With Mats Sundin out of the way, the Leafs have had to step up and play a bigger roll in fore-checking and scoring. Since Sundin left the NHL (he might come back, he might not), some players have had the chance to shine. Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovski have been some of those.
First off, when I say "future," I'm just talking about the end of the '08-'09 (current) season. Just look at it this way, if Nik Antropov and/or Poni step up and continue playing the way they have been (and improve!), they can lead the Leafs into the playoffs...and perhaps beyond!
However, there's a slight possibility they have just been on a fluke (I highly doubt it), but if so, they can still lead the Leafs...just not to the playoffs...but to a good draft pick!
These guys add up to have 18 points in total. Evgeni Malkin has 18 points too...so try to think of it this way. Imagine Pittsburgh without Crosby, wouldn't it be up to Malkin to decide the Penguins' future for the season?
Getting back to my point, sure there are veterans that can lead the Leafs to the playoffs like Kaberle and Blake, but honestly, they haven't been very impressive this season so far (or in other words, better than last season).
Let's face it, for the previous seasons the Leafs have depended on Sundin for how they turn out every season. But now it looks like it's going to be Antropov and/or Ponikarovski's job to get the team going every night.
Personally, I'd be happy if the Leafs made the playoffs, and even happier if they came in last (not on purpose!) and got Tavares. I'll be pretty pissed if they end up ninth or 10th in their conference. If they want to improve, they have to decide, playoffs or not? They can't keep ending up in the middle.
So, what's it going to be? Playoffs? Tavares? We'll have to keep an eye out for both these guys and see how they do. The future of the Leafs (for this season) is in their hands.
But also think about it...if they get a good draft pick this season, they'll still be able to taste it for years to come. Or they can go for the Cup, which is a short term thing. Short term or long term? Short term tastes sweeter, but long term looks juicier.
P.S. I should've mentioned Vesa Toskala, but when you hear the words "Toskala", "Leafs", and "future" together, there's no need for me to explain.