Why the Toronto Maple Leafs WILL make the playoffs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the evil empire of the NHL. People either love them or love to hate them. The haters will always find a reason to hate any move the leafs make while the hopeless romantics will praise just about any move they make. But I am more excited for this season then any other and they will make the playoffs this year and here is why….I would first like to start off by saying that I very much expect to be ripped because thats what this site has seemingly turned into anytime the Leafs are mentioned. But for once I ask everybody to keep it civil, leaf fans and haters alike.
Ill first start off with the fowards. Many people are expecting this to be the leafs main trouble area going into training camp and ill tend to agree with them. JFJ had a decent off season but he did not get a winger for Mats. Although this would be difficult given the leafs tight cap situation, so you cannot fully blame him. The leafs however will have to make due with what they already have. I will give my own line combination on what I think they should do.
- Steen is already the face of the young Maple Leafs so why not put him with the face of the Maple Leafs. You may question Pohl being on the top line but he is talented and maybe playing with Sundin could kick him up a bit.
- O’Neill had a horrible first year in Toronto but heres to hoping that Paul Maurice can get him to be the 30 goal man he used to be. Toronto really needs at least 20 goals from both him and Tucker off this 2nd line or they are going no where.
- Peca was a great addition to the team but finding linemates for him will be difficult. Poni and Antro seem to work well off each other and both are strong in the defensive zone so why not put them both with Peca as a type of shut down line?
- Poor Matt Stajan. I really like the guy so sticking him on the 4th line was tough but Kilger and Ondrus proved towards the end of the year that they can be useful energy guys in the offensive zone.
So as you can the leafs lack a winger who can score 30 goals and really only have one guy on the foward lines who can actually score 30. They do however have a bunch of guys who can score 10 to 20. The one guy they really need to step up and score a few more goals in Alex Steen. Its a tough task to ask such a young player but Steen is capable of scoring 25 goals this season if he gets some sugar time on the PP.
Now on the defense which has easily gone from weakness to strength over the last month.
- As much as I hate the fact that the leafs resigned McCabe to such a rediculous contract he is a good PP QB. McCabe however cannot do anything without his defensive partner Kaberle who not only covers up McCabes mistakes in the defensive zone but makes him a much better offensive player as well. Kaberle is guy who makes the defense tick and I wouldnt wanna know what this team would be like without him on it.
- Pavel Kubina is a legit #2 defenseman and I would put him with his buddy Kaberle if McCabes chemistry with Kaberle wasnt so great. Colt 45 aka Colaiacovo impressed me with his hits and solid offensive zone play during his short stint last year but he still needs to improve his defensive zone coverage. Putting him with a veteran like Kubina could help that plus they would both be able to build enough chemistry together to make a successful #2 PP pairing.
- Ian White impressed many with his skating and maturity last year so he has to make this defense again. These two defenseman are polar opposites of each other with Gill being the big, bruising, stay at home guy while White is the swift skating rushing guy. They should both be able to feed off each other strengths and produce a solid third pairing.
Overall, this is the best defense Toronto has had over the last decade. Are they a little overpaid? Yes they are but by adding Kubina and Gill the leafs got themselves two guys who can play 20 minutes a game and will ease the burden of Kabs and McCabe who will also play better with more rest.
Now the goaltending…
#1 Andrew Raycroft
#2 Jean-Sebastien Aubin
Raycroft had a tough year in Boston and has been written off by many as the next Jim Carey. Raycroft though has the pedigree of winning. He won best goalie honours in the OHL, was a great goalie for Providence in the AHL, and he did win the Calder. Raycroft just had a bad year, he did have some nagging injuries but when its all said and done I just think he got caught up in mind games with himself. Raycroft just needs his confidence back and a change of scenery behind a strong defense should help that. Expect Raycroft to play around 60 games with Aubin getting the other 20 based on his superb play towards the end of last year.
So this is the team the Toronto Maple Leafs will most likely ice at the beginning of the season. The leafs may not be the goal scoring force they once were but by adding Peca to a already improving defensive minded foward core I think this team will be much more responsible in its own zone and will be difficult to play against with the up tempo style Maurice is going to use.
So why do I think the Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs this year? Simply put the Eastern Conference gets extremely muddy in the last 3 playoff positions and if the leafs skate hard and play defense the way they can then there is no reason why they cant beat out the the traditional playoff bottom feeders in the East.