Toronto Maple Leafs: Breaking Down Their Strengths and Weaknesses
The Toronto Maple Leafs have not done well in the post-lockout era.
Since the 2004-05 season got cancelled due to the lockout, the Leafs have not sniffed the playoffs and have finished no better than third in the Northeast division.
Many blame notorious hothead GM Brian Burke for the team's struggles. They have missed out on big names in free agency and have failed to bring in any big names via trade.
Last year the team finished just below .500 at 35-37-10 and the Leafs' players were once again forced to watch the playoffs from the comfort of their living rooms.
The team had a stellar first half of the season, and seemed to be playoff contenders at the All-Star Break. However, the team collapsed in the second half of the season and finished 12 points out of the final playoff spot.
While last year may be hard to forget, every new year brings the hope for the players and faithful Toronto fans. Could this be the year that the Leafs get their act together and manage to make it to the postseason?
The team has some strengths they can capitalize on, but also have some glaring weaknesses they need to improve if they hope to find success during the 2012-13 season.
Here are some of those strengths and weaknesses.
Strength: A Talented Top 6
While the names may not jump out at you, the Maple Leafs have six solid forwards who know how to find the back of the net.
The team finished 10th overall in the league in goals per game with 2.77, and that will only improve with the addition of young gun James van Riemsdyk in the offseason.
JvR was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, but did not see the ice a lot last year due to a slew of injuries. In his best season as a pro, in 2010-11, he finished with 40 points (21 goals, and 19 assists).
The newly acquired winger will probably find himself on the second line, due the Leafs' two leading scorers, Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel, being ahead of him on the depth chart.
JvR could also help out at the center position, where the Leafs have a major deficiency.
Kessel closed out the season with 82 points, including 37 goals, while Lupul posted 67.
Tyler Bozak also had a career last year at center, inking 47 points on the stat sheet. Center Mikhail Grabovski was no slouch either, with 23 goals and 28 assist last season.
The Leafs should get major contributions from their top two lines and light the lamp more often than last year.
Jonas Gustavsson played the majority of the games last year for the Leafs, posting a 17-17-4 record. He has since moved on to back up Jimmy Howard in Detroit.
This leaves Toronto with no true number one goaltender.This is something that needs to be settled by opening night. Moving goalies around after the season starts has never work well.
James Reimer and Ben Scrivens are the two goalies that the Leafs will have to decide between.
Reimer, the 99th overall pick in the 2006 draft, went 14-14-4 record last year with a .900 save percentage and a 3.10 GAA.
Scrivens, who only appeared in 11 games, going 4-5-2, posted similar stats. Scrivens had a .903 save percentage and a 3.13 GAA last season.
Neither goalie is a clear-cut choice, and neither is a real good option. Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, they are both young, so they have time to improve. However, they will have to handle to situation correctly before the season starts if they hope to have any success between the pipes.
Strength: Randy Carlyle and His System
The Anaheim Ducks were quick to forget the Stanley Cup that Randy Carlyle coached the team to in 2007 when they fired him 24 games into the season last year.
The Maple Leafs picked him up with 18 games left in the season on March 10 and he guided them to a 6-9-3 record to closeout the season.
Carlyle's system should help out the teams' defense and young goaltenders, as opposed to ex-head coach Ron Wilson's run-and-gun system. The offense is talented enough to produce goals without being in an offensively heavy system.
Carlyle also brings the experience of winning a Stanley Cup. If the Leafs do make it to the postseason, his experience will prove to be invaluable.
Weakness: Lack of Veteran Leadership
The Maple Leafs are youthful, to say the least. This is not always a bad thing in the NHL, but their oldest player listed on the roster is Keith Aucoin at 33 years old, who played in the AHL last year.
Dion Phaneuf is a great player, and a solid choice for captain from the current roster, but he is not a top 15 captain in the NHL, nor will he be the vocal leader the team needs to succeed.
If a veteran presence could be brought in to assist Phaneuf in leading the team, it could go a long way. Jason Arnott and Mike Knuble are shining examples of who the Leafs could pick up in the offseason to strengthen this department.
A lot of the blame for the Leafs' second-half collapse was blamed on their inexperience and abundance of youngsters on the roster. Hopefully they have learned from their past mistakes.
Strength: Valuable Trade Assets
With the abundance of youth in the Maple Leafs program, they end up with a lot of pieces that other teams would be willing to trade for.
The Leafs have some obvious holes—a true first line center, a number one goalie and a top four defenseman to name a few—and these could be filled via trade.
Having Randy Carlyle behind the bench may help GM Brian Burke execute a blockbuster trade that may be just what they need to make the playoffs.
Carlyle's former team, the Anaheim Ducks, have two of their top players, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, with contacts that expire after this year. Both won a Cup with Carlyle in Anaheim.
If the team was willing to give up pieces they could land Gezlaf via trade, which may entice Perry to join him in Toronto next offseason.
Weakness: Not Having a True No.1 Centerman
One of the Leafs' glaring weaknesses is that they have no center who can hold down their first line.
Currently, Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and 21-year-old Nazem Kadri are candidates to land the job as the first line center, but they all have their issues.
Bozak has played well, but is not a true first line center on a playoff team, which is what the Leafs hope to be.
JvR may be better suited on the wing, proving in Philadelphia that he can be productive at that spot.
Kadri is very young, but has played well when he has cracked the lineup. However, his sample size is too small right now to stick him with the first line. It could be an option for the future, but not immediately.
The team's best option for a center for the 2012-13 season is to acquire one through a trade or free agency.
James Battle posted a great article earlier in the week on Bleacher Report with possible ideas on who the Leafs could target.
Strength: Faithful Fanbase
Maybe the best thing about the approaching 2012-13 season for the Maple Leafs is that they will be starting with a clean slate.
Last year, despite their struggles, the team ranked fifth in average home attendance with just under 20,000 fans per game.
The team ended up going only 18-16-7 at home last year, but having the building packed every night will be great inspiration for the team to do well—especially for the younger players.
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