It’s a great day, Leafs Nation. Let’s hear your predictions for the season. Here are ours:
Note: Only Ian Dudgeon and Declan Kerin had the Leafs in the playoffs last season, so feel free to skip over everyone else’s prediction.
Ian Dudgeon (@Dudgee):
Prediction: 2nd in Atlantic, 3rd in the Eastern Conference.
Sure, call me the optimist. I usually am. Despite a strong undercurrent of gloom and doom voices preaching the impending disaster of a season, I’m seeing the opposite. I see a team that is headed towards its collective prime, with key young players a little older and hopefully a little wiser than last year. This is a group that now has a playoff round under its belt, nearly slayed the giant (Boston) that has beat up on them for years, and picked up a ton of playoff experience in the off season in Bolland, Clarkson and Raymond. Phil Kessel has emerged as a bona fide star (dare I say.. elite??!!) forward who shut the naysayers up with his performance in the playoffs. The overall quality and depth on the wings has improved, including the prospects such as Leivo and Ashton pushing hard for NHL jobs and likely will be seen when injuries open up spots. Adding Bernier bulks up the goaltending to a solid 1-2 punch. And hey, if he can beat out Reimer for the starting job, he’s going to show he’s a pretty damned good goalie to make that happen. It will be a credit to both goalies. The defense remains a risk when they don’t have the puck, but the talents and assets are there. If Carlyle can continue to mold the group, they can hold their own. With Rielly staying for now, the group overall is ridiculously mobile, which will help a lot dealing with speedy teams like Detroit, and help skate circles around older clubs like Boston.
The Atlantic division could go a lot of ways this year. Detroit and Boston would seem to be the teams to beat, but both clubs have chinks in the armor of their contending status. Both have key players getting older, plus defensive groups that aren’t quite what they once were. I think Toronto finishes 2nd behind one of those clubs. IMO, Montreal played way above their short little selves last year, as did Ottawa. Florida and Buffalo will likely be doormats, and Tampa to me is the one wild card.
Bottom line: the door is wide open for the Leafs to take the next big step forward.
Prediction: 3rd in the Atlantic Division
Similar to my thoughts last year, I predict the Leafs will continue on their upswing as a young, maturing club and finish third in the newly crowned Atlantic Division. They’ll finish just slightly below Detroit and barely ahead of Ottawa (who will grab one of the wildcard playoff berths). I peg them at somewhere in the 95 point range, with the Boston Bruins taking the division with just over 100 points. One of the biggest differences this year will be Toronto’s two reliable goaltenders, ensuring that slumps or injuries can be handled with ease in the crease. The other? A year more of maturity, growth and experience for one of the best young group of forwards in the league. Their game-by-game drive and fortitude will be furthered by the presence and energy of Clarkson and Bolland. This will be most important in the crunch of the late season rush for the playoffs, which has seen the young core of this team falter in the past. The Leafs won’t quite reach “contender” status this year, but their trajectory is headed in that direction and they will remain one of the most lethal offensive teams in the league.
Anthony Petrielli (@APetrielli):
Prediction: 8th in the Eastern Conference (2nd wildcard spot)
I think the Leafs will get excellent goaltending this year, and, as usual, they will score a ton of goals. Their defense needs to prove itself, but I’m actually pretty high on their back-end as well; I think a full year of Gunnarsson-Phaneuf will be solidifying, Gardiner will step up, Franson will prove he’s the real deal, and they just have too many NHL calibre rearguards in the organization to not be able to find two more to round out the unit.
Unfortunately, the Leafs are in possibly the best division in hockey. At the very least, they are in the division with the most elite teams. I have Boston, Detroit, and Ottawa finishing ahead of the Leafs, leaving Toronto to battle it out with the Habs for the final spot. My bigger concern is actually the crossover wildcard, because I think the Devils are going to surprise, and Philly along with the Islanders are legitimate contenders. That said, I’ll stick with the Leafs claiming the final wildcard playoff spot. I ultimately believe they have enough game breakers to push them through when it matters.
Matt Mistele (@TOTruculent):
Prediction: 5th in the Eastern Conference
I think the Leafs will finish 5th. That seems high, to write it out loud. I think that’s just a byproduct of the playoff incident last spring re-calibrating our expectations to their usual miserable level. The Maple Leafs are an improved team, in a tougher division. It shakes out pretty similarly, in my mind.
They settled for the status quo at 1C, added key forwards who should deliver the long-sought grit element we’ve been sorely lacking up front (pun intended), they boast a mobile (if too-offensive) defense corps that could literally shake out any which way, their possession game should improve, and they boast – cumulatively – an amazing amount of talent and reliability in goal. It’s laughable, to me, that we continue to beat the narrative of a goaltending ‘controversy’ to death. If anything, this is a goaltending non-controversy. One of Reimer or Bernier should always be playing well, if not both, and that alone will account for the Leafs finishing higher than a great many will probably predict. Carter Ashton will score the first goal, Paul Ranger will take the first penalty, and every breath Phil Kessel takes will prompt immediate reactions from intermission panels as to how his latest lung capacity measurement might affect his upcoming contract demands.
Can’t finish worse than last year, can it?
Michael Stephens (@MLHS_Mike):
Prediction: 42 – 33 – 7 (91 points). Fourth in Atlantic Division, Seventh in Eastern Conference.
Buoyed by a fleet of scoring forwards and bolstered by the strongest net minding tandem in years, the Toronto Maple Leafs will sneak into the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk are all capable of 30-goal seasons. There’s another six forwards who could easily notch 20 goals apiece. The addition of Clarkson, Bolland and Ashton gives the team more snarl and two-way presence than in years past. Opposing teams are going to have nightmares about this top-10 offense.
The defense remains a concern, as the Leafs still seem poised to give up a lot of shots. But with Phaneuf, Gardiner, Ranger, Rielly and the recently signed Franson in the fold, the D corps might just score enough to offset any defensive inefficiency. Should the defenders prove porous; the Leafs can rely on Optimus Reim or Smokin Jon Bernier to shut the door.
I’d like to offer a caveat: don’t be shocked if the Buds start the season slowly; there are a lot of new faces at every position and the cap is playing havoc with the roster. With David Clarkson’s 10-game suspension, the Leafs offensive capability won’t be at its most deadly until November. Once all the pieces are in place, the Leafs will punch and score their way to the postseason in 2014.
Alec Brownscombe (@MapleLeafsHS):
Prediction: 3rd in Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference
The most interesting question that will get answered this season is whether or not the Leafs performance last season was a mirage or evidence of a team taking its first big step toward contention.
I don’t think the Leafs would have played at a 97-point pace last season if they played the schedule they have in front of them this season, both in terms of competition and number of games. However, the Leafs are, on paper, a better on team, and team that can hopefully win in a few different ways based on their roster makeup.
While Reimer may not post a sparkling .924 SV% under a bigger workload, the Leafs’ team save percentage could feasibly stay within a few points of where it was if we assume Bernier upgrades on Scrivens.
We also know the Leafs have at least the potential to ice a far better defence core than the one that featured Holzer, Hostka and/or O’Byrne at points throughout the season. Between some or all of Rielly, Ranger, Gardiner (full time) and Franson taking a step forward, perhaps the Leafs will have an easier time breaking out of their own zone this season and will spend more time in the other end of the rink, where the likes of Ashton, Clarkson and Bolland can hopefully aid in bolstering the cycle game; another thing needs to improve if the Leafs are to generate more offensive zone time.
We know the Leafs can score in bunches. The biggest concern for me is the defence’s ability to defend without the puck, as well as the concern based on last season, a trend which continued in the preseason, that the Leafs will continue to get outshot heavily. I understand Carlyle’s system suited the team as it was constructed – which is all a coach can do with the personnel he has – but hopefully the Leafs can take a step toward not just counterattacking teams with speed and offensive prowess, but fairly consistently dictating games.
I’ll be very curious to find out just how successful the Leafs will be at this:
Interesting comments from TOR's Randy Carlyle: "We want to be more of a puck possession team this year. We've talked about having it more."
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) October 1, 2013