Since we’re well into the dog days of summer as far as hockey news is concerned, the least we can do is offer a quick look ahead to what’s coming for the seven Canadian NHL teams this season.
With a month to go until training camp, I’ve asked a blogger from each city to weigh in on how their team has changed since last season and where they believe they rank in their conference. We’ll run one team every weekday, with today the fifth of our series in the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Who’s in? Tim Connolly, John-Michael Liles, Matt Lombardi, Cody Franson, Philippe Dupuis
Who’s out? J-S Giguere, Tim Brent, Brett Lebda, Fredrik Sjostrom
The Leafs finished 10th in the East last season in one of the more Jekyll and Hyde campaigns we've seen postlockout, as they were one of the bottom feeders, 28th in the NHL by New Year's Day after an awful first half, and turned things around late in the year when it was too late.
The callup of netminder James Reimer appeared to spark much of that change, as Toronto went on an 18-9-6 run to close the year, closing the gap but still falling eight points shy of the eighth-place berth in the conference.
The Leafs' first half struggles went beyond simply issues in goal, however, as goals were very hard to come by through the first four months of the season despite career years for several top-six forwards.
Toronto ended the year tied as the fourth lowest scoring team in the East, 24th in the NHL in goals against and with special teams a major weakness for the third straight season under coach Ron Wilson.
For a few thoughts on what’s in store for the Leafs this coming season, here’s Jason (Chemmy) Orach from Pension Plan Puppets with reasons for optimism, pessimism and a midsummer prediction as to how they’ll finish.
Reasons for optimism:
"This is a young Leafs team that played a fantastic second half to the season last year. Dion Phaneuf emerged as a legitimate first pairing defender and not just a power play specialist. Mikhail Grabovski's line with Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur was one of the best lines in the league at driving possession and James Reimer doesn't let in goals from the far goal line.
"Tim Connolly is oft injured but the prospect of Phil Kessel playing with him and Joffrey Lupul is certainly more appealing than last year when he skated with Tyler Bozak and Joey Crabb."
Causes for concern:
"The Leafs hot streak last season coincided neatly with James Reimer giving them .930 save percentage goaltending. If Reimer can't repeat those numbers, the Leafs are likely to repeat the first half of last season. During their winning streak, they were outshot and outchanced badly and yet Reimer's play made everyone look fantastic. At least if he falters, the Leafs own their first-round pick next summer.
"The Leafs need to find another Francois Beauchemin. Beauchemin, much maligned in Toronto, played tough minutes and might as well have been playing in front of an empty net. He did a good job limiting opponents' top lines."
Predicted finish in the East:
"Ninth place. The Leafs are young and depending on Reimer might squeak into the playoffs but whether they make it or not they'll be close as the season comes to a close."
Now I'll turn it over to you fine folks in the comments section: How do you think the Leafs will do this season? (And let's keep things civil, please.)
Thursday: The Vancouver Canucks