Toronto Maple Leafs: 10 Reasons to Believe Their Playoff Drought Will Continue
Seven seasons and counting.
That's how long it has been for the Toronto Maple Leafs since they last made the playoffs.
No, that group did not include Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Norm Ullman and Paul Henderson. It only seems that way.
The Maple Leafs were playing like one of the most improved teams in the league through the first two-thirds of the 2011-12 season.
Then, the bottom dropped out, and instead of making the playoffs, they went into a tailspin. As the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference took shape, the Leafs had a streak in which they won only two of 17 games in February and March.
They will try to overcome that in 2012-13, but it will not be easy for this once-proud Original Six franchise.
In addition to not making the playoffs since the 2003-04 season, they haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1967.
It's no great secret that goaltending has been an issue for Toronto Maple Leafs for several years. Last year, Leafs goaltenders allowed an average of 3.12 goals against and had a .898 save percentage.
General manager Brian Burke knows that is not going to get it done. Jonas Gustavsson is no longer wearing Maple Leafs blue and will now play for the Detroit Red Wings.
That means the Leafs will go with James Reimer until the personnel situation changes. The Leafs have been mentioned prominently in the Roberto Luongo sweepstakes, and he would be a big step up for the Leafs.
The Leafs give up a lot of goals and a lot of opportunities.
This means it's not all on the goaltending.
The play of the defense has been problematic at best and irresponsible at worst. In the highlight above, the Leafs gave up eight goals to the Boston Bruins, as the defense was miserable March 19.
In addition to making soft passes in the defensive zone, the Leafs defense struggled to carry the puck out of the zone or win puck battles in the corners. That's not going to win many games.
The Leafs have not made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season.
The lockout in 2004-05 represented a change in the team's fortunes. The Leafs had made the playoffs six straight years, but they have missed the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons since the lockout ended.
That streak has created a mindset that surrounds the team. That mindset can be overcome, but it will take strong leadership in the locker room to help the Leafs get past that pressure.
The Leafs have a lot of work to do in all areas of the game, and that includes their penalty killing.
The Leafs were 28th in the NHL last year in penalty killing, and that was too much for the team to overcome in its pursuit of the playoffs. They gave up 55 power play goals and only killed off 77.2 percent of their shorthanded situations.
James Van Riemsdyk
The Maple Leafs traded hard-hitting defenseman Luke Schenn so they could get skilled forward James van Riemsdyk.
On paper, this appears to be a solid deal because van Riemsdyk has size, strength and excellent skating ability. That's why the Flyers made him the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft.
However, van Riemsdyk had a hard time staying healthy last year, and he only played in 43 games and scored 11 goals. He could become a 30-goal scorer if he stays healthy and plays to his potential, but he has never scored more than 21 goals in a season.
The Leafs have plenty of speed and decent goal scoring on the wings with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, and they believe newcomer James van Riemsdyk will provide more explosiveness.
Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski had 29 and 28 assists from the center position, and that's simply not enough.
Head Coach Randy Carlyle
Randy Carlyle has won a Stanley Cup as an NHL head coach, so that gives him credibility.
However, a further look at his coaching record opens up some questions about his ability to take the Toronto Maple Leafs out of the desert and turn them into a playoff team.
Carlyle coached for six-plus seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. They made the postseason during his first four years and won the Stanley Cup in his second year. However, he failed to make the playoffs in 2009-10, lost in the first round in 2010-11 and the team fell apart on him last year and it resulted in his dismissal.
The Leafs did not respond impressively during his 18 games with them last season.
Phil Kessel's One-Way Play
Phil Kessel has scored 30 or more goals in four consecutive seasons, including a career-high 37 goals last season. He is one of the true snipers in the game, and in addition to his whistling wrist shot, he has blazing speed that allows him to create openings.
However, when it comes to playing on the defensive end, Kessel is inconsistent at best. He may start the season with some solid backchecking efforts and make it a point to play defense, but he will not play hard-nosed defense for a full season.
That's one of the primary reasons the Boston Bruins were willing to let him go to the Leafs prior to the 2009-10 season. He has not raised his level of defensive play since then.
If the Maple Leafs want to make the playoffs, they have to do a better job when the games go to extra time.
Last year, the Leafs were 9-10 in games that finished in overtime or shootouts. That ranked 21st out of the 30 teams in the NHL.
The Leafs were particularly bad at home, recording a 3-7 mark in games at the Air Canada Centre.
There's incredible pressure on Brian Burke.
Along with the Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the flagship franchise of the NHL.
Burke can't be blamed for the all of the team's past failures, but he has been the general manager since November 2008, and Maple Leafs fans have no more patience for their team or their steward.
They want to see results now, and that means they will be calling for Burke's head if the Leafs fail to make the playoffs again this year.
The Leafs need goaltending help, but Burke has yet to bring in a big-name goaltender to address the situation. The pressure on him is heavy and will not abate until the Leafs get back to the postseason.