The Maple Leafs are facing a playoff drought hot enough to melt the ice in the Air Canada Centre. Toronto might not have Lord Stanley in their sights, but a new season with some new faces should at least warrant a playoff appearance for the Leafs in 2013.
Although the Leafs had a lot of issues in 2012, there are a lot of reasons to believe Toronto will turn over a new leaf next season.
Toronto's sub-par season can be largely attributed to the team's horrid goaltending situation. The duo of James Reimer and Jonas "monster" Gustavsson combined for a horrible .902 save percentage (via NHL.com).
Despite Reimer's poor outing, Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke is confident in Reimer's ability to improve. "I believe in James Reimer. He's young, he's athletic, I believe in this kid." said Burke (via NHL.com).
Reimer started the year off strong with five wins in seven games before suffering an injury during a game against the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal forward Brian Gionta ran into Reimer and sidelined the Leafs' starter for a bulk of the season.
Reimer never returned to form after the hit and was crucified by the Toronto media and fans as a result. Much of the criticism attacked Reimer for being inconsistent and feeble.
But keep in mind, Reimer is young and it was his first season as the No. 1 guy in net. Ushering a goalie into that position is almost always a rocky process.
Reimer knows what to expect now; he is healthy and will get a new start in 2013—providing there is a season for him to play in.
Acquisition of James van Riemsdyk:
The Philadelphia Flyers traded promising young player James van Riemsdyk to the Maple Leafs for a below-average defenseman Luke Schenn, who has a -23 career plus/minus rating. The Leafs benefited from Philly's foolish sense that having sibling chemistry on defense warrants trading a skilled young forward.
Van Riemsdyk is not going to put up the numbers of Toronto's one-two punch Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, but he will provide support in secondary scoring. Van Riemsdyk has a good career plus/minus rating (+13) and averages about a point every two games.
According to NHL.com, there have been talks of van Riemsdyk centering the top line with Kessel and Lupul. Playing on the top line in a new position on a new team could be the kind of fresh start that will jumpstart the 23-year-old's career.
"I have played it a little bit in the past, and any time you can be a little more versatile as a player, it is definitely a good thing," van Riemsdyk told reporters (via NHL.com). "I'm excited about that."
For a while, the New Jersey Devils had 22-year-old Adam Henrique on the top line, bridging together top-tier forwards Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. This line paid dividends for New Jersey and bears a striking resemblance to what Toronto's first line might look like this season.
The Leafs were not necessarily a bad team in 2012—things just did not seem to go their way. With a solid acquisition in van Riemsdyk, one of the best top lines in the league and a more confident Reimer in net, the Leafs should be able to end their playoff drought.