(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
For the first time since 2004, the Toronto Maple Leafs made the Eastern Conference playoffs, advancing to the semifinals before …
… oh, crap, sorry. Forgot this happened.
Anyhoo, the Leafs still had a breakthrough season, proving that it was all Brian Burke’s fault and that James Reimer can be a franchise goalie …
… oh, crap, sorry. Forgot this happened, too.
Can the Leafs make it two seasons in a row in the postseason?
Colton Orr has had enough of your guff.
David Clarkson arrives from the New Jersey Devils on a 7-year contract worth $36.75 million. Will he ever put up numbers that justify that wage? Probably not, but Clarkson’s intangibles are undeniable assets to the Leafs. Provided he doesn’t leave the bench during too many other line brawls.
Dave Bolland arrives from the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks to give the Leafs a quality defensive center with tons of playoff experience.
The acquisition of Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings gives the Leafs one of the League’s most coveted young goalies, and a strong tandem with Reimer.
The Leafs also added T.J. Brennan, Troy Bodie and Mayson Raymond at forward.
Mikhail Grabovski (curiously) and Mike Komisarek (finally) were given compliance buyouts. Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens went to LA in the Bernier trade. Clarke MacArthur (Senators), Mike Kostka (Blackhawks), Mike Mottau (Panthers), Tim Connolly and Ryan O’Byrne were among the now ex-Leafs.
Forward: Phil Kessel posted his best points per game average as a pro (1.08) is a season that solidified his elite offensive player status, if there was any debate to that point. Tyler Bozak may not be everyone’s idea of a No. 1 center, but he’s Phil’s guy. When healthy, Joffrey Lupul can be better than a point-per-game player. But at this point in his hexed career, he should probably legally add “When Healthy” to his name.
Nazem Kadri was chatted up as a Hart candidate before his production trailed off a little at the end of the season. The young center now has a bridge contract as a carrot in front of him. Clarkson can be a 30-goal scorer and is great for puck possession. James van Riemsdyk runs hot and cold, but his best points per game season (0.67) last year.
Nikolai Kulemin is his walk year, still trying to find that offense from 2010-11. Raymond brings some scoring on the wing, but not much. Bolland will make for a strong third-line center. Joe Colborne will attempt to secure ice time after getting some seasoning in the AHL. Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr bring the truculence and pugnacity. Jay McClement brings some defensive play that could be called Selke worthy if they’d actually ever give one to a player like him. Trevor Smith is also in the mix.
Defense: Cody Franson will try and build off a stellar year, knowing he can break the bank next summer. He had 29 points playing less than 19 minutes per game. He should be paired with Mark Fraser again, who was a plus-18.
Dion Phaneuf enters his walk year as the team’s ice-time leader and one of its most polarizing players. Carl Gunnarsson gives him a veteran to pair with. Jake Gardiner and John-Michael Liles give the Leafs two puck movers, with Morgan Rielly’s awesome potential in the wings. Paul Ranger is more than just a good story in reserve.
Goalies: James Reimer proved more than capable last season, backstopping the Leafs into the playoffs. But management has been keen on adding another goalie to the rotation. In Bernier, the Leafs acquire someone that might not just play with Reimer but could take over as starter – especially if he plays as he did for the LA Kings when Jonathan Quick struggled.
Some believe Randy Carlyle succeeded despite himself last season, and the veteran coach does make as many head-scratching moves (hello, lining up Phil Kessel against John Scott) as anyone. Whatever’s on the ice, it’s his team.
Nonis was aggressive in added Clarkson, Bolland and Bernier in the offseason. Does the team’s dire salary cap situation fall on him or on his predecessor?
This is like if you were going to train to Christian Rock.
Kessel. Four words: Playing. For. A. Contract.
The Goaltending. Bernier and Reimer could both benefit from the competition. Goaltending a Leafs’ asset? Weird, right?
The Winter Classic. Oh man the Leafs nostalgia will be off the charts at that alumni game.
Carlyle. Imagine how much criticism he’d get if he wasn’t such a great quote? Probably this much.
The Leafs will challenge for a wild card out of the Atlantic Division, but are squarely on the bubble. Much depends on the secondary scoring and if the goaltending is as good as advertised.