Leafs situation = playoffs? stanley cup? or big fat yard sale?
Are the Leafs even better off than last season? Are they going anywhere this year? Did they make the right move? Well if you want to know what I think read on…
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a team that has struggled since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was put into place. They have had useless players with high salaries dominate their cap space, not to mention the cap used to be only 36 million. Many teams struggled to find the money to sign their stars to contracts and this led to the odd Stanley Cup Finals in 2005-2006 with the Edmonton Oilers vs. Carolina Hurricanes. But now it is different, the cap has gone up to a staggering 50 million dollars, which really brings back memories of the Leafs of old, who spent around 60 million a season on players who didn’t really help them (i.e. Domi and Francis). But are the Leafs even better off than last season? Are they going anywhere this year? Did they make the right move? Well if you want to know what I think read on…
With all the hype going into July 1st about possible signings the Leafs were going to get it was almost like signing one of them would ensure the Stanley cup would be in Toronto next year. But honestly that’s not happening because we just don’t have the depth or speed. Many expected Ryan Smyth and Paul Kariya to come and then maybe with Paul Kariya here already Teemu Selanne would bring his 40 goals to Toronto for a cheap price as well. WRONG. The Leafs apparently had their eyes on another 40 goal scorer, Jason Blake. They had already made a huge move acquiring Toskala and Bell from San Jose for the 13th pick (which could have been Cheripanov!!!) Now that the Leafs have Bell, Blake, and Toskala are they really that much better from last year…the answer is yes. They are that much better. If there was one thing they lacked last year consistently it was scoring and even goaltending at times.
Now they have Blake, who probably won’t score 40 goals this year, but will bring speed and grit to the team. He will hopefully open up some room for Mats Sundin who had trouble scoring last year because he was the only legitimate goal scorer. They also have Mark Bell, a former 20 goal scorer who was supposed to be really amazing for the Sharks, but that fell through and became a throw in, in the Toskala deal. He should provide some scoring for the second line this year with Wellwood and Tucker.
Now to Toskala, who is known as one of the better backups in the league. Some have compared him to Kipprusoff, in the sense that he has been behind another goalie and is waiting to blossom. Others compare him to Mikka Noronen, who was supposed to be the next Kipprusoff, but ended up leaving the NHL. With Toskala they get a goalie that is fast and has an amazing glove and also is making 4 million starting next season. They have truly filled some of their voids, but they still need to get one more scorer. To do that they need to relieve their cap of 2 million dollar disappointment Andrew Raycroft. Although he had 37 wins, he also let in some really soft goals and looked shaky at the end of the year. They will have to find a team to send him to because with him at backup this also causes problems for their developing Goalie Justin Pogge. The Leafs definitely want Pogge to get in on some NHL games this year, but to do that they need to get rid of Raycroft. One option is to put him on waivers and when he clears, they get to take his money off the cap.
Now for my season prediction. The leafs will have a team that will get some wins and make the playoffs. Everyone knows that last year they were unlucky that New Jersey couldn’t beat the Islanders in the final game of the season. But this year they should get in soundly at the 5th or 6th spot. But I shouldn’t speak to soon because teams like the Bruins and Flyers have vastly improved and should compete for high playoff spots. The leafs can certainly not cruise through this season like they did before the salary cap was put in place, but they take it a bit easier than last year considering they can allow 25 shots and not have 6 goals against. They should get through a round or two in the playoff, but don’t expect them to have the skill or gas to win a Cup. But Ferguson has prepared his team to go far in the playoff two or three years down the road when the cap will raise and they will have more free salary to get better players. Plus the leafs should add a big name player at the deadline to help them win. Also, I think they could sign Mike Comrie or Alexei Yashin before this free agency period ends. Who knows what is to come, any other signings should just help them fill up seats come playoff time.
This is my first article so please leave as many comments on what you think about it. Below is what I think the leafs lineup could look like:
LW C RW
Jason Blake Mats Sundin Alex Ponikarovsky
Mark Bell Kyle Wellwood Darcy Tucker
Alex Steen Nik Antropov Bates Battaglia
Chad Kilger Matt Stajan John Pohl
Thomas Kaberle Pavel Kubina
Bryan McCabe Carlo Colaiacovo
Ian White Hal Gil