MLHS Bloggers Predict the Leafs’ finish

MLHS Bloggers Predict the Leafs’ finish

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We are approximately 26 hours away from puck drop on the opening of the Leafs’ 2013 season. I asked the crew of MLHS bloggers to predict the Leafs’ finish and provide a few reasons to back up their prognostication. We’ll start and finish with a couple 8th place PLAYOFFS!!!11 predictions, but strap yourself in for some depressing stuff in the middle. Side note: I checked the archives and Anthony’s writeup is the shortest work he’s ever produced by 3,000 words. Enjoy the read and toss in your own prediction (preferably with reasons) in the comments.

Ian Dudgeon (the man behind the excellent scouting profiles in the right sidebar)
Prediction: 25-17-6, 56 points, 8th place.

Might as well be positive.

Things seem to have settled down in Leafs land, with last year’s implosion now well behind in the rear view mirror.  Despite the fact there hasn’t exactly been a mass influx of new impact players, this young team was always about getting better with age and experience.  Kadri making it is a big milestone for him and the team.  He should be ready to make an impact as a secondary scoring option.  The top two lines remain intact, which should bode very well for chemistry out of the gate.  Building a 3rd line that can produce offense will be a big help. Carlyle’s system should help simplify things on the back end and reduce chances for errors, especially with guys like Komisarek who aren’t fleet of foot but in the right position usually can do the job.  Last year, both Schenn and Komi were in all kinds of trouble trying to cover too much ice on their own.

As always, everything hinges on goaltending.  While most eyes are on Reimer I have a feeling that Ben Scrivens could surprise and take over as the #1 before long.  He has been the most stable and consistent performer of any goaltender in the Leafs system since the start of last season, going all the way to the Calder Cup last year. Other than a bit of a hiccup to start this year, he is as solid, calm and collected as ever. The Marlies have been a machine since the first month and a lot of that is again about Scrivens. The final adjustment for him will be the speed of the NHL but his game is sound.  The Leafs have been searching for consistency and stability in net… they have had it for the last 1.5 seasons in Scrivens.  I think he takes the next step.

Equally important is how the Leafs competition is sizing up.  I believe the Islanders (now made of up a pile of misfit toys …. aka: waiver claims) Habs and Jets are inferior teams to the Leafs. I think the Senators colossally overachieved last year and are due for a let down.  Buffalo is not getting the critical attention they deserve as having a gaping hole at centre in their top two lines. The Devils lost their heart and soul and are now relying on a star player who almost didn’t bother to come back to the NHL this season to lead them.

All in all I think the Leafs, Bolts and Hurricanes are poised to make big gains in the short season, with the Sens, Devils and Panthers taking a nose dive.

Scrivens, take the lead.

***

Ryan Fancey
Prediction:
18-21-9 for 45 points and 14th in the Eastern Conference

Right now I’m looking through the Conference and having a tough time finding a team that’s clearly worse than the Leafs. That should mean I pick them for dead last, but I’m guessing one team – perhaps the Islanders or Jets – will be right there near the bottom as well.

The Leafs did grab van Riemsdyk in the offseason, but outside of that most of their players were in prime age last year so I don’t expect a huge jump from anyone, except perhaps van Riemsdyk himself. Even if that’s the case, they still haven’t done much to address problems keeping the puck out of their net and their current goaltending is the worst in the East and perhaps the entire league.

They can score, but not enough to outscore their awful defensive game and goalie woes.

If they grab Luongo, obviously we need to re-visit this post.

***

Mislav Jantoljak
Prediction
19-17-12 for 50 points and 10-11th place in the Eastern Conference.

I think the addition of JVR won’t make the Leafs a worse team. McClement makes this team harder to play against. Depends on the goaltending really, but I’m having a hard time picturing worse goaltending than last year. Expect Nikolai Kulemin to return in a big way. But despite all this, the Leafs still haven’t done anything substantial to make this team that much better. For all of the potential for  internal improvement, there is also the chance Lupul might have a hard time repeating last season, or that the goaltending could be better but just not good enough, etc. Missing the playoffs is, once again, the most realistic result.

However, this is a shortened season. A quick start, much like last season, can make all the difference in the world.

***

Jon Steitzer
Prediction: Leafs will finish 11th in the East, 23rd in the League

The additions of van Riemsdyk, McClement, and a regular NHL role for Kadri are likely enough to push the Leafs out of the bottom five in the league, but will still see them drafting in the top ten this summer. The team remains criminally negligent of its goaltending situation, and the defense is at best a group of decent defenders who are horribly miscast. Are the Leafs as bad as the Canadiens, Jets, or Islanders? No, but they still aren’t a good enough team that they can win a battle with the middle of the pack teams like the Panthers, Sabres, Devils, Hurricanes, Lightning, and (sigh) the Senators. Are they good enough to leap past one of them through a helpful schedule that spares them a game against the Bruins? Sure.  This season is a tryout for the Carlyle/Nonis era, lots of Marlie call-ups, a high potential for deadline trades,  and this should be enough to keep us entertained. Unfortunately, when it comes to the playoffs, you’re probably better off booking your ticket on the St. Louis Blues bandwagon today.

***

Matt Mistele
Prediction: 17-22-9 for 43 points, 14th place

2011-12 has been a cold water slap to the face when it comes to evaluating the Leafs’ rebuild. The process is working, but assuming consistent performances, this team – on paper – is 100% not a playoff team yet.

The problem with making any predictions for the shortened season (which, in Toronto’s case, I’d call more of a “wildcard guess”) is that any amount of success the team may have hinges entire on hypotheticals. JVR might break out in a big way. Reimer might rebound and actually turn out to be a goalie capable of posting a save percentage higher than 91%. Gardiner might avoid a sophomore/post-concussion slump and prove himself to be a front line defenseman. Joffrey Lupul might still be a quasi-star. Kadri might have an impact. McClement might perform at a higher level than previous experience suggests and actually develop into a reliable, full-time, at-least-replacement-level shutdown center.

It could literally go either way, in my opinion. Bottom line: even with the Schenn/JVR swap and McClement additions, the Leafs did nothing of substantial impact to affect their results in the immediate future. (I’m fine with that in a larger organizational sense – it speaks to prudcency. But short term, it’s not pretty).

I have a hard time predicting any sort of noteworthy success this season, beyond A) a marginal improvement due to experienced gained, or B) a surprisingly good finish if someone like Kessel goes on an absolute tear.

***

Curt Snoddon
Prediction: 23-21-6, 52 points, 10th in the East

I’m the most pessimistic so far by virtue of being the most optimistic.  While the draft lottery will now include all teams who miss the playoffs, my understanding is that it will still be weighted which means a 9th or 10th place finish is still the no-man’s land of hockey finishes.

My rationale isn’t overly complex, to be honest.  When I look at how last year played out, I think I can reasonably expect that the top line will take a small step back production-wise.  That ground should be made up by Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur, who I expect to have better years — and see lots of icetime — under Randy Carlyle.  I expect that both our goaltending and penaltykill will be better this season and our offensive depth this year is also improved.

Defensively, the team still has some questions to address but a healthy J-M Liles and swapping out what we got from Luke Schenn last year for whatever AHL defender takes his place (Kostka, Holzer, Fraser) should lead to an improvement here as well.

I still think that it’s more likely than not that the Leafs will be the team that ends up with Roberto Luongo and if that’s the case, I’d probably say we’re closer to 8th than 10th.  Even without him, I think Reimer and Scrivens give us better goaltending than what we saw from Gustavsson and last year’s Reimer and Scrivens.

The bottom line is that everything that could have gone wrong — outside of our top forward line — did go wrong last year and that kind of thing shouldn’t repeat itself.  While the moves made in offseason weren’t groundbreaking, they were steps in the right direction and the Leafs are a team with prime-aged or developing talent.  The Islanders still have some growing pains to suffer through; Florida was a complete mirage last year; Tampa’s depth, goaltending, and defense are still huge question marks; Winnipeg has a ton of holes, Buffalo could be in trouble with Hodgson as their best center, Ottawa had a lot go right for them last season and I wouldn’t expect that to repeat itself; and Montreal could really go either way.  All of this points to a near-miss on the playoffs, barring a significant addition to the roster or a significant injury / bad goaltending pushing us in the opposite direction.

***

Anthony Petrielli
Prediction: 
22-20-6, 50 points, 11th in East

Unlike seemingly most of the other bloggers here, I actually don’t think the Leafs are that bad. I like their forwards generally speaking. Yes, they need a first line center and some more bite, but they have added some size and skill to their group since last year in McClement, JVR and Komarov, plus they had no problem scoring as is. The defense is a completely different matter. They have a pretty solid top pairing to take pressure off the rest of the group in Gunnarsson-Phaneuf, but after that there’s a lot left to be desired. I don’t think Komisarek rebounds into anything special, and as much as I like the AHL D-men challenging for spots right now, none of them are or probably will be legitimate top four options on playoff caliber teams, ever.

Then I have to consider that, if the Leafs are reasonably out of the playoff picture come the trade deadline, Nonis will probably conduct a mini fire sale, namely moving MacArthur, Lupul and maybe even Bozak before they become UFAs.

Even with that, I still have them a little higher than most because I’d like to believe at least one of Scrivens or Reimer emerges to give the Leafs solid goaltending, that four effective forward lines will pay dividends at some point, and that after the deadline they will have their traditional hot streak.

***

Michael Stephens
Prediction
: 21 – 20 – 7, 49 points, 12th in the East

I predict that unless more changes are made, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to spin their wheels in the bottom third of the East standings.  The reality is, despite moving Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly, the club is returning nearly 20 players that featured heavily for the disappointing 2011-2012 squad.   The only offseason upgrades coming in the way of checkers Leo Komarov and Jay McClement; and potential glass-cannon James van Riemsdyk.

None of those acquisitions have improved the inexperienced goaltending tandem, that is likely to see Ben Scrivens (he of 12 NHL games) start on Saturday.  Nor have they addressed a soft and shallow (albeit mobile) defense that should struggle against a strong forecheck.

With all that said, the Buds will have a bunch of scoring talent to keep the games entertaining.  Randy Carlyle plays a more restrained system than Ron Wilson, but for all the team’s shortcomings, they still have the right personnel in place to be in the top half of team scoring league wide.

I suspect that Nonis will put out feelers in an attempt to move expiring contracts like Clarke MacArthur and Joffrey Lupul if the team starts poorly, but ultimately I believe the team will trudge to frustrating mediocrity.  I believe that the team as assembled is too good for a top-5 draft pick, and yet still well short of a playoff berth.

Yay, team!

***

Declan Kerin
Prediction:
8th in the East

Hard to say with goaltending, as the whole season hinges on it, unfortunately. Assuming no Luongo…

The Leafs were six wins (12pts) out of a playoff spot last year, that’s roughly three wins out of a playoff spot this year. Granted, they had a ridiculously hot start, luke warm middle half of the season, and we don’t need to talk about the end of the season. It does, however, all equal out over the course of the schedule–all teams go through hot and cold spells. You would like them to be hot when it matters most, but having factored that all in, this team can play and this team can put up goals in bunches (on the back of Kessel and Lupul) with the best of them.

The team is better offensively with JVR and Kadri in the lineup, we *think*. JVR is not going to be a 70pt player like some have hoped. He’s a 20/20 player that can cycle, provide a net presence with some soft hands and some speed off the wing. I don’t expect miracles out of him, but I expect this gives the Leafs a new look on the powerplay.

Kadri will have ups and downs this season and that’s to be expected—he’s been an inconsistent, hot/cold player at the OHL/AHL/NHL levels. Having said that, on the high end of things, I could see a 15/25 season from him which is something everyone would welcome.

Carlyle’s systems should pay dividends for the Leafs, improve special teams and goaltending. McClement could just end up being a valuable player if he can shut down like he is said to be able to. If that is the case, the PK should improve dramatically, too. The Leafs couldn’t play even basic pee-wee level defence last year and relied too much on their speed and offence. If their penalty kill can be average and they can get league average goaltending, they are projected to score in the top 5-6 in the east. They need one win a month more than their season last year to make the playoffs. Generalized statistics, sure, but when you strip it all back, that’s what it boils down to.

Key points is the health of both Kessel and Phaneuf. We are not deep enough to have either one go down, and they have been healthy for us so far. Touch wood.

Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]

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