Phil Kessel believes the Toronto Maple Leafs are well-positioned to avoid the late-season tailspin that cost them a playoff spot last spring.
After losing 12 of their final 14 games, the Leafs have had an off-season of change, from the hiring of Brendan Shanahan as team president to changes on Randy Carlyle’s coaching staff.
On the ice, the team will look different with the additions of defencemen Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak and forwards David Booth, Petri Kontiola, Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli and the returns of Leo Komarov and Matt Frattin. It’s the front office’s hope that reshaping the roster will help the Leafs return to the playoffs, but Kessel said they weren’t far off.
“I think we had a good team,” Kessel said after a ball-hockey game on centre court at Rexall Centre, site of the Rogers Cup. “We were there last year. We had a bad stretch.
“We don’t have that stretch, we’re right in it. This year we made some good additions and I think we improved as a team, and we’re going to be ready to go.”
Kessel, who tweeted a photo of himself playing ball hockey with tennis legend Roger Federer, said the difference to preventing a major losing skid is just finding a way to win close games.
“We’ve got to be prepared for the long season, and we won’t go through one of those again,” Kessel said.
With a deeper set of bottom-six forwards, the Leafs may not have to rely so much on Kessel and first-line left-winger James van Riemsdyk, who played big minutes last season. Kessel, who was often double-shifted, finished with seven points in the final 14 games.