Another solid season from Phil Kessel could get the Maple Leafs back to the playoffs.
How long has it been since the Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs?
They have endured two lockouts since their last postseason appearance. One of the lockouts is still ongoing.
When the current lockout becomes part of history, the Leafs have a chance to turn their situation around and gain their first postseason bid since the 2003-04 season.
They were playing solid hockey for about two-thirds of the season last year when the bottom fell out and they simply dropped out of sight.
General manager Brian Burke fired coach Ron Wilson as the Maple Leafs were tumbling down the standings, and now, new coach Randy Carlyle must figure out what makes this team tick if 2013 is going to be the year they return to the postseason.
Since leaving Boston following the 2008-09 season, Kessel has rarely had good games against the Bruins.
However, he has since developed into a solid player. He has scored 30 or more goals each of the last four seasons—three with Toronto and one with Boston—and he is on the verge of going from consistent scorer to legitimate superstar.
Deride him all you want for his defensive mistakes, Kessel has a vicious wrist shot and he can score from anywhere in the offensive zone. He is capable of putting the team on his back and carrying them to the playoffs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs don't have to rely on Phil Kessel for all their goal scoring.
They can roll out talented skaters who can provide consistent supplemental scoring.
Joffrey Lupul is coming off a 25-goal season, and Mikhail Grabovski is a sensational skater who netted 23 scores last year.
Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur are both legitimate scorers and the Maple Leafs added former Flyer and potential superstar James van Riemsdyk in the offseason.
That's enough offense to get them back to the playoffs.
Randy Carlyle may not be a Hall of Fame coach. But he has won a Stanley Cup.
His message may not be all that different from former coach Ron Wilson, but it is coming from a different voice.
He has to make the Maple Leafs more accountable for their mistakes. He has to point out their deficiencies and fix them.
He has to do this in a clear and direct manner.
A new coach knows how to get his players' attention; it won't be just the same-old, same-old.
His Stanley Cup title with the Anaheim Ducks should speak volumes to his players and get them on the same page.
By last year's All-Star break, it was not a question of whether the Leafs would make the playoffs.
It was a question of where they would finish in the Eastern Conference and which seed they would draw. It seemed quite likely that they would finish fifth, sixth or seventh.
Well, it didn't work out that way as they collapsed.
What causes a team to play so efficiently for so much of the season and then lose its way?
Focus is one of the issues. That includes confidence, conditioning and determination.
The Leafs were lacking in all of these areas last year.
Players like captain Deon Phaneuf have to make sure the same issues are not repeated this year.
The Leafs' defense and goaltending has been substandard through many of the seasons in their playoff drought.
If the Leafs are going to make the playoffs, they have to improve their goaltending.
This is on Burke. Once the lockout comes to an end, he must make a quick and decisive move to acquire a goaltender. The most likely target should be Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks.
The Leafs were prominently mentioned in Luongo trade rumors (source: SportingNews.com) during the summer and Burke needs to act decisively as soon as he gets a chance.