WILL THE LEAFS RETURN TO THE PLAYOFFS?
And so am I! Did you miss me? Well I hope you all had an enjoyable summer filled with golf, fishing, and reminiscing on the season that could have been.
But the long five month wait is finally over, and the Leafs look... almost the same as they did on April 12. Sure, there have been some free agent signings, trades, and a complete overhaul, the core of the team is still here. Kessel, JVR, Kadri, Lupul, Phaneuf, Gardiner... Clarkson. They are all still here and just like the shortened season, there is no expectations for the Leafs to wow the hockey world.
Or is there?
What did the Leafs do during the offseason?
Believe or not, the Leafs were fairly active during the long summer. While LA was stopping over the Rangers, Leafs Nation was in the middle of a culture overhaul. The main change is obviously the arrival of Shanahan as team president and Kyle Dubas as the assistant GM, signaling an end of an era.
No longer will you hear Carlyle commentating on how advanced stats do not affect his team. And it could potentially be the end of Colton Orr's time with the Blue and White. This shows that the Leafs are now embracing advanced stats and it was influced by some of the offseason signings (Booth).
Here's the full list of additions and subtractions in the front office:
Brandon Shanahan Claude Louiselle
Kyle Dubas Dave Poulin
Peter Horachek Greg Cronin
Steve Spott Scott Gordon
On top of the office change, the Leafs added more depth to the forward position and some new faces on the back end. The good thing about this large amount of forwards is that, considering what happened last season, it is a welcoming sign to see players on the bottom six who can actually play the game. Going back to last season, the Leafs barely had a third line that remained consistent throughout the season and the fourth line did not even exist. (remember when Carlyle used 7 defencemen?)
And who could forget the same team that gave up more than 35 shots per game? Some could say that Phaneuf was used to much, the defense was inexperienced, and the team lacked the basic mind set of defending. Based on the offseason signings and trades, it looks like the Leafs were focused on improving team defense by bringing more experienced players whos primary role is play defensive hockey, and I think the Leafs got what they needed.
Here's the full list of signings and trades the Leafs did this summer, and see what you think:
|June 28, 2014|
|To St. Louis Blues|
Calgary's 4th-round pick in 2014 (St. Louis used pick to draft Ville Husso)
|To Toronto Maple Leafs|
|July 1, 2014|
|To Columbus Blue Jackets|
Conditional 7th-round pick in 2015
|To Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Date||Player||Former team||Contract terms|
(in U.S. dollars)
|July 1, 2014||Stephane Robidas||Anaheim Ducks||3 years, $9 million|||
|July 1, 2014||Leo Komarov||Dynamo Moscow||4 years, $11.8 million|||
|July 3, 2014||Petri Kontiola||Traktor Chelyabinsk||1 year, $1.1 million|||
|July 3, 2014||Mike Santorelli||Vancouver Canucks||1 year, $1.5 million|||
|July 22, 2014||David Booth||Vancouver Canucks||1 year, $1.1 million|||
|July 28, 2014||Daniel Winnik||Anaheim Ducks||1 year, $1.3 million|||
Will they help?
That depends on the players themselves. Remember, a majority of the free agent signings are one year deals. Meaning, all of them will be playing their hearts out to try and stay beyond this upcoming season. Take Petri Kontiola for instance, this is a guy who was drafted by the Blackhawks but was never able to crack the lineup (only 5 points in 12 games). Nearing his 30s, Kontiola has admitted that he has "a do-or-die mentality" as he may not have another chance to prove himself capable of playing in the NHL.
David Booth also wants to prove himself. When he entered the NHL, he had high expectations to become a goal scorer and leader. Unfortunately for him, he has had one too many concussions and has recently had one of his less memorable seasons. One thing that he has going is that he has a good Corsi. Meaning, he handles the puck well. In fact, that is the main reason why he was brought over to Toronto in the first place.
Let's not forget that Leo Komarov and Matt Frattin are back for a second chance. Both players were vital pieces to a Leaf team that surprised many their tough play and offensive touch. Frattin returns with more experience on the defensive side of his game, and experience a tough season bouncing back and forth across the US, while Komarov returns as the same player with more goals. Either way, both player want to prove that they belong.
As you can see, it seems that the Leafs are bringing players who have experienced a tough time in their career and are looking to bounce back. While some may be in the twilight of their career (Stephane Robidas), others are just looking for a fresh start (Daniel Winnik).
And I believe that these potential comeback stories could work towards the Leafs advantage.
Get to the point.
All I can say is that although the Leafs may look the same as the team that went from 9th to 23rd in a matter of days, they are also a completely different one. Sure, it may have seemed like Reimer was on his way to Winnipeg, yet here he is battling for the number one spot in net with Bernier. Sure, Bozak may not seem like he isn't the number one centre many fans thinks he is, yet he is still playing with Kessel and JVR. And sure, there were a well full of rumors that Phaneuf would either be traded or stripped of his captaincy, yet he is still the number one defenceman who will now be paid like one.
But if you take a close look at this Maple Leaf team, something feels different. Whether it is the presence of a real fourth line, new faces on the back end, or new management watching it all from above, the Leafs have a new culture intact and it is a step in the right direction.
To give you an idea, go back to this years media day. In the past, players seemed depressed and annoyed at the familiar routine that starts every season with the same question from the season before. Yet, when the Leafs started giving interviews this time around, it seemed as though they were happy to be back and excited at the new additions. Sure, it may sound like old news, but like I said, something feels different.
So what is the verdict?
In my opinion, I think the Leafs have what it takes to return to the playoffs. Take in to consideration that the Leafs were in a comfortable playoff position, for the most part, throughout last season. At best, the Leafs can be a top tier team. At worst, the Leafs may be saying Connor McDavid's name in 2015. The simple explanation is that the Leafs NEED to be at their best all season long! No ifs and or buts. Otherwise, #McDavid2015 will be the hottest thing with Leafs Nation.
As long as the Leafs keep the shots against down and improve the penalty kill to a realistic goal, they could be playing well into spring next season.
I believe the Leafs will finish no higher than 3rd in the Atlantic and no lower than the second wild card spot.
So what do you guys think? Leave your responses in the comments below. And don't forget to like the Facebook page if you haven't done so already!