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What will be the first Maple Leaf crisis of 2010-‘11?

It has been, relatively speaking, a quiet off-season in Leafland.

Oh, we’ve had the on-again, off-again Kaberle “situation” and the acquisitions of Versteeg and Armstrong, but there was no hyped draft choice to dream about, so we are reduced to talking about how much Luke Schenn weighs heading into training camp. (Bigger is better, I guess, assuming a player can still move.)

So, with training less than a month away and the regular season not far behind that, it’s intriguing to anticipate what might befall the Leafs as training camp, pre-season, etc. get underway. Will the customary excitement of training camp, the never-ending hope that accompanies every new season, fade sooner than later? Or will this year actually be “different”?

What’s in store for the Leafs? What minor –or major—crisis could occur to derail the hopes and dreams of fans?

• I suppose the obvious thing will be a lack of scoring. It’s among the worst-kept secrets in the hockey world that, despite Burke’s best efforts to date, the Leafs are a wee bit shy up front. Some will argue we have only one legitimate “top-six” forward. That may be an exaggeration in a watered-down, thirty-team NHL, but we aren’t exactly bursting with too many candidates for those jobs.

• With the above in mind, what happens if the Leafs are still looking for a second-line center come January? Fans want to believe Kadri can step right in, but it’s a lot to expect of a young man with one pro game on his resume.

• In theory the club should be more consistent in goal (though that’s not a given) What if Burke’s hand-picked goaltending duo of the veteran Giguerre and the emerging Gustavsson starts off slowly in October/November? Last year, Leaf nation was able to dwell on and point fingers at Toskala— and often fairly so. A number of pretty solid team efforts were wasted as a result of spotty goaltending. Gustavsson’s health issues clouded and delayed signs of rookie-season improvement. Hopefully he picks up where he left off last season.

• The Kaberle mess could unfold much as I (and I’m sure others) have forecast. He stays indefinitely, but has an uncertain, if surface-OK relationship with Wilson. He plays OK, even well at times, but with a piano on his back— knowing he is not part of the future on a team that has zero chance of winning a Cup this coming season. If Raptor fans thought Chris Bosh was underwhelming at the end of his time in Toronto—with free agency around the corner for him— what might the future be for Kaberle? How well can he possibly play in an un-welcoming environment, even if everyone says the right things publicly?

• And on a pragmatic note: if Burke could not get what he thought was a good deal for Kaberle when all 30 teams were able to bid on a guy who could play an entire season for them at a reasonable cap hit, can we really expect the Leaf GM to make our dreams come true in February? Even if he does, we are still losing a top-four defenseman.

• Perhaps the worst thing that could befall a fragile club with not a lot of offense—and up against the cap— is an injury to key personnel. They have depth on the backline, but not up front. There is just not enough there to make up for any significant lost time due to injury.

• There seems little doubt that Burke, historically a fiercely loyal guy with his coaches, has no plans to even contemplate a change behind the bench. If the Leafs have a good season, or even start well, that stance will strengthen. Now, should the Leafs (with higher expectations again this season, falter out of the gate) will Burke have to alter his customary approach to handling coaches? Wilson has had unquestioned success in Washington, Anaheim and San Jose, taking each of those teams deep into the playoffs. (San Jose not quite as deep.) He stays, but fans, if not Burke, will look behind the bench if the team does not meet expectations.

• Maybe the most disquieting thing would be if fans get into the, “hey, at least the team’s making progress” mindset. Much like the Blue Jays in baseball, the bar has been set so low since the early ‘90s championship years that, if the team shows modest improvement in spurts, that’s good enough to excite fans. The truth is, just making the playoffs should not be good enough for the hockey team in Toronto. A bit of improvement should not the benchmark. Burke has said many times he has no patience for a five-year plan— he wants to win now. But he is coming up to two years on the job, and does anyone really believe this club is close to being a Cup contender? The fact is it will quite likely take at least three more years to reach the level of an elite team.

• Yes, the Leafs have more depth on the blueline, for sure. But as much as Leaf fans are counting on Schenn to emerge as a consistent force on the back end and for Gunnarsson to make big strides this season, for the Leafs to be tough to play against they still need Komisarek and Beachemin to play like they used to. I believe they can, but if for any reason they don’t, we may have a crisis on the blueline.

I’m sure there are all kinds of other things that could go wrong—Bozak taking a step backwards in his sophomore season, the new guys not living up to expectations, etc.—but the reality is, this should be an improved team come October.

The question obviously is: how improved? And how much resolve will the team have if they need to face any of the above challenges?

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