For a long while Iâ€™ve held off discussing the depth of uncertainty surrounding the clubâ€™s post season chances in 2012, because I hold out hope and I donâ€™t wish to alienate my fan base before it reaches double digits.Â Here we are, almost a month since July 1, and while there are a plethora of additions to the roster, coaching staff and front office, there are still potential weaknesses, holes and question marks surrounding the team.Â With a core so young, nothing is given and little is certain.
I feel there are 3 questions yet to be definitively answered in this offseason that have the most improving or limiting effect on the Leafs chances next spring.Â They seem as simple as coin flips to determining success, and harder than Rubikâ€™s cube to solve.Â If they pan out, itâ€™s post season; if they donâ€™t, its going to be a long year.
After the jump, weâ€™ll take a look at some of the ifs and buts surrounding the Maple Leafs before we pay tribute to the other fine news breakers, fact finders and satirists in the Barilkosphere in our Links section.
The biggest if surrounds the tandem of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson.Â If Reimer plays as well as he did or even regress only slightly, I really like this teamâ€™s chances to make the playoffs.Â Goaltending wins championships, either the season-long brilliance of Marty Brodeur or the big game heroics of a Chris Osgood.Â You plain need it to get into the playoffs and Reimer might just be the missing piece to the franchiseâ€™s puzzle.
If James Reimer canâ€™t perform brilliantly, Iâ€™m not too confident with letting Gustavsson run with the goaltending duties.Â Hell, Iâ€™m not sure he should be running at all; heâ€™s had as many heart surgeries as Dick Cheney.Â For all the proclaimed depth between the pipes, thereâ€™s a distinct lack of experience and pedigree.Â I wouldnâ€™t have minded the Leafs taking a flyer on a veteran back up a la Marty Turco or Jose Theodore.
Acquisitions and Special Teams:
Liles, Connolly and Franson should improve our puck possession, distribution and shooting percentage on the power play.Â Liles and Connollyâ€™s career power play contributions precede themselves.Â Franson had to play second fiddle to Shea Weber and still put up laudable numbers last year on an offensively limited team.Â Burke is no manâ€™s fool.Â He saw a glaring, glaring weakness in the PP and took committed steps to correcting it.
â€¦ BUTâ€¦ I would like to offer you a short anecdote about offseason acquisitions and special teams.Â There is a blogger, heâ€™s written here, there and everywhere.Â Both prolifically and well.Â And in the summer of 2009, on one of the sites he wrote for, his â€˜signatureâ€™ was (paraphrased), â€œSchenn and Komisarek = Your Worst Mother Truckinâ€™ Nightmare on the PK.â€ Â In the end, I do suppose he was right: Iâ€™m scared any time I see Komisarek on the PK too.Â Past history is not always a perfect predictor of future success, eh Komi?
Depth and Health of Scorers:
The final major determining factor to the Leafs season could well be the health of the top six.Â Matthew Lombardiâ€™s career is either in limbo or heâ€™s going to be at training camp in September.Â Pretty quiet on that front.Â Iâ€™ve just chosen to think of Lombardi as a bonus if he comes back, and the tithe we paid for Franson if he doesnâ€™t.Â Tim Connollyâ€™s signing was a bad omen for me, as he is fabulously famous for being fragile.Â Lupul too is looking pretty iffy (though itâ€™s great to know Chris Pronger is now available via trade), given his history of inconsistent play and injury.
But if he, Connolly and Kessel can click on the 1B line then I like the teamâ€™s chances down the stretch.Â While I wouldnâ€™t mind Wilson experimenting with different line combos in Pre-Season to maybe to try different looks/Give Kessel a lefty to skate with, this could be a great trio.Â Lupul has proven that he can light the lamp over his career and seemed to recapture some of his old form when paired with Kessel for the final third of the season.Â Connolly played primarily in a top six role in buffalo and acquitted himself well as a playmaker, and could excel with Kessel .
â€¦Yet if Lupul and Timmy C get hurt for an extended period of timeâ€¦Kessel could end up skating with Bozak and Crabb again.
Ye know what? I donâ€™t wanna think about that, lets hit the linksâ€¦
Leafs Brian Burke Links
Owen Durkin from The Checking Lineâ€™s continuing series on Dave Nonisâ€™, Rick Dudleyâ€™s and Cliff Fletcherâ€™s boss.
Matt Mistele with Burke’s summer checklist.
More from VLM on the retirement and career of Kris Draper.Â The guy is was a classic example of Detroitâ€™s uncanny ability to get and retain the type of low-key, big game players that win championships.
Ben Schnell over at PPP likes spread sheets and inventing shooting metrics.
Hereâ€™s my editorial on this nonsense: Â The City of Brotherly Love is full of player haters.
The latest from Mike Ulmer at MapleLeafs.com.
Everyone can use a rant once in a while. Patrick Clayton at Leafs Nation Online dislikes hypothetical situations.
Crash The Crease presents a fight clip and more analysis than I have ever read about any particular fight…ever. Good read nonetheless.
Sam McCaig ranks the NHL’s top right wingers at Yahoo! Sports. Kessel comes in pretty low at 22. Just as one example, Chris Stewart, while also a scoring winger of promising potential, is ranked all the way up at 16th on this list. Â Stewart has scored 67 goals in 192 games. Phil Kessel has 128 goals to his name in 374 NHL appearances after three consecutive 30+ goal seasons, a feat Stewart has yet to accomplish even once. Now, this might appear to some like we’re comparing two players on two different timelines, so why is this relevant? Kessel is actually 28 days younger.