As the Toronto Maple Leafs 2013-14 schedule is out, it is time to mark the calendar for some must-see games and make a few regular-season predictions as well.
The Leafs watched their season come to an end in a Game 7 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins, but it is time to move forward. This season, the Leafs welcome the Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning to what was the Northeast division.
The new conference alignment and the full 82-game schedule produces some unique but welcomed matchups for the coming season.
Here are some games that Leafs fans will want to save the date on.
October 1 at Montreal Canadiens: The Maple Leafs will kick off their NHL season by playing on the opening night of the season in Montreal for the "Molson Canadian NHL Faceoff." The Leafs and Habs are closing in on 800 all-time regular-season and playoff games and the matchup never disappoints.
October 5 vs. Ottawa Senators: The "little brother" of the Leafs comes to town in a inter-provincial battle. This year's battle will seem a little bit strange though, as the Senators will be without longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson. Nevertheless, there is always bad blood between these two teams and Leafs-Sens games never fail to disappoint.
November 9 at Boston Bruins: The thing about playing a team in the playoffs is that the team instantly becomes a hated team by the fans. Add to the fact that it is an Original Six game and that the Leafs had the best chance of ending Boston's season in the first round and couldn't pull it off. This should be a good one to watch.
December 21 vs. Detroit Red Wings: When the Detroit Red Wings visit the Toronto Maple Leafs as new division rivals, there will be an added twist to the rivalry. That twist is named Daniel Alfredsson. The 40-year-old Swede signed with Detroit in the offseason, making enemies in Ottawa to go along with his haters in Toronto. Insert "Alfie sucks" chants from Air Canada Centre here.
January 1 at Detroit Red Wings: The Toronto Maple Leafs will be featured in the NHL Winter Classic. They will visit the Detroit Red Wings, playing the game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The stadium will be packed likely to over capacity with more than 110,000 people watching live. The festivities leading up to the game are also worth paying attention to as fans.
The biggest change in the Toronto Maple Leafs' new division is the addition of the Detroit Red Wings.
The Atlantic Division (which is comprised of five Northeast division teams plus Detroit, the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning), will be a little bit harder with the Detroit Red Wings in the division but a lot easier with the Lightning and Panthers in play now.
It helps that the Leafs seem to "get up" for games with their Original Six rivals in the Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens. While nothing is for certain, success breeds more success usually, and the Leafs added David Clarkson from the New Jersey Devils to help them get bigger up front.
If the Leafs can continue to get saves from either James Reimer or newly acquired Jonathan Bernier, they are in prime contention to qualify for the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
March 1-March 18 sees the Maple Leafs play nine games with just two of them being at home.
The traveling across the continental USA will be a challenge for the Leafs, but with all the home games early on in their schedule, they should be assured of a playoff spot by that time.
Projected Eastern Conference Finish: Fifth place
Since the Leafs are no longer the laughing stock of the NHL, it wouldn't be a stretch to expect them to make the playoffs this season.
How high their seed will be remains to be seen.
The biggest "X-factor" this season will be if Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri can duplicate their scoring magic from this season. Another thing to keep an eye on is if David Clarkson can rebound and put up numbers like he did two seasons ago instead of his most recent season with just 15 goals and nine assists in 48 games.
Should these two things materialize, the Leafs could even be looking to challenge for a division title this year.
But for now, fans must not jump to conclusions, but instead just be realistic that the Leafs will meet and not exceed expectations.
The Leafs will enjoy their new division, as it is just a mesh of their old division: the Detroit Red Wings and teams from Florida. If they play like they are supposed to, their regular season could be a repeat of last season.