Toronto Maple Leafs: Season Preview

Brendan PickeringContributor ISeptember 29, 2008

Well, it's going to be a long year in Leafs Nation. A very long year.

But maybe not as long as people think.

I mean, look at it this way. The Leafs dumped all the guys with huge salaries who weren't getting the job done...and the ever undecided Mats Sundin. This opens the door for young guys like Alex Steen, Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, Nik Kulemin (that's KOO-LAY-MIN for those who didn't get the memo), Jiri Tlusty, and hell, maybe even Mikhail Grabovski, Jeremy Williams, and Robbie Earl. They've also got some quality checkers in Dominic Moore, Jamal Mayers, Mark Bell, and Ryan Hollweg. Although if preseason is any indication (which it probably isn't), Moore might get moved up a line or two.

A bounce-back year from Jason Blake and another great year from Niklas Hagman would also be instrumental in the goal scoring department.

On defense, well at least we've got Kaberle. He's a legitimate Top 10 defenceman, but he's not without his flaws. In fact, here's my impression of every Leafs fan watching their powerplay:


But hey, it could be worse. From what I hear, Isles fans actually boo the other team for taking a penalty because of their own abysmal powerplay.

The Leafs do however have 3.5 million dollar man Jeff Finger, the best player no one's ever heard of, as well as the talented but injury-prone Carlo Colaiacavo. Anton Stralman needs to put it all together on a consistent basis, and prove he can be a quality powerplay quarterback like he was in the World Championships. Veteran Pavel Kubina and youngster Ian White will be counted on for depth on both sides of the puck.

And that brings us to Bryan McCabe. For all his flaws, he's still better than Mike Van Ryn. Don't look for him to light it up in Florida this year, but all you have to do is look at the Leafs' record with and without McCabe to know they made a bad choice. Needless to say, Van Ryn has a lot to prove, and for the Leafs' sake, I hope I eat my words.

Luke Schenn is ready for the NHL, but there's simply not enough room for him on the blueline. Look forward to seeing him at the World Juniors.

Goaltending is really the only "yes" on this Leafs team. Vesa Toskala is, simply put, Vesa Toskala. He got off to a rough start last year, but knowing he's the guy and already being adjusted to the media circus in Toronto should help him get off on the right foot this year. And though fan-favourite Curtis Joseph is a competent backup, look for top prospect Justin Pogge to make his first career start at some point.

All things considered, the Toronto Maple Leafs could be a playoff team. Is it likely to happen? No, of course not. But they have a hell of a lot more room to get better than they have to get worse. And if by some miracle they are in the playoff picture come the deadline, they've dropped more than enough salary to pick up a rental player or two and make a run at the cup.