Toronto Maple Leafs' Strengths and Weaknesses Heading into 2013-14 Season

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2013

Toronto Maple Leafs' Strengths and Weaknesses Heading into 2013-14 Season

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    It was the most shocking and painful way for a season to end.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs had done nearly all of the hard work and had a 4-1 lead midway through the third period of the seventh game of their first-round playoff series. All they had to do was close out the Boston Bruins.

    Instead, the Leafs fell apart and the Bruins found a way to survive and advance. The heartbreak was palpable for all concerned, and the defeat will stay with the Maple Leafs for years. Despite that collapse, the Maple Leafs have plenty of reasons to feel good about their future.

    They should be competitive in 2013-14, and that painful defeat may serve to stiffen them in future postseason opportunities.

    Here are the Maple Leafs' strengths and weaknesses going into the 2013-14 season.

Strength: Skating Ability

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    Teams that are going to compete with the Toronto Maple Leafs had better be prepared to skate with them. The Leafs combine skating speed with quickness, and that allows them to win races and make plays once they chase down the puck.

    The Leafs had the Bruins on the brink of defeat because they outskated them for Games 5, 6 and large portions of Game 7.

    That skating ability was probably the primary reason they were able to break their long playoff drought and get to the postseason for the first time since 2003-04.

    Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul are the players that give the Leafs the biggest edge in the skating department.

Weakness: Defense

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    The Maple Leafs struggled to play as well on the defensive end as they did on offense during the regular season. From a statistical perspective, the Leafs gave up 2.67 goals per game, a figure that ranked 17th in the NHL.

    While the Leafs may have helped themselves by acquiring goalie Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings, that move is not sufficient if the Leafs are going to better themselves this year. They have to play with more intensity when the game is on the line.

    In the seventh-game collapse against Boston, Milan Lucic was allowed to anchor himself in front of the net on the goal that got Bruins within one, and the defense offered little support on the tying goal by Patrice Bergeron. The defense also was flustered on Bergeron's game-winning goal in overtime.

    The Maple Leafs need to play with more precision and skill on defense if 2013-14 is going to end on a better note.

Strength: Offensive Firepower

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    The Maple Leafs are a skilled team at passing the puck and setting up top-notch scoring opportunities. When they get those chances, they regularly fill up the net. They averaged 3.02 goals per game last season, which ranked sixth in the league.

    Phil Kessel is their most dynamic scorer, as he scored 20 goals in the shortened regular season. A healthy Kessel can be counted on for 30-35 goals.

    Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk were right behind Kessel with 18 goals each. Kadri has the skill to score off the rush, and he also knows how to position himself in tight. Van Riemsdyk has the combination of size and strength to dominate between the circles.

    The Leafs should remain one of the most skilled offensive teams in the league.

Weakness: Mental Lapses

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    When you get a team down, you want to keep them down. The Maple Leafs did not do this as often as they should have in 2013.

    The most glaring example came in Game 7 against the Bruins.

    That was not the only example. The Leafs did not fare well even when they outshot their opponents.

    In games where the opposition dominated the Leafs in the shot department, they had a .417 winning percentage, a figure that ranked 24th in the league.

    When the Leafs have a territorial advantage, they have to do a better job of finishing their opponents.

Strength: Aggressive Coaching

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    There was a noticeable difference in the Maple Leafs' attitude and demeanor under head coach Randy Carlyle than there had been under Ron Wilson.

    Carlyle may not be the game's most sophisticated strategist, but he demands a full effort from his players, and he generally gets it. He will get in his players' faces when they make mistakes, and there is nothing passive about him.

    The Leafs became much more aggressive under Carlyle and they had more fights than any other team (44) in the league. That was clearly not the case under the passive Wilson.

Weakness: Emotional Scars

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs will not be able to outrun their past. The pain of their first-round defeat will stay with them, and they won't be able to hide from it.

    While this could be an overwhelming problem, it could also turn into their rallying cry. If the Leafs decide to look at their painful defeat against Boston and say it won't happen again, they could develop the kind spine stiffness that has been missing in the past.

    If they don't face it head on, it could linger and resurface at the worst possible moment. It's up to Carlyle and his top players to turn this weakness into a strength.