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For those that decided to tune out some time during the Toronto Maple Leafs' 2-12 collapse last spring, here is where we left them, by season's end.

Eighty-four points in 82 games. Twelfth in the Eastern Conference. Twenty-third in the NHL. Right in mushy mediocrity: Out of the playoff mix by nine points and yet still well ahead of the league's true bottom feeders, where the best draft picks are.

A year ago at this time in Toronto, there was plenty of optimism entering the season as the Leafs were coming off their first playoff berth in nine years.

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Now, the general sense among the fan base is one of heavy skepticism – and with good reason.

There have been some positive changes, though, and there are ways this season can turn in their favour. The Leafs won't be a contender, but the roster also has some things going for it, especially if things break their way.

If they don't, it will likely be another year in the no man's land that is 19th to 25th overall.

Five reasons to believe the Leafs may be better

A new system

Nothing would make a more pronounced impact on the Leafs' play than a vast upgrade to their system. Controlling play in all three zones was a huge problem all last year, and that was the primary reason they were outshot by more than seven shots for every 60 minutes of even-strength play.

New assistant coach Peter Horachek has been tasked with revamping Toronto's system in camp, and that could pay big dividends if the Leafs can become anything close to a 50-per-cent possession team.

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An analytics team

Speaking of possession… one of the other key changes the Leafs made in the off-season was going big on analytics, especially with the hiring of assistant GM Kyle Dubas. He and his team of statisticians will help introduce some new ideas when it comes to roster management and should allow Toronto to be a bit more proactive when problems arise. There should be less groupthink overall, and that's healthy.

Goaltending

It's the most important position in the game, and the Leafs are set at it. If Jonathan Bernier can duplicate his first season as a starter – he was tied for fifth in save percentage among goalies with 50 games played – and stay healthy that will serve as a great foundation to build from.

Because Bernier has only played 117 games in his career, his true talent level isn't yet known. There's the potential, however, that it's very high, and the Leafs also have a solid backup in James Reimer to handle the other 25-plus starts.

The East is least

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This would all be a different conversation if the Leafs were in the Western Conference. As it is, there are huge question marks on a lot of the Leafs' competition, with Columbus and Philadelphia hit by injuries, the Rangers losing bodies to free agency and no one else looking dramatically improved.

Even with two more teams in the East, it will be easier to sneak into the playoffs as a low seed.

More depth

Injuries and a couple of poor performances at camp have hurt, but the Leafs' third and fourth lines still appear a vast improvement from over a year ago. A big season from an unexpected source would help, as Toronto was merely league average at generating offence at even strength and a lot of that was due to how weak the team's depth was.

Five reasons to doubt the Leafs will improve

The thin blueline

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Nowhere are the concerns more pressing than on D. Stéphane Robidas hasn't even played a preseason game yet, and they could well need the 37-year-old to be their No. 2 defenceman. Dion Phaneuf is coming off a tough season, has been moved to the left side and hasn't been given a lot more help. And youngsters Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly will need to be even better than a year ago.

A major injury here could be big trouble.

Who takes the toughs?

The Leafs didn't have an answer for other team's top lines on many nights last season, and they haven't added an identifiable one to the roster. Will Tyler Bozak and the top line be tasked with that assignment again? Phaneuf as well? If so, will the results be any different?

Randy Carlyle

The head coach says he is open to change. Management has echoed that. But Carlyle's results have been trending the wrong way since the last two years of his tenure in Anaheim, and he'll need to have better answers when the Leafs hit bumps in the road than he did a year ago.

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More of the same

For all the talk of culture change, a lot of the roster looks very similar. The coach is the same. The GM, too. Both goalies, four of the top six defencemen and almost every top six forward. Can the same group get different results? Are the changes that were made enough?

Regression

Even while finishing in eighth-last, the Leafs had some of the percentages go their way. Their shooting percentages at even strength and on the power play, in particular, were well above average, and it's possible they come down, as they tend to do.

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