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Leafs may not be done yet, but some of their competition has certainly gotten better this off-season…

It’s a bit difficult for me to believe that the Maple Leafs aren’t working the phones every day to do something of significance before training camp rolls around in September, but who really knows?  They may indeed be prepared (they obviously have to be if they don’t find a deal they like…) to start the season with the present roster “as is”.  I sense that would be “OK” for a lot of fans, but a concern for others.

Now, I think we all recognize that it’s not like the Leaf brass has sat around doing nothing all summer.  They’ve re-signed RFA’s like Frattin and Kulemin, released Colby Armstrong and of course acquired James van Riemsdyk in return for defenseman Luke Schenn in a mini-blockbuster—albeit one we had been hearing about for almost a full year.  There is no question that the van Riemsdyk move is a significant one, given that he should address one of our major needs:  a legitimate top-six forward to log key minutes—and put up some numbers.

But I guess my question today is along these lines:  acknowledging that the Leafs have certainly made some moves this summer, have the Leafs improved enough (e.g. Carlyle behind the bench, the possible influx of some young Marlies on the roster, van Riemsdyk, Komarov on the third line, etc.) to leapfrog   some of the other squads that missed the playoffs like they did last season?  For good measure, are they good enough now to edge out one or two of the teams that made the playoffs in 2011-’12?  I ask because the reality for the Leafs (and their fan base) could be that a number of other Eastern Conference teams seem to have improved significantly this off-season—at least on paper—and that may make the job in front of the blue and white all the more difficult.

While it’s awfully early to think all too seriously about who will be the really good teams in the East (we have the whole CBA thing to clear up first, and then there will no doubt be some roster shuffling across the league), I have no reason to believe that the Bruins, for example, will fall off a cliff and into the also-ran category all of a sudden.  Tim Thomas is gone, but he was not the old Tim Thomas through much of last season, and Rask should be able to fill that void reasonably well in Beantown.  They still have the core of the roster that won the Cup two years ago (and Nathan Horton is returning).  I don’t think they’ve slipped much.

The Rangers just grabbed Rick Nash without giving up key core guys.  They play hard and have the world’s best goalie, so they will be fine, it would seem.  The Penguins lost Staal, but picked up some nice pieces from Carolina.  If Fleury rebounds and Malkin, Crosby and Letang are healthy, they are seemingly a lock to be a top-four team in the East.

Washington could slide with the Hunter gone (heck, they were life and death to make the playoffs this past season), but in the same breath, Mike Green was hurt a lot of last year and, if healthy, he should help shore up the back end.  I’m of the view that Ovechkin may rebound as well and be the kind of player he was earlier in his career.

The Flyers lost out on their bid for Shea Weber, but if (big if) they can get Schenn to play with confidence and consistency, he should help their blueline.  They have some awfully nice young talent up front and while their goaltending is still a crap-shoot most nights, I think the Flyers still have a lot more than the Leafs.

Ottawa is an interesting case.  They certainly surprised me last season—a lot.  Will they slide back and be more run-of-the-mill in their coach’s second season behind the bench, or has MacLean really helped the organization turn a long corner?

Tampa picked up a young goalie (Lindback) with potential who should help.  Buffalo gave up skill  in Derek Roy but picked up an agitator with a lot of heart in Steve Ott, who will give their line-up a lot more sandpaper.  Cody Hodgson should be a boost in his first full season with the Sabres, too. (Didn't they also draft a kid last month who could have an impact pretty early on?)

I’m not worried about the Jets, though they have some nice young talent.  Carolina (again, on “paper”) is a lot better with Staal and Semin.  It sounds like they plan to unleash Semin and play a more offensive style under Muller.  We’ll see.

For me the Panthers are like the Senators.  They blew way past expectations last season but I just don’t know if they can repeat their performance.  Still, Tallon is a shrewd GM and wants desperately to make his mark in Florida after he was let go in Chicago.

The Habs?  Well, they re-signed Carey Price and picked up Prust, who should help a bit.  They have a new GM and a new coach and maybe Markov will finally be healthy.

I do wonder if the Devils will be vulnerable.  Brodeur is not the old Brodeur, though hey, he was sure good enough to get the Devils to the finals this past season (though that was a shock to me—they were much better than I figured they would be…).  Most importantly, I just don’t know how they can possibly replace Parise.  He was their captain, leader and he was a huge producer offensively.

I realize that’s not exactly a thorough analysis of the Leaf opponents in the East, but I guess my simple thought is:  other teams in the Conference seem to have improved a fair bit.  Maybe the Leafs have as well.

But has Toronto done enough to assure themselves of a playoff spot—much less something better and more hopeful than that?

I look forward to hearing your views….


  1. I don't think Toronto has done enough yet to make the playoffs. They could make the playoffs if everything goes right, but nothing is assured.

    One of the reasons I think the Leafs could have trouble is because last year Buffalo was in 9th and just 3 points from a playoff spot and they had an excellent off-season. Buffalo just got much tougher to play against and I think this will mean a career year for Ryan Miller.

    Buffalo added traded Derek Roy for Steve Ott losing talent for toughness but its much bigger than that. In the same trade they also added Adam Pardy 6'4" 220 lbs. I saw him play allot in Calgary and he struck me as nice tough third pairing defenceman.

    But the real nuclear deterrent is the addition of John Scott at 6'8" and 270 lbs! Scott has the size and reach and can really hurt people. Buffalo hasn't had a tough guy of this caliber since the days of Larry Playfair. How's that name for a Vintage Leaf Memory?

    Larry Playfair was absolutely dangerous. Both coaches and players knew you were taking a chance when he was out on the ice. Here's a Leaf game where Playfair battles Paul Higgins. You can just hear the fear in the commentators voices...I think it might be Bob Cole and Don Cherry:

    Don't even try to tell me Rob Ray was Playfair's equal.

    Here's Scott vs Parros and Wesgarth:

    Lucic won't be runing Ryan Miller again. Even Shawn Thornton will play a polite game with Scott in the lineup. Ryan Miller will have a much easier time with this team in front of him.

    Buffalo might have had the best draft as they got two big centers in the first round. Grigornko was at one point ranked 2nd. Girgensons is a two way guy n the mold of Jason Arnott. Scouts said he had the size and toughness to play in the AHL last year.

    Mix together some new toughness and elite goaltending (both Miller and Enroth can steal games) add in some contributions from the young guys Hodgson, Greigorenko and Girgensons and Buffalo could give anybody trouble.

  2. I'm with you on Playfair, DP. Tough guy, for sure.

    And the Sabres have indeed quietly improved. Scott brings the dimension you note, and some of the moves they made last season (impact curtailed somewhat by injuries) may also prove to help them this coming season.

    Good stuff as always. Thanks DP.

  3. You did a nice job of summarizing what other teams in the conference did on their part this off-season. Of course everything always looks one way on paper, and a lot of moves that might seem can't-miss right now go bust later.

    Conversely, sometimes minor alterations become the best thing a GM has done, such as that little salary dump Burke made in sending Beauchemin to Anaheim.

    On the surface, I would put the Leafs about in the middle of the pack in terms of off-season moves. If van Reimsdyk can pan out as a center, I think they have already made a huge difference for their lineup this year. I have no reason to doubt that he can, after all he was a center all the way until he reached the NHL when he was pushed to the wing because Philadelphia had such a glut of centers.

    I won't pretend to know enough about Komarov to make an assessment on him, I've never seen him play. I've preached before about the Leafs needing third and fourth liners who can play physically with the likes of Boston, and if he fits that mold, then he definitely fills a need.
    If the Leafs want to guarantee a playoff spot, and I hate to bring the name up, but I think Luongo is the only player out there who can virtually guarantee pushing them into the playoffs.

    Having said that, my overall take on things is that Burke has put his cards on the table finally. Throughout his time here in which he has flip-flopped from rebuilding to retooling, from his original proclamation of front line scorers and bottom line plumbers to veering off his original course, I have probably been as patient as anyone with him. In the end, I believe that Burke has laid his fate as the Leafs GM at the feet of the stable of prospects they have, and I do think they have as many legitimate NHL prospects as any team. But the time is now. Burke needs some combination of Frattin, Colbourne, Holzinger, Kadri, and the like to show that they don't merely have potential, but they can compete and win games for this organization. Reimer is part of that equation too, assuming we never pull off a trade for Luongo. If he can prove to be a legitimate starting NHL goalie, then Burke will look like a genius for putting his faith in him.

  4. Michael, as painful as it is to write this is I would have to say that IMO it is very unlikely that the Leafs make the playoffs.

    Not only do I see other teams making strides, and taking big chances to improve their clubs. I see a lot of teams own draft picks develop in to prime time players in the League. Skinner, Ryan Callahan and Giroux come to mind pretty fast here.

    You touched on it your recent awards post, it has been so long since anyone in Toronto was considered for that type of trophy. Gilmour being the last I remember talking about with my friends.(Hart)

    Since the drafting of Wendel, we have had a really steady steam of Tlusty,Ware, Fichaud, Convery, Kadri, Schenn, Steen and the like. Players who either do nothing in the League, or who play but never set the world on fire. In a word mediocrity, and IMO a little bit of the old lack of luck.

    Lots of decently talented guys who for whatever reason just don't have it, or don't find the way to the top. I will have to keep hoping that Burke manages to pull off the big trade he is known for. Otherwise it looks to me like a long winter of defensive hockey.

  5. You hit a home run today, Pete. I think you've perfectly expressed exactly how Burke has done things, and where he sits now.

    The "prospects" are huge in the plan now. Have to be. Acquiring players of substance without giving up a lot is usually tough. So drafting and developing young guys is central.

    Thanks Pete.

  6. Well said, Jim. All great points, though the idea of (after 8 years of mediocre hockey) of watching a defensively-oriented team plod through the regular-seaon in the hopes of eking out a playoff berth is not the most promising thought!

    You're being realistic, though. Good stuff. Thanks Jim....

  7. I'm going to be the voice of untrammelled optimism it would seem.

    We played more than half of last year in playoff position. We have, in the last two, played an entire calendar year of playoff-level hockey (in terms of win-loss records). Now I have read many well considered and data-supported opinions that last year's meltdown was about other teams workings us out and we not being good enough to respond: the implication being that we weren't really as good as our early season record.

    I say, to hell with that. Those guys showed they could score goals on the best defenses in the league all year long. We don't have to get much better to make the playoffs; winning the lottery on a big name UFA or fleecing some hapless GM out of his next big thing for Komisarek and Lombardi and a fifth. What we need is to be more consistent and we need to be more malleable in our tactics so as to not present such a one-dimensional threat. To me, that adds up to our players (yes, even the very ones we have now) being more professional and our coach being dextrous in his thinking. I am more than happy to assume that our new coach is capable of making that happen.

    I think Boston, Pittsburgh, NYR are lock-ins. I think you're right that Ovie is going to rebound and Washington with them and that Carolina will be vastly improved. I think Tampa'a moves on the blue-line will make them another strong team this year. But I also agree with you that Jersey is vulnerable and could have a shocker and that the Senators and Panthers will struggle to maintain last season's form. With a bit of luck those Godless Frenchmen will come dead last and then lose the draft lottery.

    There is definitely room for us in there, and with the team we have, if our players can grow into their roles as professionals and we can keep a few tricks up our sleeves.

  8. I really enjoyed that, KiwiLeaf. Some very reasonable, measured analysis on your part - and then some stuff that made me laugh (re the hated Habs...), which I'm always up for.

    Well done, as always. Thanks KiwiLeaf...

  9. In recent years Leaf fans were optimistic, as the leafs finished those seasons at a hot pace. This past year, the complete reverse, and look at pessimism.
    Maybe that in itself is a good reason for optimism. As the leafs died in each of those years after they finished the preceding season with hot streaks.
    A good a reason as any I've heard as to whether the leafs will be good, bad or indifferent this coming season.
    good blog.

  10. A little reverse psychology never hurt- thanks Anon.