Toronto Maple Leafs, "when oh when will they ever win a cup again?"
Better yet, "When are the Leafs going to make the playoffs again?"
Well fans, no need to worry. There is a tiny glimmer of hope—and that hope is for the upcoming season. The Leafs will make the playoffs next year.
A few Leafs (some more loved than others) have left the team and gone elsewhere.
Fan favourite, Darcy Tucker, has gone to the Avalanche along with former Leaf whipping boy, Andrew Raycroft, and Kyle Wellwood has signed on with Vancouver.
The big dilema is that of Mats Sundin. It may be too little, too late for Sundin and since being asked to get traded last year at the deadline Sundin may have had enough in Toronto.
Sure he will be missed—Sundin is a Leaf legend and he's played with some good and some mediocre players over the years while maintaining a steady amount of points, despite who they were. He's battled through injuries and always came back sooner than later, but Sundin seems to want to go to greener pastures, someone who has a chance at the Cup this year and the Leafs certainly won't be that team.
However, the Leafs have a strong chance of making the playoffs and ending the drought that started the season after the lockout. John Ferguson Jr. and Maurice are gone and Fletcher and Wilson are in.
Depsite being "temporary" Fletcher has done well to rid the team of its older underperforming players and get a youth movement going. Wilson will be coming into Toronto with a defensive mindset and good track record—he will be laying out a nice blueprint for this team for years to come.
New, old faces in Toronto are Jeff Finger, Niklas Hagman and Curtis Joseph. McCabe is on his way out and that makes room for other defensemen on the team (don't expect Schenn to make the big team this year).
Players already on the team will be expected to carry the offensive load for the team in Sundins absence. Antropov will need to have a similar or better year to that of the season he had last year. Blake should bounce back into a 25-goal, 60-65 point guy after his cancer scare has passed.
If Sundin did decide to come back the team would be much better than they were last year in many categories, if he doesn't the team is still in a good shape and will end up surprising critics and fans alike. I'm putting money on a 7th/8th place finish in the East but a first round exit in the playoffs.
With the exception to McCabe this will be the lineup the Leafs will have going into the 2008/2009 season:
Steen - Antropov - Blake
Kulemin - Grabovski - Tlusty
Poni - Stajan - Hagman
Mayers - Moore - Devereaux
Extras - Newbury, Williams, Bell
Kaberle - Kubina
Cola - McCabe
Finger - Stralman
Extras - White, Kronwall
Toronto has solid defense even with McCabe heading out of town. Sure they may not have the best top two pairing in the league but they have a decent top two pairing and a handful of guys wanting to prove their worth. Toskala needs to have a similar year as he did last year and he has a reliable back-up now with Cujo (Curtis Joseph) set to give Toskala some guidance and pick up a few wins when counted on.
The big question mark may be their offense, but their offense has a ton of potential. Antropov needs to put up similar numbers like he did previously and young forwards Alex Steen and Matt Stajan will be counted on more and will need to step up. Jason Blake needs to find his form again and put up respectable numbers. Newcomers Grabovski and Kulemin along with Tlusty who is in his second year with the Leafs, provide even more potential and youth to this Leaf team.
If Toskala doesn't play like he did last year and the forwards can't find their stride then the Leafs won't have a shot at making the postseason this year.
Solid first two lines with great potential and two great checking lines. The Leafs are on the right track to ending one streak and will be able to answer one question after this season is over as the playoffs look very possible.
That magical Cup run is going to have to wait a few more seasons though.
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