centre, he could be a Stu Barnes type too.

  24. I-BE-LEAF says:

    Right on the nose, sir!

  25. lafleur10 says:

    4-4 4-3-1 it doesn't matter! the 1 still represents a loss you pissant! open you *****ing leaf colored eyes!! a loss is a loss it doesn't matter if it is in a shoot out over time or regulation! maybe you should think before you speak!he mentioned that you won the season series he didn't say you guys came away with more points! and i merely said it was tied! so you grab the *****ing calculator!

  26. mojo19 says:

    Just to quote you:
    "a loss is a loss it doesn't matter if it is in a shoot out over time or regulation"

    Somebody get this guy a rule book please. OT and shootout losses are a different category than regulation losses. That's why when you look at a team's record you'll see more than just a "Wins" and a "Losses" column. Unlike baseball.

    Is this your first year of following hockey? lol

  27. cam7777 says:

    i understand what you're saying lafleur, but, even though they lose that 1 game either way, it still means they won the season series.  They accrued more points, and that's what i infer as winning the season series.  if they were both battling for 8th seed with identical records, the leafs would move forward with the extra point….thats just how i see it though….

    the point is, the leafs beat good teams.  if the canadiens were really far and away better than toronto, they wouldn't lose 4 games to them. 

  28. mojo19 says:

    9 is greater than 8. End of arguement.

    Oh also, Cam777 you are right, if the two teams finished tied with identical records, the tie breaker would go to head to head where the Leafs would get the edge. Therefore the NHL recognizes that Toronto won the season series with Montreal (according to tie breaker rules). Therefore Lafleur is WRONG.

  29. cam7777 says:

    So I'm guessing no one is still looking at this article, but I don't want to post this in one of the pens or habs discussions going on near the top. 

    Is anyone bothered by the fact that Mathieu Schneider might be dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers, or some rubbish team like that?  You know if a team like that gets him, they'll stick with him and try to make a run at a playoff spot, only to fail.  He deserves better (which is why you should try not to laugh at the next sentence until you've completed it).

    I say the Leafs should step up and do something about this (given the Leafs have already submitted to failure, and can then trade Schneider to a contender at the deadline).  Burke is willing to consider broadening the trade and including another player.  How about this:

    Mark Bell, Alex Ponikarovsky and Ian White for Mathieu Schneider and Chris Kunitz.

    It doesn't sound like a good trade for Anaheim, but it's actually not so bad.  They get to clear enough salary to sign Selanne at 3.5 million.  We've already established that Schneider is worth nothing due to his salary.  Then, Poni alone has similar point production to Kunitz, at half the price.  Bell also has had similar point production, but fallen off lately.  Still, he fits Anaheim's mould.  White is a throw in, simply because he'll be unnecessary with all the D-men in Toronto.  Finally, Anaheim needs some left wingers.  They have the top two pairings down with Getzlaf and Perry followed by Morrison and Selanne.  But this allows them to keep Bobby Ryan in the minors, call him up when necessary, and let Poni and Bell take over on the top two left winger posts. 

    Toronto on the other hand does just as well.  Poni and White are guys that I for one would like to see moved at some point this season anyways.  If hardwork is the moral of the story, then Kunitz is our guy, and Poni should leave.  His cap hit is probably high for his production, but he brings a lot more to the table.  Bell could have a comeback year, which would be a shame to miss out on, but at the same time, wouldn't be a crucial loss.  With the addition of Schneider we get to keep Kaberle and Kubina together on the top line and pair the old man with Anton Stralman.  Finally, TO gets to trade Schneider to a contender at the deadline for whatever his value is then.  He'll be much more sought after come February when his cap hit is only a 5th of his total 5.625 million.

    Just a thought I had.  Does anyone think that trade makes sense at all?

  30. lafleur10 says:

    this year the habs will sweep the leafs like they did to the bruins last year!

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