The Toronto Maple Leafs have their work cut out for them if they plan on qualifying for the postseason.
According to captain Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs plan to challenge for a playoff spot and making the playoffs is possible. However, the Leafs will have to buy into general manager Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson's philosophy of teamwork and hard work.
Working hard is a must for a team that ranked 25th overall in goals for last year, and has lost some pieces of the offensive puzzle coming into this season. Players such as Tyler Bozak, Kris Versteeg, Nikolei Kulemin, and Clarke MacArthur will have to play much bigger roles if the Leafs hope to make it back to the postseason.
The Leafs' defense will have to step up and play like their salaries say they should (in other words, close to the best in the league). They cannot afford the defensive gaffes early in the season from key veterans such as Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin of the prior year.
Goaltending is an area where the Leafs have improved significantly. Between Jonas Gustavsson and Jean-Sebatien Giguere, the Leafs should be fairly safe. Look for the Monster and the former Conn Smythe winner to be stabilizing forces for the Leafs this season.
"We are a team within the team," Giguere told TSN when asked about the goaltending situation. "I know we are going to work well together, we're going to push each other, help each other out...it's important that we have a good relationship."
Giguere went on to state that he was "shocked that the whole team was there practicing and training together two weeks before training camp." In twelve NHL seasons, Giguere had never seen this level of dedication.
If and only if the Leafs start the season all on the same page will they have any sort of success. With Phaneuf at the helm, the Leafs appear to be making inroads when it comes to teamwork. The hope is that it will carry over into the season.
For the Leafs, the key to the postseason smells like team spirit.