Toronto Maple Leafs: Expect To Miss Playoffs
The Hockey News is predicting the Maple Leafs will finish 12th overall in the Eastern Conference. When you reflect on how many teams in the East have made considerable improvements and the fact that the Maple Leafs will likely enter the 2012-13 season with a near carbon copy of the lineup that finished in the bottom five of the league last season, it is hard to argue with their findings.
Everyone knows the Maple Leafs struggles down the middle, and while the addition of James van Riemsdyk to the top-six should help the team, the jury is still out on his ability to make the move from wing to centre—a scenario which has been discussed by management.
Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke still has plenty of cap space with which to make an acquisition or two, but with no top-end talent left on the free agent market he will be hard pressed to make a significant move unless he can find a trading partner.
Burke did bring in defensive forward Jay McClement to help out his bottom-six and solidify the penalty kill, but will that be enough to put the Blue and White in playoff contention? Doubtful.
Between the pipes James Reimer and Ben Scrivens look to be the Maple Leafs only options, although both Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Bernier have been rumored to be coming to Toronto via trade throughout the summer.
The shortcomings of both Reimer (who suffered from neck injuries last season) and Scrivens (who is yet to demonstrate he is NHL ready) are well documented, which has many fans screaming for a veteran netminder to be brought into the fold.
The article has the Maple Leafs finishing ahead of the Montreal Canadiens (13th), Winnipeg Jets (14th) and the New York Islanders (15th), with the New Jersey Devils (11th), Florida Panthers (10th) and Carolina Hurricanes (ninth) finishing ahead of the Blue and White in the standings.
That means the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers are predicted to make the playoffs.
If the article proves to hold water the East would finish much like it did last season, with the exception of the Sabres making the jump to the playoffs and New Jersey golfing early this spring.
The East is looking like the Conference to beat next season, with the Flyers, Rangers and Bruins looking like the favorites for a Stanley Cup birth.
While the Bruins did not make any significant signings this summer they did re-up with several players including goaltender Tuukka Rask and super-pest Chris Kelly. The Bruins did lose defenseman Joe Corvo, but with prospect Dougie Hamilton seemingly ready to make the jump to the NHL the Bruins look to be alright on the backend.
Long time starter Tim Thomas has said he will sit out the 2012-13 season, but with Rask ready to step in there is little danger of a big drop in play between the pipes.
The New York Rangers gave up a lot of depth (Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon) in order to land Rick Nash. It remains to be seen what life with Nash will be like, but most of the experts expect big things. Besides, any time you have Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes you have a shot to win every game—he’s just that dominating at times.
The Penguins acquired pesky forward Brandon Sutter from the Carolina Hurricanes in return for Jordan Staal. While the loss of Staal will sting, Sutter brings a much needed skill set to Pittsburgh. That said, anytime you have the likes of Sidney Crosby (who appears to be free of concussion issues this summer) and Evgeni Malkin on the ice you’ll be tough to beat.
Carolina picked up the aforementioned Staal, while also dipping into the free agent market to sign Alexander Semin away from the Washington Capitals. Staal will be united with his brother Eric which should help him acclimate to Carolina quickly, while Semin should benefit from a new team.
Like many top clubs Carolina boasts a franchise goaltender in Cam Ward between the pipes. Even though the Hurricanes are thin on the blue line Ward keeps every game close. When you consider their off-season moves, Carolina could very well earn a playoff spot when everything is said and done.
The Ottawa Senators will add defenseman Marc Methot to their lineup, while giving up Nick Foligno to the Columbus Blue Jackets in return. Ottawa came out of nowhere last season and with the entire team a year wiser and elite defenseman Erik Karlsson expected to have another Norris Trophy season, the Sens will be tough to beat this season.
Tampa Bay will continue to get tremendous offense from the likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and super-star Steven Stamkos, while also adding depth between the pipes in Anders Lindback, who was acquired from the Nashville Predators.
Tampa still has issues on defense, but with all that fire power and an upgrade between the pipes, this team looks playoff bound.
The Washington Capitals are a bit of quagmire. Former NHL player Adam Oates will take over behind the bench where he is expected to return to the run and gun offensive style that made the Caps so dangerous in the past over the defense-first/shot-blocking style that former head coach Dale Hunter insisted on last season.
The Caps lost defenseman Dennis Wideman, who was an important element on the Caps’ power play. Forward Mike Ribeiro was brought in via trade to help off-set the loss of Semin.
If there is a team that could miss the playoffs it could very well be the Caps, but with Alex Ovechkin and Nik Backstrom on the ice anything is possible.
Which brings us to the mighty Philadelphia Flyers. The Orange and Black had another interesting off-season, re-signing Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds to extensions, while adding defenseman Luke Schenn to their roster via the JVR trade to Toronto.
Schenn’s play may have slipped last season, but he is always willing to block shots and should be amongst the NHL’s hit leaders. Uniting Luke with brother Brayden Schenn should also pay dividends.
Philly also brought back defenseman Danny Syvret, signing him away from the St. Louis Blues. Syvret and Schenn will not replace Chris Pronger (who is expected to retire), but the depth on the backend will go a long way in keeping the Flyers in the hunt for a Cup.
The Flyers did lose goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky when they shipped him to the Columbus Blue Jackets for draft picks, but with space cadet Ilya Bryzgalov between the pipes the Flyers should be fine.
As you can see the Eastern Conference teams were busy improving their rosters this summer, which means the Maple Leafs will be in-tough when it comes to solidifying a playoff spot.
Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski and JVR are expected to lead the team offensively, while Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, John-Michael Liles and Carl Gunnarsson are expected to see heavy minutes on the backend.
Still, there are plenty of question marks throughout the lineup, including Nikolai Kulemin (who had just seven goals last season), Clarke MacArthur (who struggled at times last season) and Tyler Bozak (who will likely get bumped from the first line).
Barring a significant trade (or trades) or a more concerted effort from the likes of Tim Connolly, Mike Komisarek (insert laughter here) and Matthew Lombardi (who had concussion and injury issues last season), the Buds will be hard pressed to get into the top eight in the East.
Prospect Nazem Kadri has been working hard with former Maple Leaf Gary Roberts this summer working on his strength and conditioning, leading many to believe he will be NHL-ready this fall. IF Kadri can assume top-six minutes and contribute on a consistent basis the Leafs have a chance, otherwise…
That said, for me the Maple Leafs success really comes down to Reimer and Scrivens. If the two wild cards between the pipes can play consistent hockey the Maple Leafs have a chance to surprise some people, if not they will likely be hitting the links come spring.
It took 92-points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference last season, it may take as many as 94-96 next season, which will be tough for many teams to achieve, not to mention the Maple Leafs.
Twelfth place seems about right to me, where do you see the Maple Leafs finishing next season?
Until next time,