The Toronto Maple Leafs whetted the appetites of long-suffering fans with their unexpected successes last season, particularly in making the playoffs once again.
There have been some significant changes to Toronto's roster since last season ended. As a result, while the Leafs have not been remade, the team is quite different from the one that lost to Boston in a memorable 7-game series last spring.
Here is the complete season preview for the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2013-14 season.
Basic stats can be found on nhl.com
Advanced stats are from Sporting Charts.
Jonathan Bernier, David Bolland, David Clarkson, Paul Ranger, Mason Raymond, Morgan Rielly
Joe Colborne, Matt Frattin, Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Komisarek, Clarke MacArthur, Ben Scrivens
The Leafs have upgraded their defence group with the addition of Ranger and Morgan Rielly. Rielly may not play the entire season with the Leafs, but his upside is tremendous. Bernier is expected to develop into a No. 1 goaltender, although whether or not that happens immediately is questionable.
Clarkson and Bolland will add some skill and grit to a talented top-nine forward group.
The Leafs will miss Mikhail Grabovski who consistently outplayed his opponents. The team is not particularly deep at centre, and this may need to be addressed as the season wears on.
|Line 1||James Van Riemsdyk||Tyler Bozak||Phil Kessel|
|Line 2||Joffrey Lupul||Nazem Kadri||David Clarkson|
|Line 3||Mason Raymond||Dave Bolland||Nikolai Kulemin|
|Line 4||Frazer McLaren||Jay McClement||
Extra Forwards: Carter Ashton
|Pairing 1||Dion Phaneuf||Carl Gunnarsson|
|Pairing 2||Jake Gardiner||Cody Franson|
|Pairing 3||Mark Fraser||Paul Ranger|
Extra Defenceman: Morgan Rielly
Jonathan Bernier & James Reimer
There are concerns with Clarkson out due to suspension and McLaren's broken finger. Clarkson will be missed for both his physical presence and his strong two-way play.
This lineup has balance throughout and with the upgrades on the point, along with the additions of Bolland and Clarkson, the Leafs should see their team Corsi number improve this season. If there is marked improvement in their shot differential, expect the Leafs to dominate some of the lesser lights in the Eastern Conference.
There are a few candidates for this category, but the goaltending situation should be considered the greatest unknown. James Reimer was excellent in the regular season last year, and yet general manager Dave Nonis felt he needed to reinforce the position.
The Leafs gave up a lot for Jonathan Bernier and it was not to have him be a cheerleader on the bench. Toronto was outshot more often than not last season, and if that trend continues, obviously their goalies will have to outplay the opposing goaltenders.
Without much better than average goaltending, things could turn south for the club in a hurry. However, if the duo develops some healthy competition and flourishes, expect strong netminding from this promising tandem.
In a perfect world, Phil Kessel has a monster year in earning a new contract, Nazem Kadri continues to improve offensively, David Clarkson scores close to 30 goals and Dion Phaneuf plays some of his best hockey of his career in earning a spot on Canada’s Olympic team.
If all or most of these things happen, the Leafs could challenge Boston for the Atlantic Division crown.
In a troubling world for Leaf fans, Kessel is distracted by the lack of a contract, Kadri regresses significantly, team defensive play is lax, the defence corps fails to come together for a period of time and both Reimer and Bernier falter.
This would see the Leafs finish fifth or sixth in the Atlantic Division and miss the playoffs by a wide margin.
The Leafs will be nothing short of entertaining to watch this year. They have a number of players who are poised to make significant improvements.
Kadri and Franson have boatloads of potential, and there is reason to believe that last year was a sign of better things to come from both of them. They have the ability to be elite players over the next decade if they continue to work hard and improve their evolving games.
Kessel will be motivated to have a very productive year, although there will be extra pressure on him at the outset given Clarkson’s absence from the roster due to suspension.
The Leafs should be able to attack with even more force this season. The team's defensive play should be better with Franson and Gardiner both more experienced and the steady Paul Ranger added to the mix.
While Reimer and Bernier still need more NHL experience, they should grow together over the course of the season. There may be some turbulent times, but both goalies have a lot to offer. Reimer's .924 save percentage in the 2013 regular season was very good considering the quality shots he faced on many nights.
The Leafs will finish third in the Atlantic Division and qualify comfortably for the playoffs next spring.