I will be previewing all 30 NHL clubs. I will be looking at their available salary cap room, the additions and deletions from the 2008-09 rosters, and where I think they will stack up in their division and conference for the 2009-10 campaign.
Let's get a move on with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which play in the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference.
When Brian Burke was hired as the new General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he promised a return to the glory days and a return the success that the franchise has not experienced since 1967. It was the last season of the Original Six era in the NHL and the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup.
As I started to look at this year’s potential roster I had to ask myself where the goals will be coming from. When I looked at last year's statistics, I realized that the Leafs had a very balanced attacked and were in the top third of the NHL. I knew the goaltending had more holes than a block of Swiss cheese and a defense core that was only physical when someone hit them.
During the off-season, Burke has significantly upgraded his defense core, but the jury is still out on how the goaltending will perform. Toskala had season-ending hip surgery on March 9th.
An injury he had played with for most of the season. He was suffering the effects of his hip but attempted to play through the pain. At 32 years-old, how Toskala responds from his surgery may be the biggest hurdle the Leafs will have to overcome to get back into the playoffs.
Joey MacDonald, the Islanders number one goaltender from a year ago and Jonas Gustavsson, an undrafted Swedish goaltender, have been brought in to back-up Toskala, should the Finnish-born goaltender remains injured.
Brian Burke says “his team will be too tough and too truculent to allow other teams to look forward to meeting the Maple Leafs, a feeling that has been all too common for the past four years.”
Let’s take a look at the moves G.M. Brian Burke was able to make and see which players will be a part of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009-10.
Some of the significant additions that the Maple Leafs has made during the offseason are as follows: Francois Beauchemin (Anaheim), Tim Brent (Chicago), Mike Komisarek (Montreal), Colton Orr (NY Rangers), Garnet Exelby (Atlanta), Jonas Gustavsson (Färjestads BK - Sweden), Rickard Wallin (Färjestads BK - Sweden), Joey MacDonald (NY Islanders), Wayne Primeau (Calgary), and Phil Kessel (Boston).
Some of the significant roster deletions that have moved on from Toronto are as follows: Kris Newbury (Detroit), Jeremy Williams (Detroit), Pavel Kubina (Atlanta), Tim Stapleton (Atlanta), Jeff Hamilton (HC Lugano - Switzerland), Brett Aubin (EC Salzburg - Austria), Justin Pogge (Anaheim), Erik Reitz (Sibir Novosibirsk - KHL), and Jamie Sifers (Minnesota).
There are 12 former Maple Leafs Players that have yet to sign deals with another franchise. They are Josef Boumedienne, Bates Battaglia, Luca Cereda, Boyd Devereaux, Martin Gerber, Chris Harrington, Jamie Heward, Ryan Hollweg, Curtis Joseph, Olaf Kolzig, Brad May, and Andy Rogers.
The Projected 2009–10 Toronto Maple Leafs roster
The Maple Leafs currently have 19 players under one-way contracts; 11 forwards, seven defense men, and one goaltender. The three players that are most likely to fill out the rostert—it would most likely be two forwards, a defenseman and a goaltender—that are on two-way contracts are as follows:
The 23-year-old native of Regina, Saskatchewan was signed as a free agent by the Maple Leafs on Apr. 3, 2009. Bozak spent the past two seasons playing with the University of Denver. The centerman is looking to start the season with the Leafs.
The 19-year-old native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was the Leafs` first round pick (Fifth Overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Schenn is entering his second season on the NHL this year. During his NHL career with the Maple Leafs, the defenseman has appeared in 70 games, scoring two goals and adding 12 assists for 14 points.
The 24 year-old native of Danderyd, Sweden was signed as a free agent by the Maple Leafs on July 7, 2009. This will be the goaltender’s first North American season playing professional hockey.
The soon-to-be-19-year-old native of London, Ontario was the Leafs` first round pick (Seventh Overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The centerman has signed his first entry level contract and according to head coach Ron Wilson, if Kadri can prove in preseason that he is a top six forward with the Leafs, this season, he will stick in the NHL.
With these 23 players, the Maple Leafs’ Salary Cap would sit at $64.1 million. If you take the bonuses off of the calculation, it would only give the Maple Leafs approximately $137,000 in cap space.
Now let’s take a look at the top prospects that will be looking to make an impression on G.M. Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson.
Mikhail Stefanovich is a 19-year-old native of Minsk, Belarus. The Center man was the Leafs’ fourth-round pick (98th Overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Stefanovich has signed his entry level contract so it is likely, he will start the season with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Bordeleau, "He’s a big kid, 6’2” and 200 pounds."
"He has good overall skills, but needs to improve on his work ethic and his involvement if he’s going to make it to the next level. When he is on his game, he is a good skater and has a great shot. He can really stickhandle but needs to show it more."
Viktor Stalberg is a 23-year-old native of Gothenburg, Sweden. The left winger was the Leafs’ sixth-round pick (161st Overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Stalberg has spent the last three seasons at the University of Vermont and has signed his first entry level contract. He will get a long look in training camp and if he doesn’t stick with the Leafs, they will send him down to the Marlies.
According to Hockeysfuture.com, “Stalberg is a big player with great speed,"
"Accelerates really well and reaches full speed very fast. He fore-checks successfully and plays with good intensity. He is a natural sniper with a fine scoring touch. Defense and passing game could use some improvement. He should play even more physical with his large frame."
Jimmy Hayes is a 19-year-old native of Boston, Mass. The right winger was the Leafs’ second round pick (60th Overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Hayes spent last season with Boston College and has not signed his first NHL contract as of yet. He plans on returning to school for the upcoming season.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee, “Jimmy has really been playing better since he went to the USHL,"
"Last year he played with James van Riemsdyk and Colin Wilson (on the U.S. Under-18 team) and they were just a perfect chemistry line – all season he was good going up and down the wing and going to the net."
"He works hard, he’s been consistent, physical and he doesn’t take any shifts off. He is at his best as a big power winger. On the wing he’s a got a really good shot and a really long reach."
Kenny Ryan is an 18-year-old native of Franklin Village, Michigan. The right winger was the Leafs’ second round pick (50th Overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Ryan has spent the last two seasons with the U.S. National Under-18 Team and is committed to attend Boston College during the 2009-10 season.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Gary Eggleston, “Ryan is a solid skater who is strong on his skates,"
"Has good balance and his hard to knock off his feet. Has good overall speed and works hard in all zones. He is strong in the corners, is aware of defensive responsibilities and back checks well. Ryan plays a rugged two-way game."
Jesse Blacker is an 18-year-old native of Toronto, Ontario. The Defense man was the Leafs’ second round pick (58th Overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Blacker has spent the last two seasons with the Windsor Spitfires and has been returned to the OHL for this season.
According to Windsor Spitfires head coach Bob Boughner, “Jesse’s improvement from his rookie year to this year was huge,"
"His skating is his biggest asset; he’s able to get himself out of trouble with his feet. He is learning how to be more physical as the year goes on and his confidence is growing rapidly. He has good size right now as he stands 6'1 and still growing. He has a very good stick in his own end for a young defenseman.”
Recap of 2008-09
Maple Leafs finished the season in fifth place in the Northeast Division and finished 12th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 34-35-13, good for 81 points.
The Maple Leafs had five players that broke the 20-goal plateau and they had 12 players in total that finished with double digit goals. Last season, the Maple Leafs was led by Jason Blake (25 goals and 63 points) and Matt Stajan (40 assists).
The Maple Leafs` offense was tenth in the NHL with 244 goals for and defensively the Maple Leafs was 30th in the NHL giving up 286 goals.
The Maple Leafs` powerplay was 16th in the NHL last season, clicking at 18.8 percent and they were 30th in killing penalties (74.7 percent).
Outlook for 2009-10
As I was writing this preview, the news came over the wire that Burke was finally able to swing a deal for Phil Kessel, with the Boston Bruins. Adding his 36 goals from a year ago, with help not only the even strength play of the Leafs but the power play as well.
Their penalty killing was the worst in the league and much of that is the fault of their goaltenders. Adding players like Beauchemin and Komisarek to the back end will help the penalty killing, but if the goaltenders can’t stop the puck, the personnel in front of him, don’t really matter. Another prime example of that is the Red Wings fall from eighth to 25th and the number one contributing factor to that decline was that Osgood had an off season.
The season hinges on the performance of the goaltenders.
They may be a very tough team to play against and they may have a top 10 offense but if Toskala or Gustavsson cannot carry the Leafs to glory, I foresee a fifth place finish in the Northeast Division and I think they will finish 11th in the Eastern Conference.
On Sept 19th, I will be reviewing Vancouver Canucks as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs. Look for my four-part article on how I would improve the NHL and my other previously published articles on bleacherreport.com.