The outlook is bright for Leafs fans, if the outlook we are speaking about is for 2014. Unfortunately for Leafs Nation the 2008/09 season is going to be a very, very long one. Consider the fact that CBC is already planning to have more Habs games and less Leafs games on national television; that tells you all you need to know about how ugly it could get in the GTA from October to April. But hey, the Raptors start playing in late October, so there is always something else to look forward to. Right?
The team’s best forward last season was Mats Sundin (you know, that guy you may have heard about once or twice this off-season). Barring some unforeseen change, Sundin has played his last game for the Leafs; thus, the team is left without even one bona-fide top-three forward on its roster. In place of the departed Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood are Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and Mikhail Grabovski. Inspire confidence? I didn’t think so.
It isn’t all doom and gloom for the Leafs, as Alexander Steen and Jiri Tlusty are both young and talented and should improve on last season’s numbers. Additionally, Jason Blake cannot possibly be as bad as last season’s 52 points in 82 games, and Mikhail Grabovski could very well be a nice point producer up-front for the Buds. And we can’t forget about Nikolai Antropov’s breakout year, but we will need to see him replicate last season’s production before he becomes an established NHL scorer. Even with some reason for upside, the Leafs still have a bunch of forwards who are serviceable NHLers but do not possess the necessary skill level the team will need to compete for a playoff spot. Low scoring games may become the norm for the Leafs in 2008/09.
The Leafs’ defense is not as bad as its forward crops, so there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Led by Tomas Kaberle, the Leafs have a legitimate top-two defender who is capable of making a good first pass, leading the power play and logging a ton of minutes. Kaberle is arguably the team’s best player. After that, the Leafs still have Pavel Kubina, who played substantially better to end last season, and Mike Van Ryn (assuming the Bryan McCabe trade goes through on Tuesday). Both of these players, while not all-star calibre, are certainly capable of playing substantial minutes. Add in Ian White and Carlo Coliacovo and this team has worse problems than its back-end.
Hold on, hold on, I didn’t forget about Jeff Finger! The big defenseman couldn’t consistently crack the Avalanche’s top-six during last year’s playoffs, but hey, what’s $14 million between friends? Luke Schenn can’t come soon enough.
The Leafs may be thin up front and okay on defense but the team is certainly solid in between the pipes. Vesa Toskala was very impressive last season and was the main reason why the Leafs even had a chance at the playoffs. His .904 save percentage and 2.74 G.A.A. were notable on such a poor team. As well, adding in Curtis Joseph as a back-up lets Toskala know it is his show this season and allows for a healthy relationship between starter and back-up.
Ceiling: 13th in the Eastern Conference.
Floor: 15th in the Eastern Conference.
Let the Brian Burke rumours continue…