How will The 2007 Maple Leafs Look?

Not to beat a dead horse, but we’ve all heard many times how Toronto will be one of the busiest teams in the NHL this summer. They missed the mark last season and now JFJ will be busy making key personel decisions and deciding who to keep, who to let go and who to sign as UFA’s.

The real question is weather they can make enough changes to get the team into the playoffs next season.

The first strike against the Leafs is that the NHL has this new schedule which has teams playing their division rivals 8 times each. Right off the bat this puts the Leafs behind the 8 ball for the next few years while their younger players develop.

Montreal & Buffalo are good young teams who are just a few seasons ahead of the Leafs in the “re-building” phase. In addition, Toronto seems to have the least amount of cap room to work with as far as addressing the several areas that need improvements. The good new is that Boston will most likely be at the bottom of the pile again next year, the BAD news is that Ottawa will still be very strong (even without Chara or Redden).

Sundin will be back for now, but still doesn’t have premier wingers to flank him. This has been the story for ages now. Sundin is only getting older with each passing season and It’s safe to say that his prime is past. Adding some solid star wingers could help him flourish, but if they spend on high price FA’s then the Leafs will have NO depth anywhere else and still struggle to make the playoffs because of it.

Tucker & O’Neill will be back. Although both these guys can play, they are not the calibre that Sundin would like to see on his wings. Ponikarovsky had a decent season last year, but the reality is on most NHL teams he’s a 3rd line winger. Kilger & Domi are signed as well, and bring very little to the table. Kilger can kill penalties, while Domi can hardly keep pace with the new NHL.

The brightest point for the Leafs are all the youngsters who should perform well under Maurice (as long as they are given a chance). Steen & Wellwood looked great last year. it will be interesting to see if they can continue to improve. Stajan should also play a larger role. Antropov did better than expected last year, but again a 3rd line winger on most clubs. The Leafs therefore have several positions up front to fill. They can’t go on a spending spree so look for a much younger & inexperienced squad to be iced next season. Unfortunately this inexperience will most likely lead to more losses.

Defense was terrible last year for Toronto. There looks to be no imporvement thus far. If the McCabe deal does get done, he and Kaberle will log the majority of the ice time. This will be great for the PP, but 5 on 5 and PK will have trouble. It will also be interesting to see if McCabe can put up those numbers again…my guess is he won’t. Belak is no more than a 6th D man and then there’s a squad of talented youngsters. Again, if JFJ can’t get some veterans out there they back end will be VERY inexperienced (and the 2 experienced players are not great defensively). Also note that Belfour won’t be there to bail them out.

This leads to Goaltending. Belfour is gone. Toronto is now left with Tellqvist & Aubin. Leaf fans are high on Aubin because of the last 10 games last year. Please remember that 10 games does not make a season and this guy has had 9 seasons of up & down hockey between the NHL & minors. He’s never shown he can carry a large load. This team really needs a solid veteran who can stand on his head and give them a chance to win every night. Tellqvist certainly won’t provide that and Aubin will most likely not cut the mustard either. Again if the Leafs go after a goalie, they won’t have money left to sign a top winger or some depth players.

Unfortunately for The Leafs, their options are limited.

My final comment is this. The positives that will show are 1) Paul Maurice. Quinn has a good history as an NHL coach, but the team really needed to start moving in another direction to build with young players for the future. 2) although less experienced than last season. The Leafs will have young legs and SPEED. This has proven to be key in the “new NHL”. They may lose some games, but should be exciting to watch. As long as the Leaf fans have patience, they can watch their young players grow and develope over the next few years.

My question to you readers is this. If YOU were the GM for the Leafs, do you keep Sundin and his 6.33 Mill, or trade him?

I would also like to add that although I am a Habs fan, I am writing this as a hockey fan and just trying to state the obvious about the Leafs current situation, I’m not trying to offend any Leaf fans out there….we all know how touchy you guys can get :)