After a few years in the wilderness as Brian Burke tried to rebuild the team, things seem to be finally coming to fruition for the Maple Leafs. Buoyed by James Reimer in net, Toronto finished in 10th with 85 points. However, they were the best of the not good teams in the Eastern Conference. Case in point, Carolina, who finished ninth, had a minus-3 goal differential. Toronto was at minus-33. That was 10th best in the East, but that is also a big gap. Still, the team is headed in the right direction. Could this be the year they legitimately contend for the playoffs?
Reimer will probably be the main catalyst for this team’s success or failure this season. As a rookie, he put up an excellent .921 save percentage in 37 games. He’s only 23, so he should continue to get better. That being said, last season didn’t provide enough of a sample size to feel completely confident in Reimer. I certainly don’t expect him to post another .921 SV%. That isn’t to knock him. Save percentages that high are no common. Even if he can be an above average goalie, that would be a major improvement for the Leafs over past seasons. Clearly, Reimer is going to be the starter this year. If he’s up to the task, it would be huge for Toronto.
Toronto’s only notable free agent addition this offseason was Tim Connolly, which is a risky but intriguing proposition. When healthy, he can be a really good player. However, he hasn’t played a full season since 2001-2002. He’s likely to miss some time this season, but he should also be good for 15 goals and 45 points, which is nice. They didn’t really lose much in free agency, having only really seen J.S. Giguere leave. Of course, Tomas Kaberle isn’t there anymore, but that trade happened last season.
The Maple Leafs have acquired quite a bit of young talent. People like to knock the Phil Kessel trade, and they certainly gave away a lot, but Kessel is a really good player with the potential to be a great, 50 goal scorer. He had 32 goals and 64 points last season. Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin have come into their own as players. Clarke MacArthur is coming off a career year, but obviously there are reasons to be dubious about his 21 goal, 62 point season. However, he’ll be a good forward, so he’ll have value. Young players such as Nazem Kadri, Luca Caputi, and Joe Colborne, the last of which came over in the Kaberle trade, may be ready to contribute as well.
Plus, Luke Schenn is still only 21, and Toronto’s defense is actually looking pretty good on paper now. They still have Dion Phaneuf, who still has plenty of talent even if he may not put up numbers like he did in Calgary again. They also added John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson via trade, the latter of which came over alongside Matthew Lombardi. If Lombardi is healthy this season, he’s a nice addition as well.
Toronto might be a year away with all this young talent, but they are still a team to keep an eye on. Burke has done a nice job with this team, and they appear pretty good on paper. At the moment, I’m not pegging them to make the playoffs, but they are definitely a legit contender for the postseason.
Last team up: Ottawa Senators
Next team up: Carolina Hurricanes