Here we go again, folks, it's time to brush the dust off your Toronto Maple Leafs jersey that's been in the closet since the final whistle blew last season (actually, the way it went, you probably put it in there long before that) and get it ready for yet another season of ups, downs, and everything in between.
And when you're a member of Leaf Nation, there's always a whole lot of in between.
This season, the story lines are endless, with the on-going Tomas Kaberle saga that won't end until he's packing his bags or resigns with the club, the situation in net, the young players trying to mark their spot in the league, and Dion Phaneuf stepping in as the new captain of the team—the first since Mats Sundin left town.
And of course, there's always the made-for-TV quotes from Ron Wilson and Brian Burke that could supply the media with enough news alone to last for the season.
Yes, it should be quite the entertaining year in Toronto if nothing else, so with less than a month until the regular season kicks off, here's 25 bold (okay, some aren't) predictions on what should happen in the center of the hockey universe this season.
1. Dion Phaneuf, the newest captain of the Maple Leafs, will struggle coming out of the gates this season. With all the weight on his shoulders to lead this team to the playoffs for the first time in five years and to fill the shoes left behind by all the great captains in the past, he'll feel the pressure for sure, but he'll pull through and settle in after 10 games or so while getting used to the "all eyes on me" feeling.
He'll go on to score 15 goals and 50 points, while dishing out a fair share of bone-crunching hits (see, they're not all bold predictions).
And he will end the life of more than one person with a simple stare. That scary, scary stare.
2. Luke Schenn. One of Ron Wilson's favourite whipping boys. You know him well, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft and often referred to as the future of the Leafs defense. Well, this season it will become more clear to both the team and the fans that this is not the case.
Schenn is not the player he was made out to be, and his role will diminish as the stacked defense around him struts their stuff. Stay-at-home defensemen aren't what they used to be in today's NHL.
3. Ron Wilson will not be fired, no matter what happens this season. They may call for his head, but Burke will let him ride out this season with the new-look club. It's next year that Wilson will be one extended losing streak away from packing his bags.
4. Colton Orr will get suspended for doing something stupid this season. And by stupid I mean an incident involving either Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers or his old buddy Matt Carkner of the Ottawa Senators. He's more effective when he's living on the edge anyway.
5. The future is now for Jonas Gustavsson, and he'll put behind him all the struggles and health issues that were last season and take control between the pipes for the Leafs.
It's understood that he'll share the load with J.S. Giguere through 82 games, but by the midway point of the season the Leafs will have no choice but to rely on him heavily to make the postseason. He'll play at least 50 games.
6. On the flipside, Giguere is not the same goalie he once was, and though he'll prove to be a valuable mentor to Gustavsson, his time in Toronto will be short lived. He'll get quality time in the nets for the first half of the season, simply because the team is paying him more money than some countries have, but by season's end he'll own a nice piece of pine on the Leafs bench watching the Monster carry the load.
7. Phil Kessel won't score 40 goals, but he'll come pretty darn close. We'll say 37. Give it time Leaf Nation, give it time.
8. Mike Komisarek will have a coming out party of sorts. Sure, he's already known as a grizzled veteran in this league with plenty of experience under his belt, but last year was a disaster for the former Habs defender.
This season, he'll be a force for the Leafs and rebound in a strong way, and the combination of him and Phaneuf will kick start a new generation of "Toronto tough" defence. Buckle up.
9. If ever there was a sophomore slump victim waiting to happen, it's Tyler Bozak. While Leaf Nation drools over his potential after what he showed last season, he's a prime candidate for a slow start and a bumpy road all year.
He might find it hard to fit in the top six as well if the players around him perform to potential. Don't bet on this season being anything to write home about for Bozak, but don't panic, his time will come.
10. John Mitchell, enjoy your final season as a Maple Leaf. If you last the full season, that is.
11. Break-out season alert! Break-out season alert: Nikolai Kulemin, it's your time to shine. 20 plus goals, 60 plus points. Mark my words.
12. Kris Versteeg's career mark for goals is 22, he scored 20 last season. He'll set a new career mark in that category, especially if he gets a chance to play on a line with Kessel. The two could find chemistry together and work some magic.
Versteeg will pot 25 goals this season, and despite the fact that it would be physically impossible for him to have a more enjoyable season than he did with the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks last season, he'll still have fun with the Leafs. Just less silver going around.
13. By game 41, every single fan in the building will have looked at the new center red line in the Air Canada Centre, with the fancy Canadian flags painted all the way across, and utter to their friend, "somebody's got too much time on their hands".
Indeed they do. Too much money, too.
14. Mikhail Grabovski. After two separate bar fight incidents, an on-ice fight in practice with Wilson, and a five-game suspension for attacking one of the Kostitsyn brothers with his stick during a game this season, he'll be banished from the Leafs forever.
Or he'll get his act together and score 25 goals while maintaining a squeaky clean image. How about that prediction.
15. The Leafs will set a record for the most pregame ceremonies ever done in one season. 41 home games, but they'll find a way to have 42 ceremonies. They've got the cash.
16. Colby Armstrong will be the next Darcy-Tucker-in-his-prime, just with fewer goals, less physicality, and less fanfare. Okay, so he won't be the next Tucker, but he'll do more than you think he's going to do for the club this season.
Finally, the Leafs have a third line player who would actually make the roster of another team in the NHL.
17. The Battle of Ontario is back in full force, and this season it will hit the boiling point. Orr vs. Carkner, Kessel as the new Dany Heatley (as in scoring every time the two meet), and the hatred brewing that made the rivalry what it was in the early 2000s. You'll want to watch all six games this season between the Provincial rivals; it'll remind you why you love this game we call hockey.
18. After being the second team in NHL history to finish last in both penalty kill and power play last season (funnily enough, Wilson was the coach of the team that was the first too), they'll place 30th in neither category this year. With a sturdy wall of defense on the blue line, the PK will be much improved, better than 20th in the league.
As for the PP, well, the offensive power is still a question mark thus far, but they're better than some. In short, the special teams will look less like they're in special ed, and more like they belong in the NHL.
19. The dominance of the Buffalo Sabres over the Leafs will end this season. Yes, Ryan Miller still roams the crease and trusty old Lindy Ruff still patrols the bench, but the long-time bullies of the buds are lacking that punch they've had in years past, and it's time for the Leafs to exact some revenge.
As for the Boston Bruins, they will completely own the Leafs this season, but hey, you win some, you lose some.
20. Nazim Kadri's jersey will be the highest selling jersey on the team. And he will make sure everyone in Toronto knows it.
21. Clarke Macarthur will do a lot more for the Leafs than first thought, and he'll have a great season. Christian Hanson will not.
22. Carl Gunnarsson is going to make it very hard for the coaching staff to not have him on the ice in key situations. The 194th selection overall in the 2007 draft is a stud on the blue line, and only getting better.
Last season, he appeared in 43 games, scoring three goals and 15 points and tallied the highest plus/minus rating on the team (plus eight).
He was nothing short of impressive in all situations and will further make a case this year to cement his spot in the top six, which means the veterans around him will have to step up or sit down.
23. The new jerseys are much nicer than before, but someone of importance on the team will have a problem with them before season's end, you just wait. Nothing comes that easy in the city that, when it comes to hockey, never sleeps. And never stops complaining.
24. Tomas Kaberle? Ah yes, that guy. Well, by the time a decision is made on the longest serving member of the team, we'll all be sick of it. Scratch that, we already are. But Kaberle will not finish the season in the blue and white, he'll either cave in and except a trade mid-season, or go at the trade deadline for some offensive help as the Leafs make a final playoff push.
It's been fun, Tomas, thanks for the memories. And the painful interviews as you struggled with the English language.
Seriously, you've been here for 12 years, it can't be that hard.
25. Speaking of playoffs (not that we do that much in Toronto these days), the biggest question that looms over the club this season is whether or not they can claw their way back into the post-season.
Last season concluded with the club having a chance to end the Montreal Canadiens' season with a win in regulation in the final game of the season. They weren't able to do that, and we all know what happened next, but this season will end with similar stakes as the two will be fighting for a playoff spot until the final day. One game to decide it all.
The two will meet up on Apr. 9, 2011 with the winner moving on to the postseason and the loser going home. That loser will not be the Maple Leafs, as they'll win the game and sneak into the eighth and final playoff spot for the first time since 2004.
Ecstatic fans will run through the streets, toilet paper rolls and confetti will fly, newborn babies will be named Dion and Jonas, and the Leafs will lose in the first round.
Baby steps, folks, baby steps.