Toronto Maple Leafs Season Preview

The Year That Was:

The Maple Leafs last season were simply put not very good. After making the playoffs for the previous 6 seasons, the team fell flat on their face finishing 9th and missing the big dance for the first time under coach Pat Quinn. Poor personnel moves were made last summer due to un-necessary financial commitments as the team could only watch top tier talent change places all over the league leaving themselves to pick up the scraps left over. The team did little to adjust to the new rules and penalty standards taking the attitude that things wont change and brushed them aside with a huff. After 3 quarters of the year passed, it was then it hit them that they needed to start adapting to the what the league mandated and by then, it was too late. As usual in the Pat Quinn era, everything and everyone else was to blame for what happened but in the end the Leafs missed the playoffs and had no one to blame but themselves.
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The Summer of Change

It can be assume that the Leafs had lower expectations to begin with at the start of last season after being in the thick of contention in previous years. But still, when you miss the playoffs, something must give. So this summer, GM John Ferguson set the wheels in motion this mysterious plan he spoke of for the last 3 years. It was no mere coincidence that his ability to make some changes came after he fired Quinn at the end of the year. Finally, the GM brought in the coach he wants and got rid of the man he locked horns with. Hiring Paul Maurice was the first in a series of moves made this summer and perhaps it may turn out to be the best. The team made several other off ice moves including bringing in a capologist, naming a new director of scouting, filling out the coaching staff for not only the Leafs but the Marlies as well and adding a Leaf legend Doug Gilmour to be an advisor. Ferguson now has the people he wants and where he wants them so that he should be able to do the things he se out to do.

Ferguson was not gunshy this summer as he was the last making several key moves on the ice to completely change the mindset, culture and talent level of the team. He brought in a new starting goalie, two behemoth blueliners and a top two-way forward addressing the team’s large need for help in the defensive end. Though he failed to address the need for some skilled talent to play with the team’s best player, it was all in all a much more successful summer on paper than his past 2. Whether he sticks around to see the fruits of his labour remains to be seen. Ferguson is a lame duck in his contract year. If the team does not succeed, it will be him who pays the price.

The New Coach

Success for the Leafs will hinge this year on the way coach Paul Maurice can change the way things are done in Toronto. The last 7 season were a much more country club atmostphere where the practices were soft, the systems were lenient and the accountability was non-existent. No matter who you were and how bad you played, the lineup card had your name in it unless you were hurt. That is how Pat Quinn ran his ship. His veterans had free reign to do as they pleased without any repercussions. Dumb penalties, missed assignments, lackadasical play, no problem. It was all acceptable and it worked to some extent, until now.

It may be a bit of a culture shock for the players, but having meaningful, gasping-for-air types of practices and instilling that kind of work ethic is something they better get use to fast. Maurice wants his players to be in top shape, going at full throttle and playing a real aggressive game. His system will be vastly different from Quinn’s make-it-up-as-yo-go-along approach. Maurice will attempt to shape his team into one that will be very hard to play against and one that requires strong positioning, discipline and smarter team play. It is going to take a much greater awareness by the players and a willingness of them to take advantage of what is given to them. Maurice is going to run a much more active bench and more line matching so the players better quickly accept that they wont get their guaranteed ice time as in years past.

His first order of business is to get the team in the kind of shape needed to play the up tempo style. Then he will need to sharpen them on the defensive aspects of the game. The players wont be allowed to cheat defensively like they did under Quinn and get away with it. Greater commitment by the forwards will go a long way to helping the Leafs shave off a few goals against. He will also need to improve a woeful PK that simply allowed too much free real estate in the key scoring areas. Hopefully the defensive side of the game will be fixed by better personnel and better strategy. But Maurice’s biggest job will be to improve a terrible even strength offence. The power play was dynamite and if he can maintain that level, the Leafs should be fine taking advantage of the man advantage. But 5 on 5, the Leafs could do nothing right. Less separation between the defence and forwards, improving the counter attack, ensuring there is a slot and in front of the net presence, and just being quicker are all things the Leafs need to improve on a great deal. It may not happen overnight, but surely things must get better. A few more goals could be the tonic to give the Leafs the extra points they need in the standings.

Offensive Offence

The Leafs finished an atrocious 27th out of 30 in even strength scoring. You know it is bad when one of the top even strength scorers is Chad Kilger. That will need to change if the Leafs really do have playoff aspirations. Though the Leafs dominated on the PP, the team is going to need to be able to maintain that prowess with the man advantage. The team also could use some work in the shootout which cost them the points they needed for a playoff spot.

But it is the even strength portion of the game that needs the most work.
The Leafs have only one sure thing offensively up front and that is captain Mats Sundin. As he goes so go the Leafs. The key to success however will lie on his teammates and how much they can contribute. We know Sundin will be a consistent threat, the crapshoot is whether the rest of the Leafs can follow suit. They will need the younger players like Alex Steen, Alex Ponikarovsky, Nik Antropov, Matt Stajan and Kyle Wellwood to continue to improve and produce on a consistent basis. The team will also require the veterans like Darcy Tucker, Michael Peca and Jeff O’Neill to be the proven scoring threats they are capable of. For Peca and O’Neill in particular, they both need bounce back offensive years. Maybe a youngster like Alex Suglobov can emerge. They cannot have the entire team go into the tank until it is too late and only rely on their special teams to keep them in games.

The Leafs should have good offence from the defence. Between Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina, the Leafs should have plenty of scoring prowess from the backend. And the two youngsters that make the team to fill out the top 6 should provide some decent offensive ability as well. Though their big 3 are big point producers on the PP, they should be able to help generate a better attack at even strength. All 3 are good passers and in Kaberle’s case a terrific puck mover. All 3 are adept at joining the rush at any time which will help Toronto be a bit more dangerous 5 on 5. Too often the Leaf blueliners were left without an outlet as the forwards cheated t
oo far out of their own zone. It often resulted in the chip off the glass play. The Leafs were very predictable with several players simply standing still on the rush eliminating any chance to do something other than dump and chase and cycle. If Toronto can move the puck quicker and smarter, they should manage many more chances and certainly more than 20 shots a game.


Rededicated “D”

While the job will be tough for coach Maurice to improve a pretty plain jane offence, his main goal at first will be to improve an even worse defence. At least the Leafs could score on the PP which at least kept them afloat. In their own end, the team was brutal. The Leafs couldnt kill penalties to save their life and much of it had to do with them crowding the penalty box on a daily basis. The penalty parade was often do to a bit of laziness, a lack of commitment in their own zone and simply put, being lost in terms of what to do defensively. The Leafs made it a practice to run around feverishly just to touch the puck while opponents buzzed around like a hornets nest. The missed assignments led to the team taking bad penalties. Clearing the puck, clearing the front of the net, winning faceoffs, winning one on one battles are all things the Leafs need to work on if they wish to shave their GA down from 270.

It will be up to Maurice to rectify 7 years of lackadasical defensive play. This will be a work in progress all season long for the Leafs to break the bad habits they were allowed to get away with under coach Quinn. The implementation of accountability will be the biggest weapon Maurice will use to get his charges to buy into playing defence. Staying out of the box will be the first step and the dumb penalties which were the norm last year should cease with a few benchings to get that point across that discipline is required. Shirking defensive duties is not going to go unnoticed either. So often last year a mistake in their own zone resulted in not even a slap on the wrist. Not this year under the strict Maurice.


Setting the tone for the new defensive awareness will be the 4 newcomers in Andrew Raycroft, Hal Gill, Pavel Kubina and Michael Peca. All four were brought in to help in the defensive end. Raycroft’s impact will be big if he can give the Leafs the strong goaltending they did not have last season. But the 3 skaters will have a huge impact as well trying to help change the mindset of the Leafs from what they have been use to the last 6 years. Peca especially will try to show the commitment required defensively from the forward core that was non-existent last season. Kubina and Gill bring the size and ruggedness lacking especially when defending the front of the net. Their leadership in this area will go a long way to improving the Leafs play in their own zone.


Net Gains

Any success the Leafs aspire to will be all for naught without some good goaltending. Last season it was not until game 72 when the team finally got a goalie who could consistently string together some good games. The Leafs are going to need their goalies to string together strong play throughout the year. That task will be up to Andrew Raycroft. For the past several seasons the Leafs had top tier veteran goaltending talent that provided assurances that they had a difference maker in goal. It worked right up until last year when Ed Belfour started to show his age. Now the goaltending is far from settled as Raycroft will need a big comeback year to give the Leafs the goaltending it sorely needs. After winning the Calder, he faltered badly in an injury riddled sophmore year. After being acquired for a top prospect and armed with a new 3 year contract, Raycroft will need to prove his critics wrong and give back to this Leaf team that is showing plenty of faith in him. The talent and potential is there, it will be all a mental thing to be able to handle the pressure of playing in the Toronto fishbowl and be able to bounce back from adversity.

The battle for backup will be a hot one as both Mikael Tellqvist and JS Aubin feel they deserve to be NHLers. Tellqvist had a rollercoaster year playing well at times and blowing away chances in others. He is remembered for choking in the two games that mattered most last year and he will need to bounce back to avoid being the odd man out. Aubin almost singlehandedly got the Leafs into the playoffs but ran out of games. His hot streak to end the year and his experience may give him the leg up on the backup role. If last year was no fluke, he would be the reliable backup this team may need if Raycroft goes down or plays poorly.


Special and Not So Special Teams

A huge strength of the Leafs which they hope will carry over into this season is their powerplay. For much of the year they were good, at times they were unstoppable. The Leafs perhaps have the best powerplay point tandem in the league with Kaberle and McCabe. They are really why the PP is so good. Kaberle is great at gaining the zone rushing the puck or making a great outlet pass. His playmaking ability in the zone is second to none. The Leafs favorite play is him making the diagonal pass through the box and finding a teammate (often Tucker) for a one-timer at the side of the net. McCabe’s booming point shot caused teams to play him man to man to prevent him from teeing up. Soft passes from his partner and sending a howitzer to the goal were a very dangerous weapon. When he was covered, it opened up so many areas especially for Sundin on the other side to work his magic. The Leafs used many different powerplay set ups and it left penalty killers confused and the Leafs hard to stop. Their key is to maintain that momentum into this year.

It is too bad their penalty killing was terrible. It pretty much offset their top powerplay. This is an area that Maurice will need to shore up. The likes of Gill and Kubina should help keep the front of the net a bit clearer than the friendly camp zone it was last season. Also Peca should help tremendously in this area as he is one of the best around. Of course, the goalie is often the best penalty killer and Raycroft will need to deliver in this area. But the thing that will make the PK better is less penalties. Too often the Leafs were parading to the box leaving them with tired and overworked penalty killers. Adapting to the new standards will be a necessity for the Leafs and not something they can brush off until mid-season like last year.

Meet the Leafs

Mats Sundin – Sundin has been a consistent point per game player and it is almost certain he will provide Toronto with at least that. It is expected Sundin will get more ice time as coach Maurice has stated such, and with that hopefully will come more production. Sundin will need to set the tone for the new coach and be the first to buy into what Maurice is selling so his teammates can follow suit.

Alex Steen – Steen showed flashes of being a solid top 6 forward for years. He has good speed and nice skill set and plenty of smarts. He may be the only one outside Sundin with the go-to-guy potential and the ability to generate something out of nothing. He could be a major player under Maurice due to his strong two-way capability.

Kyle Wellwood – Wellwood showed plenty of dash and wowed many with his puck skills. Though naturally a centre, it is possible he could flank Sundin on the wing as he has the talent to keep up with the Leaf c
aptain. However he will need to prove he can produce on a consistent basis. His biggest role may be playmaker on the powerplay but an increased presence at even strength is what the Leafs need from players like Wellwood.

Alex Ponikarovsky – Ponikarovsky turned into a surprising 20 goal man for the Leafs. The team will need to continue to get that kind of production. He has a heavy shot and showed last year a willingness to use his size to win puck battles and to stand in front of the net. It is very possible he will remain on Sundin’s wing where he was for much of last year especially the second half. If t hat is the case, he will need to show he can put the puck in the net on a consistent basis.

Nik Antropov – It remains to be seen if the other twin tower will get the chance to stay with Sundin and Ponikarovsky. The trio finished the year strong until Antropov got hurt again towards the end. He is a very smart player and has been lately using his tremendous size to his advantage. However Nik is a terrible skater and that is something that wont fly in the new game. He is also not durable and takes more than his share of bad penalties. Health and discipline will dictate how much Antropov plays and contributes. This is really his last chance to show he can consistently perform at the NHL level.

Matt Stajan – Stajan showed some offensive promise towards the end of last year when he was forced back to centre when injuries hit the Leafs up the middle. When he got a chance to play with skilled wingers, he showed he could score. Stajan is already fairly polished defensively but if he can score more that will dictate the career path ahead of him: checker or two way threat.

Darcy Tucker – Tucker had a career year points wise and was a key trigger man on the PP. He will need that kind of production to continue and more consistent play at even strength. As the team’s top goal scoring winger, he will see his share of ice time playing with Sundin but he may also be required to be the agitator and spark plug helping Toronto be a harder team to play against.

Jeff O’Neill – O’Neill will need to rebound after a terrible year professionally and personally. If he can get back to being the 30 goal man he was in Carolina, that would be a huge bonus for the Leafs. He appears to be back healthy and back playing with some passion which was completely lacking (understandably) last year. He like Tucker will need to show greater commitment defensively to help lead by example.

Michael Peca – Peca was brought in for his defensive awareness. He will likely shadow the opposing teams top lines, kill penalties, be an agitator and take the big faceoffs. he will also be counted upon to produce on offence. Peca is going to see plenty of ice time, and he has the capability of scoring much more than 9 goals as he did all last year. If he can get back to being a two-way threat, that can only help the Leafs.

Chad Kilger – It would be a shock if Kilger was among the leaders again in even strength goals. But if he can match last years totals that would be a huge bonus for the Leafs. He is willing to throw his weight around and provides the Leafs with a good forechecker.

Wade Belak – Belak takes over as the full time tough guy. Though a defenceman by trade, Belak will be exclusively a forward this year unless emergency calls. The assumption will be that coach Maurice will not annoint Belak as the team’s best skater back on D like Quinn did. His toughness, willingness to forecheck and fight should be assets in a 4th line role.

Bryan McCabe – McCabe was a horse last year among the league leaders in ice time. Known for his offence and his booming shot, overlooked is his willingness to battle, his grit and his leadership abilities. Yes he is not the most surehanded defensive blueliner around and has problems with giveaways, but he puts in a full effort and did not fare too badly on a bad defensive team going up against the opposing teams top players.

Tomas Kaberle – One of the slickest puck moving blueliners around, Kaberle is the engine that makes the Leafs offence and the powerplay especially go. He is the perfect foil for McCabe offering the pairing mobility, playmaking ability and solid positioning. He too should benefit from slightly less ice time with the deeper defence.

Pavel Kubina – Kubina adds an element of offence to go with plenty of size and toughness on the defensive end. With a big booming shot, he poses a threat on the powerplay. But his addition was more for the defensive end as he is capable of logging big minutes, facing the top opponents and providing plenty of physical play to make the Leafs harder to play against.

Hal Gill – The behemoth 6’7 blueliner is here for size alone. He is far from being very swift or mobile, but his huge frame and long reach will benefit the Leafs defending their own territory. Clearing the front of the net will be his most important job as it was normally a kind place to be in past years.

Andrew Raycroft – The man with the most pressure this year is goaltender Raycroft. The team needs significantly improved goaltending and they hope Raycroft can deliver after a poor year. Still only 26, the potential is still there for him to succeed. It will be up to him to seize the opportunity.

Mikael Tellqvist – After blowing those two games in Montreal, Tellqvist is looking to rebound. This is probably his last chance to prove he can handle the goaltending duties in the NHL.

Jean-Sebastien Aubin – The surprise from last year, Aubin was terrific at the end of the season and gave the Leafs their only stretch of solid goaltending. With his experience and based on his play last year, the backup job is not out of the question.

Veterans like John Pohl, Erik Westrum, Brad Brown and Bates Battaglia will also be vying for spots on the team with the teams younger players. If anything, these players will provide experienced depth on the Marlies that have played in the NHL and can step in if needed.

The Young Guns

It is passe to say the Leafs are an old over the hill bunch.Gone are a majority of the over 30 gang of Belfour, Domi, Roberts, Leetch, Klee, Nieuwendyk, Mogiilny, Nolan, Reichel, Fitzgerald, Corson whom ex-coach Pat Quinn leaned on heavily. Some young players broke in last year, and expect more of the same this season.

The Blueline in particular is where the most heated battle is at. Over the summer it was expected at Training Camp that 6 youngsters would fight over 2 or 3 spots on the blueline. As camp has progressed, this battle has turned into the survival of the healthiest as 3 of the blueliners have gotten hurt. But all in all, it has been a great sign that the Leafs were starting to accumulate some depth in their system. Looking at the options, there may not be a big star franchise player to build around, but there is plenty of potential on the blueline to find some serviceable NHL defencemen. Here’s how the blueline battle at camp shapes up:

Jay Harrison – Harrison brings a physical brand of hockey to the team but also can chip in with some offence as he is not bad at moving the puck out of the zone. But his meal ticket is his willingness to mix it up and h
is toughness may be the edge he has over his competitors

Ian White – White is a very good puck moving blueliner who should be adept at QB the PP and joining the rush. He is a good skater and though small, his stature has yet to hurt him in his own zone. He plays pretty smart hockey and proved his worth in the organization with his solid 12 game stint to end last year.

Brendan Bell – After falling off the charts with some poor camps and being out of shape, Bell has worked his way back and has a game suited for new standards. He may have the best hockey sense of the 6 and is a strong puck mover. He needs to battle the ever tough consistency bug to remain a possibility.

Carlo Coliacovo – The Leaf blueliner with the best potential, Coliacovo has for a while shown glimpses of being a solid offensive blueliner with the ability to throw his weight around. He has the ability to be an impact player in all 3 zones but may never show it due to injuries.

Andy Wozniewski – The behemoth 6’5 blueliner is the steady stay at home type who appears to be flashing some offensive ability this camp. The team loves his size and he may be pencilled in at the 7th Dman considering his age (26) and the fact he cannot be sent down without clearing waivers.

Staffan Kronvall – The real darkhorse among the blueline competitors, Kronvall has shown that he is willing to use his size in his own zone, can move very well for a big man and makes many smart plays to get out of trouble. He too needs to show he can be durable and perhaps show something on the offensive side.

The improved depth within the Leafs organization was also evident in goal as the team was afforded the opportunity to trade top pick Tukka Rask in the deal that brought the Leafs Andrew Raycroft. The deal was criticized and understandably so as Rask was considered a top prospect and Raycroft had a poor season last year. But Rask was a few years away from helping the team now and the Leafs needed an upgrade in goal for the present and the scouting staff was high on the former Bruin.
But the opportunity was made available thanks to the play of another top goalie prospect. Justin Pogge was terrific in his final junior season winning the goaltender of the year award in the CHL, winning the WHL league’s MVP and leading Canada to gold at the World Juniors. His GAA was under 1 for the tournament. Pogge will now take his game to the next level and for now that is the AHL and the Marlies. He has already been annointed the number 1 man there and will get plenty of chance to develop. His rise allowed the Leafs to move Rask much easier as the team was very satisfied with the depth they had in goal.

Where the Leafs lack depth is at forward. Thanks to trading away draft picks, or drafted players (Brad Boyes) or drafting duds (Luca Cereda) the team has not found many good forwards the last 10-15 years via the draft. Trades and free agency have stocked their team up front. But that has to change as developing their own home grown talent is a necessity in today’s economics. The Leafs start this trend by drafting Jiri Tlusty and hopefully he wont get traded before playing a game with the Leafs. He has the skill set to be a potent offensive forward and it would be about time for the Leafs to develop one of those on their own. A darkhorse to succeed will be young Alex Suglobov who has top end skill but lacks polish in the finer points of the game like defencee.

The team also drafted Nikolai Khumelin who may turn into another good player as well in time. The Leafs also have the likes of Ben Ondrus, Kris Newbury, Jeremy Williams and Robbie Earl on the farm but those players may not make very much impact if any at the NHL level. There are not Crosbys or Ovechkins in the Leafs system and while they have not drafted in the top 10 of late, other teams have managed to find diamonds in the rough far better than the Leafs. If they dont get better at managing and procuring their own assets, the Leafs will end up a middling team for who knows how long.

For the Leafs to Win the Leafs Need…..

1. Great Goaltending – Andrew Raycroft has to be steady and solid throughout the year and not give games away like the goaltending did last year for the Leafs. A team that struggles with discipline and at even strength cannot afford to have average goaltending. Raycroft is going to need to steal some games to perhaps cover off potential scoring woes of the team.

2. Discipline – Staying out of the box will be a huge key to success. The team cannot parade to the penalty box because their PK is not very good and there is still an unknown element in goal. This will be the most difficult job for coach Maurice to improve the Leafs in this area. The lack of team speed is perhaps what hurts them the most here.

3. Win Divisional Games – The team must to better than 3 and 13 against the Sabres and Sens. In fact a below .500 record within the division will not fly and will result in missing the playoffs. The Leafs must finish at least 3rd in their division considering it appears to be near impossible for 4 teams in one division to make the playoffs. 32 divsional matchups is the reason why. With the Northeast so hotly contested, it will be far easier said than done.

4. Young Players stepping up – The Leafs younger players need to play even better than last year. Though the likes of Sundin, Tucker, Peca, McCabe, Kaberle will carry the torch, it is the kids that will push them over the top. If they play well, the Leafs will have the depth and talent to compete in the wide open east. If their play is middling, the team can forget about playing hockey in the spring.

Outlook

It is going to be a big uphill battle in the East for the Leafs. We can be sure the likes of Carolina, Ottawa, Philly, the Rangers, Buffalo and the Devils will be right in the thick of the playoff picture. That leaves 2 spots wide open for the rest of the conference to battle for. The Habs are still good, the Thrashers should be better, Boston has imrpoved significantly. Tampa is always dangerous and teams like the Pens and Panthers are on the way up. The Leafs will have to claw their way past all these teams and then some to have a shot at the playoffs. Whether they can do it or not remains to be seen. The team will definitely need to be firing on all cylinders if they wish to make the playoffs a reality.


84 Responses to Toronto Maple Leafs Season Preview

  1. Aetherial says:

    I think they will have a similar season to last season. They DO have a lot of upside there though.

    It would not surprise me to see them battle with the Leafs again and a couple other teams for the final few playoff spots.

    They are certainly not a bad team.

  2. the_word says:

    Yeah, its too bad all the teams in the  Northeast have to cannibalize themselves with the new NHL schedule.  Depending on how Boston and the Leafs come together this could be the best division in hockey.

  3. simplyhabby says:

    Who is ROTY?

    I think Ribs needs a good beat down.  I like the guy racking up points (when he feels like it) but his cheap style of play is getting very annoying.  Samsonov may be a softy but that speed and skill can only be a good thing playing with Kovalev. (I wonder who Alex is going to bully on the B's this year now that Gill left.  Remember that hit?  I did not think Alex had it in him)

    Kessel will be very interesting this year.  Who is playing with him to start the year?

  4. simplyhabby says:

    Rask for Raycroft was a no brainer.  I think if Raycroft does not have the injuries this year, he should improve but I still think that was a bad trade by the leafs specially with Aubin doing so well at the end of last year.

  5. hockeyhead says:

    kessel rookie of the year.  roty.

    he is playing with bergeron and boyes right now.

  6. hockeyhead says:

    the leafs this year are the bruins last year.

    many many ill advised moves.

  7. simplyhabby says:

    Nice line.  He will have plenty of opportunites to score and pass.

    ROTY?  I am not sure about that.  Malkin, Brule, Radulov…..tough acts to follow. 

  8. hockeyhead says:

    i dont think that kessel will get the calder.  possible but i doubt it very much.

    i would rather see kessel at center like the game in montreal where he got two helpers.

    he is on the left wing and i think he will have trouble there.

    bergie should play left wing because that kid can do anything they ask.

  9. 92-93 says:

    another great article nords,

    of course i have numerous things i disagree with you on but this was well thought out too.

    I do think last year was a necessary transition year. again, trimming a 60 million dollar cap is not easy. and once again i have to express my amazement at those who feel better about JFJ after this offseason than did after last offseason. last year he made some questionable moves, but many moves were necessities because of ADJUSTMENTS to the new cap reality. everyone crapped on him then and i defended him (for the most part and not on everything). this year he gets his chance to mold the team and makes some of the dumbest UFA signings in the club's history on D and everyone is singing his praises. i just cannot believe my eyes.

    good moves: Peca for just one year, resigned all the right guys, got rid off all the right guys.
    bad moves: signed the wrong guys on D and for way too much – no excuses for that including the 'market-for-defencemen' argument, resigned Belak, signed McCabe to a no-movement clause (the money is fine, the clause is not), Raycroft trade can only be judged years down the line.

    The Leafs do have an explosive offensive D – which makes a lot of the criticisms of their 'lack of offense' this year seem really dumb. They'll be fine for scoring, its keeping up with their more skilled opponents that will be a problem.

    But the 2 worst UFA signings the team has made in a long time will haunt this team for a long time. Watching Gill the other night against Ottawa (and the game in Ottawa that i was actually at) has confirmed to me my worst fears – we just paid 2.1 million for a guy who is more ineffective than Aki Berg. As for Kubina, well at least we have a solid #3 D-guy, but for 5 million? In any case, I have a strong feeling that in time, guys like Coliacovo, White, Harrison, Kronvall, etc. will make these signings look that much more horrible.

    I agree that Quinn's coaching methods helped the leafs lose out on the playoffs last year. he is a great coach, but Maurice was necessary and is perhaps JFJ's best move as a GM. The accountability and systems work that Maurice brings is already paying off in the preseason. but i URGE TORONTO FANS to give this some time. it takes awhile for these coaching methods to be implemented on a team that has had a country club atmosphere over the past 7 years.

    What i am hoping to see this season:
    1) young kids and more young kids
    2) the realization that Gill, Belak, and whoever else (O'Neill?) are not necessary on this team and see their salaries go elsewhere
    3) a competitive, hard-working team that might last skill but has the necessary foundations to become a contender in the very near future.
    4) Hopefully their PP remains in the top 5 and their PK enters the top 15
    5) Hopefully we will see more consistency on defence – for the first time since the Burns-era
    6) Raycroft retains his form (it still might not be enough to make up for giving up Rask, who MIGHT develop into the best goalie in the world a few years down the line. Pogge is inferior to Rask btw)
    7) Coliacovo finally gets that rookie season he deserves – and leads all rookie defencemen in scoring by the end of the year (if not him, White certainly has the capability of putting up 20-30 points this year).
    8) improvement in the shootout department – again, Suglobov and Williams would help here. so would giving Wellwood, Steen more of shot (as opposed to Darcy Tucker).
    9) Leaf fans will finally realize that the reason why they didnt make the playoffs was the way the team played last season in January and february and how Quinn established no accountability … not Tellqvist and his two games in montreal (2 games in which the WHOLE LEAFS team blew, not just telly).
    10) Do not expect the leafs to win their games against the Sens and Sabres (maybe 4 or 5 wins against those two teams COMBINED). this alone could eliminate the Leafs. All Toronto can hope for is to have an above .500 record against the Habs and Bruins and the rest of the East.

    As for your outlook Nords,
    I agree with 6 teams you choose for the playoffs, all of which will be locks. The Leafs will finish 12th and have about 80-90 points.
    At the end of this year, there will be fans out there dismayed over the leafs missing the playoffs – asking what went wrong and such. they'll see a 12th place finish, 10 fewer points, etc as evidence that the offseason was a bust and Maurice is a bust, etc. JFJ might even be fired. but I will say this now, in September: the season is a success EVEN if that scenario occurs. WHY? because it is a scenario that will presumably see more young faces being incorporated onto the team, and the team itself will be more difficult to beat than it was in the previous season under quinn. How is this statement possible considering the worse record? OTHER TEAMS are improving! and a much faster rate because they got the ball rolling before the leafs did. it is really that simple.

  10. 92-93 says:

    you can always count on 24cups to respond to a leaf article – regardless of whtether it is good or not … because such matters of good and bad dont matter to him/her.

    what matters is maintaining his/her obsession with the leafs.

    hmmm,
    an obession with another team, constantly referring to cup wins, …

    heck i just took first year psych but even I know that this guy has some 'inadequacy issues' if you know what i mean (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

  11. 92-93 says:

    oh would you please GET OVER YOURSELF man.

  12. 92-93 says:

    saw that one coming.

  13. 92-93 says:

    a solid response to a great post, which was posted on a superb article.

  14. 92-93 says:

    thats funny mucks,

    because is it me or are the leafs looking a lot tougher TO BEAT than they were last year???

    i mean, its only preseason, but the Sens are NOT going to blow out the leafs lead  by Maurice, certainly not after november or december.

    as for toughness? are you kidding? the leafs have loads of toughness – peca, kilger, tucker, Belak, Gill … um, maybe not.

    not to mentiong guys like Brown and Ondrus who can be called up and be reliable too.

    trust me, the Sens have McGrattan, Neil (who is a pansy anyways), and that is it. not much depth in terms of toughness there.

  15. 92-93 says:

    better united?

    wasn’t it you that reported the whole situation with Alfie going behind EMery’s back in the playoffs?!?!

  16. 92-93 says:

    i feel bad for the Rangers fan and muckies and 24cups, they tried to come in and deviate the discussion from hockey-related to just 'leafs suck bla bla bla' and were soundly embarrassed.

    well, in any case, here's a link to how fickle muckies is when it comes to his 'united' Senators:

    http://www.hockeytraderumors.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=6600

  17. BLUE_AND_WHITE says:

    for skaters, yes, but goaltenders tend to play preseason games like any other game,

  18. BLUE_AND_WHITE says:

    HAHAHA, who the F U C K cares who could fight or not. The sens can't check to save their lives. well fisher can, but he doesn't becaue he'll just injure himself. by the way, i blieve gill beat neil in a fight.

    yes, muckies the sens can fight, but the rest of us watch hockey for the hockey.

  19. muckies says:

    You Leaf lovers gotta settle down,. I asked a legit questions, fighting is a part of Hockey, fighting has been a big part of Leafs hockey for the least few seasons under Quinn, and so it is a completely legitamtae questions -Who is going to fight for the Leafs?

    I didn't turn this into a Sens vs. Leafs thing, I just asked and stated that to me the Leafs look soft, go back and read the post. And the Leafs look  especially  soft at forwrad, their D is a legit, but they just don't have guys taht can fight or scrap or push and intimidate anybody at center and with the exception of Tucker, on the wings. 

    That's my opinion, and if you Leaf fans don't agree, that's cool, we'll just wait until the season starts to get it going, Hockey doesn't lie, and if the Leafs are soft, we'll see that evidance pretty quick..

  20. muckies says:

    I agree the Sens are less tough, but the Leafs are also less tough, but i do think they have gotten faster and better all round, but they just don't have the toughness in their top 6 forwards to get things done on a nightly basis. (leafs I[m talking here)

    Peca is alright but i don't think he'll turn anything around on his own. Kilger is a Mccammond type player that just plugs a hole wherver they need him. But to me the top 2 lines don't look like they are ready for action against the Carolina, Ottawa, Philly, Panthers, Buffalo, Bostos top 6. Everybody knows the Leafs need 1 more awesome winger to balance that out, but i don't see it coming from within.

  21. BLUE_AND_WHITE says:

    that makes no sense. most hockey clubs get scoring from more than their top 6, and you want your bottom 6 to be tough enough to defend your top 6, and trut me the leafs lost nothing in the way of toughness. lindros and allison couldn't hit but peca and gill sure can.

  22. BLUE_AND_WHITE says:

    You are an idiot. if you think McGratton wins you hockey games than i wouldsuggest watcing hckey games. Gill can fight, also kilger if neeed however i think the leafs will have about 5-10 scraps this season, which is fine. As for the forwards being soft, Peca, Tucker, and Kilger can hit, which will keep the offence back in the neutral zone, while Kubina, and Gill can keep guys out of in front of the net,

    have the leaf been soft so far in the preseason, hell no, quite the oposite, they'e been taking a few roughing, and checking from behid penaties in the neutral zone.

    remember that your top 6 shouldn't consist of checking forwards, they go on the 3rd ad 4 lines.

    the problem teams can have with being to softis on defence. guys like Sundin can park in front of the net without any trouble at all.

  23. muckies says:

    This is somewhat of a a burn.

    I still believe that Fisher or Redden should be the Captian of the team, and if Alfie has to be traded because he couldn't handle it that is fine, that would have to happen. (look what Modnao just did in Dallas) – However unlike evrybody else, I do not think that Alfie was the reason the Sens lost, he actually played amazing hockey all playoffs, and if he is the Captian and the Sens make the playoffs this year, i could honestly pick him to win the Conn Smythe  feel just fine with that. It's obviuos.  Buffallo was better. Alfie can change all that this year with a nother great playoffs and better results.

    I didn't watch a sinlge Carolina game last year, so i have no idea if Gerber is good or bad. I just go on his history, and what he did in the playoffsso I think he isn't good enough to win the Cup, but he could turn into another Dwayne Roloson and freak on everybosy and win the Cup, i hold my judgement on the goaltending.

    But the SEns are what they are, they have good depth and are solid, Alfie is probably still the teams best all-around player, but maybe he shouldn't be the Captian. I think Redden should be,  or Fisher if he would take it. I think Fishers personality is excatly what the Sens need in April.

  24. 92-93 says:

    sounds good to me.

    i think leaf fans are going to realize very quickly that this team will be -at best – a .500 squad.

    and that's it.

    as for toughnes, i dont think that will be a problem. not having enough skill will be the problem.

    remember, heart is something the leafs have always had – although last year wasn't a good year for that particular aspect of the leafs' game. but it is usually the sens that have no heart … something that was evident last year again.

    for the leafs, they have the play above their heads. for the sens, they have to learn to not be so arrogant. if these teams can do that, they'll go further than people expect them to.

  25. 92-93 says:

    well you are right.

    it is a burn. but all in good fun.

    just to let you know i do have a very long memory. Fisher or Redden MUST replace Alfie. I dont think he was the reason why they lost either, but as a captain, he had to do more and had to be less corrosive to his own club.

    Emery is an amazing goaltender and this year he is going to shine behind Gerber (great tandem those two). too bad he didnt get the support he needed last year. all those ottawa fans and media types hanging him out to dry sounds very similar to the Lalime era, when it was all blamed on him too.

    i think the sens will finish 1st or 2nd in the division, 1st or 4th in the conference and will make it all the way to the 2nd round again this year.

  26. muckies says:

    call me a meat head if you want, but i think the Sens will go to the Conferebce finals, and potentially the Cup finals. I like this team, they have good chemistry again, BUT the big thing is they are alot less arogant then last year. They know now that a goalie like Miller can burn them, or one injury like they had to Hasek could end eveything. The team thought they were better then they were last year. This year there is alot of caution in there voice, almost fear of not suceeding. I think its a good thing. They can beat any team that has been put together in the East in a 7 game series.
    The Sens aren’t flying under the radar this year, have you seen how many experts have picked them to win the Cup and the East, they still have huge expectations from the “experts”

    But your team and my team have the exact same problem, a goalie who has had only one good season, and we are not sure what the hell is going to ahppen. I say the Sems win both games Oct 4 &5, but that Raycroft is actually the best Leaf on the ice in both games, and Gerber is solid enough for the Sens to win. For my money, I keep Aubin, Tellqvist just seems unrealiable to me.

  27. 92-93 says:

    hey – i’ll give you that. they could make the finals … if they suddenly find an identity – and one that is not arrogant.

    they should have known about goalies burning them from before (re: Brodeur, Cujo, Belfour) and i have no idea they havent learned from those experiences.

    I agree about Aubin but i still say Telly hasnt been given his shot and no that period in March does not constitute a shot. I think the Leafs will win 2 or 3 games against the Sens this year. and maybe 5 in total against the Sens and Sabres. thats a given. they have to win the other non-divisional games and games against Boston and Montreal.

  28. woodsco85 says:

    Could drop any leaf on any night. Did you not see Brad Brown beat the S-H-I-T outta so called tough guy McGratton. If you didn’t, dont worry it was splashed all over the cover of every Toronto paper. Im sure you could find a picture on the net somewhere. He got embarassed. And to add to his embarassment, Brown is a 31 year old who plays for our AHL club! We also have Ben Ondrus, he’s our future Domi, a scored who can not only score, but can also rough up the competition. How bout you think before you type. MORON

  29. 92-93 says:

    I’m surprised that HTR hasn’t put up an official just-before-the-season-begins thread on Season Predictions so I’ll do mine here (NOTE: this site is not allowing me to put breaks between paragraphs so i will revise this when it does to make it more reader-friendly).
    …………..
    Atlantic Division
    1. NYR
    2. NJ
    3. Philadelphia
    4. NYI
    5. Pittsburgh
    …………..
    Not much change here, except that the two worst teams in the division will be better and lessen the gap between the top-3 teams of the division. Also, the division used to guarantee a powerhouse team for the East (usually Philly or NJ), but those two teams will be replaced by one team – the Rangers. The Rangers get high marks just for making shrewd moves – and not dumb, silly, blockbuster ones. Cullen and Shanahan are going to bring a bit more offence and grit to this Rangers squad, their young guys are coming along, and they have one of the best in Jagr. On top of that, the Rangers resigned Straka and got Aaron Ward to solidify their blueline. Like Boyes last year, Immonen is going to make the Leafs sorry for ever trading him.
    ………….
    The Flyers also have solid young guys but there are some questions in net, not to mention their lack of luck with injury. Their blueline is considerably slower than most teams as well. Baumgartner might surprise some with a good season, but their UFA signings were negligible.
    ………….
    The Devils have somehow managed to keep their main components. They are always a competitive team and will be in the top-6 for the East. Hopefully the Leafs can maintain their dominance of them from last season.
    ………….
    The Islanders will challenge for the playoffs. With their mix of youth (Tambellini, Nilsson, Campoli) and vets – not to mention a whole different leadership in terms of coaching and the front office. They are going to be a hard to team to beat on most nights and I see this year as being a big year for DiPietro. Hill, Witt, and Poti were solid signings for their defence (Witt should offset Poti’s non-physical style).
    …………….
    Pittsburgh will continue to lose a lot of games but., again, they can score at will. Defence is still the main problem (Eaton isn’t going to do it) with this squad and its surprising they didn’t make any moves to trade for one of the Johnson’s (Erik, Jack). Ruutu was a good signing to add some grit to the forward lines. Crosby and Malkin and Staal down the middle… that’s just sick
    ………….
    Southeast Division
    1. Carolina
    2. Florida
    3. Tampa Bay
    4. Atlanta
    5. Washington
    ……………
    The once mighty Lightning will miss the playoffs. They still have the big 3 up front but defence and inconsistent goaltending will continue to plague this team (Denis will help, but not much). I see Tortorella being let go by the end of the year. I don’t like the trends I saw last year and the moves they made in the offseason. Kuba will replace Kubina, but Richardson and Delmore are not going to help much. There’s less depth everywhere, Fedotenko returns but Modin is gone.
    ……………..
    Washington, like Pittsburgh, will continue to occupy the low end of the standings. Fehr will have a solid rookie year with the Caps (maybe Semin will make a difference?). Their defence is still questionable and I think their depth in net isn’t that great (although Pothier is one of the most solid, underrated defensive signings this offseason). Still, look for them to improve slightly on their year last year and to continue to beating teams that are at the top of the standings and who either underestimate them or on their way down.
    ……………….
    The Panthers have made some big moves and have kept their young guys too. Bert, Auld, and Allen are going to make this team a more well-rounded team. Salei is an OK signing and the young guys are getting more experience and getting better every year. Before he left, Keenan’s best move, like Ferguson, is NOT trading for Pronger and keeping his young players. But with Keenan gone and Martin in control, how stable is the situation in Florida?
    ……………….
    The Thrashers will once again miss the playoffs this year despite their explosive offense and solid goaltending (Lehtonen; Hedberg as the back-up should surprise). Again, defence is their Achilles heal. After this year, a new GM might be necessary.
    ……………….
    The Canes will continue to be a solid, 100+pt club with the core still in tact. Look for guys like Ladd to make an impact. The Canes resigned all the right guys – Cole, Staal, Commodore, Kaberle, Brindamour. The loss of Recchi and Weight won’t affect this team too much (although I don’t think the Isbister signing will help). Gleason and Bergeron might help but time will tell if they were worth Johnson. They’ve got all the experience they need from last year’s successful campaign.
    ………………….
    Northeast Division
    1. Ottawa
    2. Buffalo
    3. Montreal
    4. Boston
    5. Toronto
    …………….
    The Senators and Sabres will return as the teams to beat although the Sabres have yet to make a splash and have lost a key – Jay McKee – defenceman. Their speed and style though are so well suited to the new NHL and they are the paradigm to follow. Moreover, Spacek is a solid addition to the Sabres already speedy defense. They resigned the right guys but I wonder about the Biron situation. Will their GM trade him during this season and who will they get? With Connoly gone with a concussion, maybe another center will be traded for or signed? In any case, the Sabres are in a good spot to improve their team as the season progresses.
    ………………
    The Sens will return as the division leaders but it means nothing to no one until the playoffs begin. Will the Sens finally give up their *****y attitude? Will some of their fans, who laugh at the blowouts and poor play of others (Habs, Sabres, Leafs) finally realize that 1st place means nothing other than a 1/16th chance at the Cup come April? Corvo and Gerber are solid signings. You cannot replace Chara but the Sens did a good job here. I would rather have the offensive upside and speed of Pressing and Corvo than Chara. The question is – does their D have enough muscle? Losing Havlat is another blow but the Sens have loads of offense upfront. McAmmond and Kaigorodov could make a huge difference down the middle. The Sens are set … for the regular season of course.
    ………………
    I know the Canadiens had an OK team last year – inconsistent and yet dangerous also (hard to believe that such a team – like the Leafs – can be, at once, both overrated – by their fans – and underrated – by other fans – at the same time). They have resigned the right guys (Bouillion and Huet among others) but they still haven’t addressed the toughness up front (Nolan could have helped here) or their defensive issues. They signed the inconsistent Samsonov and got rid of Zednick (but not Ribero). However, one of the big steals is their trade for Mike Johnson. This kid is going to be huge for the Habs and Gainey got him for only a 4th round pick. The absence of Koivu will hurt this team, but his potential return should also give them a significant boost during the regular season. Ninnima and the loss or Ribero won’t make much of a difference. the Habs will still be amongst the best divers in the league.
    ………………
    Boston’s acquisition of Chara (along with Rask and drafting Kessel), their goaltending being set, and their young forwards (Bergeron, Boyes) along with Savard is going to make them tough to beat. I love the Mara-for-Boynton trade and I really like how their defense is shaping up (Mara, Chara, Stuart, Jurcina, etc.). I see them either just missing the playoffs or grabing the 7th or 8th spot. For all the dysfunctionality in Boston, this team has a solid future and their new GM and front office seems to be reforming this team in a smart, effective way. The Bruins’ organizational transformation is bad news for every other team in their division – big time.
    ……………….
    Toronto will also barely miss the playoffs by a few points. Once again it comes down to a lack of skill for the shootouts and a lack of overall speed. Raycroft is a huge question mark. He is an understandable risk but one wonders if it will be so understandable at the end of the year. The Leafs got rid of all the right players and kept who they had to keep. Toronto’s scoring will be fine just like it has been under the Quinn regime thanks to their offensive blueline (McCabe, Kaberle, Kubina) and the continued emergence of their younger players (White, Coliacovo, Steen, Wellwood, Stajan, Poni). Some underrated guys are going to suprise this year – including White, Pohl, and Williams.

    The wild card for this team is Paul Maurice, who I wouldn’t be surprised if he instilled an awesome forecheck plan that gets this team into the playoffs. Also, their D and their forwards have more grit and muscle than their counterparts in Montreal and Ottawa. But will this be enough to make the playoffs considering all the improvements made by the Isles, Boston, and Florida (and despite the lack of improvement from Philly, TB, and Atlanta).
    ………………
    The conference standings for the Eastern Conference:
    ………………
    1. NYR
    2. Carolina
    3. Ottawa
    4. Buffalo
    5. NJ
    6. Philadelphia
    7. Montreal
    8. Boston

    9. Florida
    10. NYI
    11. Tampa Bay
    12. Toronto
    13. Atlanta
    14. Pittsburgh
    15. Washington
    …………………..
    The gap between 1st and 15th will be much smaller this year in the East (40 pts max separating 1st from 15th).
    …………………..
    Quickly, in the West, there’s going to be some significant changes:
    …………………..
    1. Nashville
    2. San Jose
    3. Calgary
    4. Detroit
    5. Anaheim
    6. Vancouver
    7. Minnesota
    8. Phoenix
    ———————
    9. Dallas
    10. Colorado
    11. L.A. Kings
    12. Edmonton
    13. Columbus
    14. St. Louis
    15. Chicago

  30. 92-93 says:

    Looking specifically at the leafs ….. Will this be the year Coliacovo plays regularly for the team without injury? The fat (Domi and Belfour’s contracts, Belak, O’Neill?, Lindros/Allison, Gill) will need to be trimmed for the next year when hopefully they’ll have a shot at a younger UFA winger or trade for one. But as in past years, the leafs – although they have defensive depth – will be struggling in their own end with the speedier and more skilled forwards of other teams. They paid too much for too little this offseason (Gill, Kubina) and its going to hurt them for the next couple of seasons. By the end of the year, Ferguson will be fired and will hopefully not making anymore moves that are going to hurt the team in the long-run. However, when a guy knows he is on his way out, sometimes he does things out of desperation (i.e. – signing a guy like Kubina for 5 million and for 4 years). The next GM is going to have a difficult time trying to unload the mistakes that Ferguson has made in the last few months (McCabe’s no movement clause, Kubina and Gill’s signing, etc.). THE KEYS FOR THE LEAFS’ SCHEDULE As for what the leafs need to do with their schedule, it is quite simple – beat Montreal and Boston. No easy task considering the improvements both teams made. But one must assume that the Leafs won’t win much against the Sens and Sabres. Although I have predicted elsewhere – and continue to predict – that the leafs will finish between 8th and 12th with 76-86 points, if the Leafs actually make the playoffs they must get at least 40 wins and 94 points IMO. Therefore, I am going to put the magic record at 40-28-7-7. Although I don’t think the Leafs have the team to get this record, here is a breakdown of what the Leafs need to do for their 82-game schedule: DIVISIONAL TEAMS – total of 14 wins and 33 points (out of a possible 64 points). 1) Defeat the Sabres and Sens at LEAST 4 times and acquire a total of 1 OTL or SOL for a total of 9 pts. 2) Defeat the Habs at least 5 times and 2 SOLs or OTLs for a total of 12 pts. That means contain their wingers, stay out of the 5-on-3s and hope the refs will finally adapt to the Habs’ diving, not to mention Raycroft/Aubin must outplay Huet/Aebeshier. 3) Defeat the Bruins at least 5 times and 2 SOLs or OTLs for a total of 12 pts. Again, the Bruins are an improved team and I pick them to finish ahead of the Leafs this year. SOUTHEAST DIVISION TEAMS – total of 12 wins and 27 points (out of a possible 40 pts) 1) Defeat the Carolina Hurricanes at least once and acquire at least one SOL or OTL for 3 pts. 2) Defeat the Panthers (twice), Caps (3 times), Thrashers (4 times), and Lightning (twice) and acquire at least 2 SOLs or OTLs against these teams. ATLANTIC DIVISION TEAMS – total of 10 wins and 24 points (out of a possible 40 points) 1) Defeat the Rangers at least once and acquire at least one SOL or OTL for 3 pts. 2) Defeat the Devils and Flyers at least 4 times and at least 1 SOL or OTL for 9 pts. 3) Defeat the Pens and Isles at least 5 times and at least 2 SOLs or OTLs for 12 pts. WESTERN CONFERENCE TEAMS – total of 4 wins and 10 points (out of a possible 20 points) 1) Cgy: Lose 2) Col: Win 3) at CBJ: Win 4) at Det: Lose 5) at Chi: OTL or SOL 6) Minny: Lose 7) Van: Win 8) at Nsh: Lose 9) at St.L: OTL or SOL 10) Edm: Win Therefore, the Leafs must maintain an above .500 record against not divisional conference teams and improve big time over their record last year against Western Conference teams with at least a .500 record there.

  31. 92-93 says:

    I’m surprised that HTR hasn’t put up an official just-before-the-season-begins thread on Season Predictions so I’ll do mine here.

    Atlantic Division

    1. NYR

    2. NJ

    3. Philadelphia

    4. NYI

    5. Pittsburgh

    Not much change here, except that the two worst teams in the division will be better and lessen the gap between the top-3 teams of the division. Also, the division used to guarantee a powerhouse team for the East (usually Philly or NJ), but those two teams will be replaced by one team – the Rangers.

    The Rangers get high marks just for making shrewd moves – and not dumb, silly, blockbuster ones. Cullen and Shanahan are going to bring a bit more offence and grit to this Rangers squad, their young guys are coming along, and they have one of the best in Jagr. On top of that, the Rangers resigned Straka and got Aaron Ward to solidify their blueline. Like Boyes last year, Immonen is going to make the Leafs sorry for ever trading him.

    The Flyers also have solid young guys but there are some questions in net, not to mention their lack of luck with injury. Their blueline is considerably slower than most teams as well. Baumgartner might surprise some with a good season, but their UFA signings were negligible.

    The Devils have somehow managed to keep their main components. They are always a competitive team and will be in the top-6 for the East. Hopefully the Leafs can maintain their dominance of them from last season.

    The Islanders will challenge for the playoffs. With their mix of youth (Tambellini, Nilsson, Campoli) and vets – not to mention a whole different leadership in terms of coaching and the front office. They are going to be a hard to team to beat on most nights and I see this year as being a big year for DiPietro. Hill, Witt, and Poti were solid signings for their defence (Witt should offset Poti’s non-physical style).

    Pittsburgh will continue to lose a lot of games but., again, they can score at will. Defence is still the main problem (Eaton isn’t going to do it) with this squad and its surprising they didn’t make any moves to trade for one of the Johnson’s (Erik, Jack). Ruutu was a good signing to add some grit to the forward lines. Crosby and Malkin and Staal down the middle… that’s just sick

    Southeast Division

    1. Carolina

    2. Florida

    3. Tampa Bay

    4. Atlanta

    5. Washington

    The once mighty Lightning will miss the playoffs. They still have the big 3 up front but defence and inconsistent goaltending will continue to plague this team (Denis will help, but not much). I see Tortorella being let go by the end of the year. I don’t like the trends I saw last year and the moves they made in the offseason. Kuba will replace Kubina, but Richardson and Delmore are not going to help much. There’s less depth everywhere, Fedotenko returns but Modin is gone.

    Washington, like Pittsburgh, will continue to occupy the low end of the standings. Fehr will have a solid rookie year with the Caps (maybe Semin will make a difference?). Their defence is still questionable and I think their depth in net isn’t that great (although Pothier is one of the most solid, underrated defensive signings this offseason). Still, look for them to improve slightly on their year last year and to continue to beating teams that are at the top of the standings and who either underestimate them or on their way down.

    The Panthers have made some big moves and have kept their young guys too. Bert, Auld, and Allen are going to make this team a more well-rounded team. Salei is an OK signing and the young guys are getting more experience and getting better every year. Before he left, Keenan’s best move, like Ferguson, is NOT trading for Pronger and keeping his young players. But with Keenan gone and Martin in control, how stable is the situation in Florida?

    The Thrashers will once again miss the playoffs this year despite their explosive offense and solid goaltending (Lehtonen; Hedberg as the back-up should surprise). Again, defence is their Achilles heal. After this year, a new GM might be necessary.

    The Canes will continue to be a solid, 100+pt club with the core still in tact. Look for guys like Ladd to make an impact. The Canes resigned all the right guys – Cole, Staal, Commodore, Kaberle, Brindamour. The loss of Recchi and Weight won’t affect this team too much (although I don’t think the Isbister signing will help). Gleason and Bergeron might help but time will tell if they were worth Johnson. They’ve got all the experience they need from last year’s successful campaign.

    Northeast Division

    1. Ottawa

    2. Buffalo

    3. Montreal

    4. Boston

    5. Toronto

    The Senators and Sabres will return as the teams to beat although the Sabres have yet to make a splash and have lost a key – Jay McKee – defenceman. Their speed and style though are so well suited to the new NHL and they are the paradigm to follow. Moreover, Spacek is a solid addition to the Sabres already speedy defense. They resigned the right guys but I wonder about the Biron situation. Will their GM trade him during this season and who will they get? With Connoly gone with a concussion, maybe another center will be traded for or signed? In any case, the Sabres are in a good spot to improve their team as the season progresses.

    The Sens will return as the division leaders but it means nothing to no one until the playoffs begin. Will the Sens finally give up their *****y attitude? Will some of their fans, who laugh at the blowouts and poor play of others (Habs, Sabres, Leafs) finally realize that 1st place means nothing other than a 1/16th chance at the Cup come April? Corvo and Gerber are solid signings. You cannot replace Chara but the Sens did a good job here. I would rather have the offensive upside and speed of Pressing and Corvo than Chara. The question is – does their D have enough muscle? Losing Havlat is another blow but the Sens have loads of offense upfront. McAmmond and Kaigorodov could make a huge difference down the middle. The Sens are set … for the regular season of course.

    I know the Canadiens had an OK team last year – inconsistent and yet dangerous also (hard to believe that such a team – like the Leafs – can be, at once, both overrated – by their fans – and underrated – by other fans – at the same time). They have resigned the right guys (Bouillion and Huet among others) but they still haven’t addressed the toughness up front (Nolan could have helped here) or their defensive issues. They signed the inconsistent Samsonov and got rid of Zednick (but not Ribero). However, one of the big steals is their trade for Mike Johnson. This kid is going to be huge for the Habs and Gainey got him for only a 4th round pick. The absence of Koivu will hurt this team, but his potential return should also give them a significant boost during the regular season. Ninnima and the loss or Ribero won’t make much of a difference. the Habs will still be amongst the best divers in the league.

    Boston’s acquisition of Chara (along with Rask and drafting Kessel), their goaltending being set, and their young forwards (Bergeron, Boyes) along with Savard is going to make them tough to beat. I love the Mara-for-Boynton trade and I really like how their defense is shaping up (Mara, Chara, Stuart, Jurcina, etc.). I see them either just missing the playoffs or grabing the 7th or 8th spot. For all the dysfunctionality in Boston, this team has a solid future and their new GM and front office seems to be reforming this team in a smart, effective way. The Bruins’ organizational transformation is bad news for every other team in their division – big time.

    Toronto will also barely miss the playoffs by a few points. Once again it comes down to a lack of skill for the shootouts and a lack of overall speed. Raycroft is a huge question mark. He is an understandable risk but one wonders if it will be so understandable at the end of the year. The Leafs got rid of all the right players and kept who they had to keep. Toronto’s scoring will be fine just like it has been under the Quinn regime thanks to their offensive blueline (McCabe, Kaberle, Kubina) and the continued emergence of their younger players (White, Coliacovo, Steen, Wellwood, Stajan, Poni). Some underrated guys are going to suprise this year – including White, Pohl, and Williams. The wild card for this team is Paul Maurice, who I wouldn’t be surprised if he instilled an awesome forecheck plan that gets this team into the playoffs. Also, their D and their forwards have more grit and muscle than their counterparts in Montreal and Ottawa. But will this be enough to make the playoffs considering all the improvements made by the Isles, Boston, and Florida (and despite the lack of improvement from Philly, TB, and Atlanta).

    The conference standings for the Eastern Conference:

    1. NYR

    2. Carolina

    3. Ottawa

    4. Buffalo

    5. NJ

    6. Philadelphia

    7. Montreal

    8. Boston

    9. Florida

    10. NYI

    11. Tampa Bay

    12. Toronto

    13. Atlanta

    14. Pittsburgh

    15. Washington

    The gap between 1st and 15th will be much smaller this year in the East (40 pts max separating 1st from 15th).

    Quickly, in the West, there’s going to be some significant changes:

    1. Nashville

    2. San Jose

    3. Calgary

    4. Detroit

    5. Anaheim

    6. Vancouver

    7. Minnesota

    8. Phoenix

    9. Dallas

    10. Colorado

    11. L.A. Kings

    12. Edmonton

    13. Columbus

    14. St. Louis

    15. Chicago

  32. 92-93 says:

    Looking specifically at the leafs …..

    Will this be the year Coliacovo plays regularly for the team without injury? The fat (Domi and Belfour’s contracts, Belak, O’Neill?, Lindros/Allison, Gill) will need to be trimmed for the next year when hopefully they’ll have a shot at a younger UFA winger or trade for one. Will this be the year were more earthshattering changes are made (i.e. trading Sundin or Kubina?).

    As in past years, the leafs – although they have defensive depth – will be struggling in their own end with the speedier and more skilled forwards of other teams. They paid too much for too little this offseason (Gill, Kubina) and its going to hurt them for the next couple of seasons. By the end of the year, Ferguson will be fired and will hopefully not making anymore moves that are going to hurt the team in the long-run. However, when a guy knows he is on his way out, sometimes he does things out of desperation (i.e. – signing a guy like Kubina for 5 million and for 4 years). The next GM is going to have a difficult time trying to unload the mistakes that Ferguson has made in the last few months (McCabe’s no movement clause, Kubina and Gill’s signing, etc.).

    THE KEYS FOR THE LEAFS’ SCHEDULE

    As for what the leafs need to do with their schedule, it is quite simple – beat Montreal and Boston. No easy task considering the improvements both teams made. But one must assume that the Leafs won’t win much against the Sens and Sabres. Although I have predicted elsewhere – and continue to predict – that the leafs will finish between 8th and 12th with 76-86 points, if the Leafs actually make the playoffs they must get at least 40 wins and 94 points IMO. Therefore, I am going to put the magic record at 40-28-7-7.

    Although I don’t think the Leafs have the team to get this record, here is a breakdown of what the Leafs need to do for their 82-game schedule:

    DIVISIONAL TEAMS – total of 14 wins and 33 points (out of a possible 64 points).

    1) Defeat the Sabres and Sens at LEAST 4 times and acquire a total of 1 OTL or SOL for a total of 9 pts.

    2) Defeat the Habs at least 5 times and 2 SOLs or OTLs for a total of 12 pts. That means contain their wingers, stay out of the 5-on-3s and hope the refs will finally adapt to the Habs’ diving, not to mention Raycroft/Aubin must outplay Huet/Aebeshier.

    3) Defeat the Bruins at least 5 times and 2 SOLs or OTLs for a total of 12 pts. Again, the Bruins are an improved team and I pick them to finish ahead of the Leafs this year.

    SOUTHEAST DIVISION TEAMS – total of 12 wins and 27 points (out of a possible 40 pts)

    1) Defeat the Carolina Hurricanes at least once and acquire at least one SOL or OTL for 3 pts.

    2) Defeat the Panthers (twice), Caps (3 times), Thrashers (4 times), and Lightning (twice) and acquire at least 2 SOLs or OTLs against these teams.

    ATLANTIC DIVISION TEAMS – total of 10 wins and 24 points (out of a possible 40 points)

    1) Defeat the Rangers at least once and acquire at least one SOL or OTL for 3 pts.

    2) Defeat the Devils and Flyers at least 4 times and at least 1 SOL or OTL for 9 pts.

    3) Defeat the Pens and Isles at least 5 times and at least 2 SOLs or OTLs for 12 pts.

    WESTERN CONFERENCE TEAMS – total of 4 wins and 10 points (out of a possible 20 points)

    1) Cgy: Lose

    2) Col: Win

    3) at CBJ: Win

    4) at Det: Lose

    5) at Chi: OTL or SOL

    6) Minny: Lose

    7) Van: Win

    8) at Nsh: Lose

    9) at St.L: OTL or SOL

    10) Edm: Win

    Therefore, the Leafs must maintain an above .500 record against not divisional conference teams and improve big time over their record last year against Western Conference teams with at least a .500 record there.

  33. 92-93 says:

    The magic record: 40-28-7-7 (94 points in 82 games).

    DIVISIONAL TEAMS – total of 14 wins and 33 points (out of a possible 64 points).
    1) vs Buffalo: 2-8-0
    2) vs Ottawa: 2-7-1
    3) vs Mtl: 5-1-2
    4) vs Boston: 5-1-2

    SOUTHEAST DIVISION TEAMS – total of 12 wins and 27 points (out of a possible 40 pts)
    1) vs Carolina: 1-2-1
    2) vs Florida: 2-1-1
    3) vs Washington: 3-1-0
    4) vs Atlanta: 4-0-0
    5) vs Tampa Bay 2-1-1

    ATLANTIC DIVISION TEAMS – total of 10 wins and 24 points (out of a possible 40 points)
    1) vs NYR: 1-2-1
    2) vs NJ: 2-1-1
    3) vs Philadelphia: 2-2-0
    4) vs Pittsburgh: 2-1-1
    5) vs NYI 3-0-1 

    WESTERN CONFERENCE TEAMS – total of 4 wins and 10 points (out of a possible 20 points)
    1) Cgy: Lose
    2) Col: Win
    3) at CBJ: Win
    4) at Det: Lose
    5) at Chi: Win
    6) Minny: Lose
    7) Van: Win
    8) at Nsh: Lose
    9) at St.L: OTL or SOL
    10) Edm: OTL or SOL 

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