Hope Springs Eternal
Theyâ€™re out there. Everywhere you look.
The predictions that place the Leafs anywhere from 10th to 14th in the Eastern conference for the upcoming NHL season. Most hockey pundits are not giving the Maple Leafs much of a shot at a playoff spot, and based on recent history with the club, they have every reason not to.
With the pre-season upon us, the Buds have a very different look from the team that crawled to the finish line last March, and while significant changes have been made throughout all positions, the change that should give people that eternal is the on the defensive side of the puck.
The 2007-08 defence corp looked like this: Kaberle, McCabe, Kubina, Colaiacovo, White, Kronwall and Woznieski, for the most part.
Subtract McCabe, Woz and most likely Kronwall and add the likes of Jeff Finger, Jonas Frogren, Mike Van Ryn and sophomore Anton Stralman and youâ€™ve got the makings of a pretty solid defence. If first rounder Luke Schenn happens to impress enough to make the team, he will also have an impact.
Vesa Toskala enters his second season in a much more comfortable role than he did a year ago, having earned the number one spot by the mid-point of last season. He will be much better out of the blocks than he was last season. Having a capable back-up in the returning Curtis Joseph will only improve the defensive prowess of this team.
So, with a better-than-average goaltending duo, and a very strong looking stable of D-men, do the Leafs have enough offense to make a playoff push?
The quick answer would be no. However, if the right things fall into place, this young team could surprise. A new coach with a defensive minded system, and a fresh new outlook in the dressing room go a long way.
I believe Jason Blake is set for a comeback year of sorts. We are all holding our breath, waiting for Nikolai Kulemin to become the star that he is touted to be, and Jiri Tlusty may just have a breakout season. The addition of Niklas Hagman should also help offensively, as well as defensively. Grabovski could be the sleeper in all of it, or he could be another Suglobov. That remains to be seen.
Speed and attitude can make a lot of things happen on the ice and this team is blessed with both.
Time will tell if it will translate to enough wins to be there at the doorstep in March, or if the re-structuring process will take a little longer.