In April, coach Ron Wilson suggested the team was only two or three moves away from being a contender. This is, of course, based on the assumption that the strong second-half performance by the Leafs was not an aberration.
But the Leafs have had strong finishes in previous years, only to flounder out of the gates the following season. Leafs fans have seen this routine before.
Most believe the current Leafs are different. Toronto GM Brian Burke has put together a promising young team that can improve significantly on last year’s performance.
However, many things went right last year. Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur each had career years. James Reimer was spectacular in the 35 games he started for Toronto. Keith Aulie handled huge minutes playing against the best players on opposing teams.
Despite all these positives, the Leafs still missed the playoffs.
Brian Burke expects the Leafs to make the playoffs in 2012 and has already suggested that a contract extension for Ron Wilson depends on a strong start to the season.
While the pressure will shift to Wilson in September, all eyes are on Burke to see if he can bolster Toronto’s playoff chances. Burke is in an especially tough situation because many other teams have money to spend, and several must spend just to reach the salary cap floor.
As we approach the onset of free agency, let's look at how well Brian Burke has executed Toronto's offseason game plan.