Toronto Maple Leafs Position Battles to Watch in 2014 Offseason
With the number of offseason changes that the Toronto Maple Leafs organization has made, there is bound to be some good competition at several positions.
New president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Dave Nonis have given head coach Randy Carlyle some veterans both up front and on the blue line. It should mean at least a modest bump in the standings for the Leafs.
Let's take a look at the likeliest position battles to watch in the Maple Leafs' 2014 offseason.
No. 1 Goaltender
Quite clearly, the No. 1 position is Jonathan Bernier's to lose as the Leafs get ready for the 2014-15 season. But that doesn't mean there won't be a battle here.
James Reimer was not at his best last season in posting a .911 save percentage and a 3.20 goals-against average, but he is 65-48-15 over four seasons in Toronto with a career .914 save percentage. That cannot be discounted as the Leafs have not been anything but mediocre over the past four years.
Reimer is a battler, and it must be remembered that Bernier has played only 117 NHL games in his career. He still has a lot to prove in his young career.
The Leafs will need both Reimer and Bernier to be very good in 2014-15. A battle for the starting position should benefit the club as both goaltenders will be striving to be the long-term starter.
The Leafs must get consistent production from their second line. Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul have had good chemistry over the past couple of seasons, but a consistent trio has not emerged.
Mason Raymond was very good on this line last year, but he's now a Calgary Flame. There are a few candidates to fill this role with David Clarkson, David Booth, Daniel Winnik, and possibly William Nylander slotting in here.
It should be a fascinating battle to track over the coming weeks as the Leafs' top six will be counted on to produce the bulk of the offence. Furthermore, these players must look to help improve possession numbers for the Maple Leafs.
The Leafs' team Corsi percentage was 47.4 in 2013-14, which was good for just 23rd in the NHL. This number must be better next season. The second line could be decisive in doing so.
Effectively, the Leafs had no fourth line to speak of in 2013-14. Players like Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr among others were regular fourth liners.
The three players who form this line must be significantly better in 2014-15. The centre-ice position will be key in charging the entire group.
Likely candidates include Peter Holland, Mike Santorelli, Frederik Gauthier and Petri Kontiola. Santorelli may not be in this mix as he could be the third-line centre based on CapGeek.com's version of the current roster.
If this skater can play upwards of 10 effective minutes per game, things could be very rosy in Toronto this season.
No. 2 Defenceman
Defence pairings can be fluid over the course of the year, although minutes played is a good indicator of where players fit in on a roster.
Clearly, Dion Phaneuf is the Leafs' No. 1 blueliner. He plays the most minutes, faces the stiffest competition night after night and usually anchors the first power-play unit from the point. He's also due to make $7 million in 2014-15.
With Carl Gunnarsson no longer a Leaf, Phaneuf will be playing with a different regular partner. Depending on how Carlyle wants to use his top duo, it could be any one of Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly or possibly Stephane Robidas.
Cody Franson seems unlikely to play here as he and Phaneuf have played very little together in recent seasons. Roman Polak is likely to be used in a shutdown role, so he may in fact ease the burden on Phaneuf next season.
Gardiner played the second-most minutes on the team last year. He could be the odds-on choice to fill this role.
All stats can be found on NHL.com unless noted otherwise.
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