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10 Bold Predictions for the Toronto Maple Leafs' 2011-2012 Season

Dean LundriganContributor IIIAugust 2, 2011

10 Bold Predictions for the Toronto Maple Leafs' 2011-2012 Season

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    As the start of the 2011-2012 NHL season quickly approaches, fans of Leaf nation are undoubtedly excited to see how the final product of the off-season acquisitions will relay to the ice, once the puck officially drops in early October.

    Upon 7 consecutive years (including the lockout season) with no playoff appearances, Leaf supporters are eagerly anticipating the return to Lord Stanley's quest.

    Please keep in mind that these predictions are for entertainment purposes only and should not be taken to heart.

    Without further ado, here are my 10 bold predictions for the Leafs' 2011-2012 season:

10. Phil Kessel Scores 40+ Goals

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    As we all know, Phil Kessel has not had the luxury of playing with a top line playmaker since he was centered by Marc Savard in Boston. In his final year with the Bruins, Kessel netted a career-high 36 goals at the young age of 21. Since then, he has had 30 (2010) and 32 (2011) goal seasons respectively, giving him 3 consecutive years of at least 30 goals.

    Take the comparison of Kessel versus Zach Parise, for instance:

    Parise (Season 1): 81-14-18-32; Age 21

    Parise (Season 2): 82-31-31-62; Age 22

    Parise (Season 3): 81-32-33-65; Age 23

    Parise (Season 4): 82-45-49-94; Age 24

     

    Kessel (Season 1): 70-11-18-29; Age 19

    Kessel (Season 2): 82-19-18-37; Age 20

    Kessel (Season 3): 70-36-34-60; Age 21

    Kessel (Season 4): 70-30-25-55; Age 22

    Kessel (Season 5): 82-32-32-64; Age 23

    The main difference is that Kessel started his NHL career at 19, while Parise began his at 21. When you compare their numbers in correlation to their age, the results are eerily similar. If this pattern continues, Kessel is due for 40+ goals and 90+ points next season. The question that remains is, will Tim Connolly stay healthy and provide Kessel with the opportunity to join the elite company of his fellow American Parise?

09. Tim Connolly Plays 70+ Games

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    One of the biggest concerns for Leafs fans entering this season is whether or not Tim Connolly can remain healthy and play the entire season.

    If he can do just that, the Leafs will have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs and an ability to compete for the Stanley Cup. Now I am not saying that Connolly alone will be the only difference between a playoff appearance and a non-playoff appearance, but he will definitely have to endure an entire season to give the Leafs at least an opportunity.

08. Tim Connolly Scores 65+ Points

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    Given that I have predicted that Connolly will play 70+ games, I am betting that he scores at least 65 points. Since the 2005-2006 season, Connolly has been nearly a point-per-game player, with the exception of last season. Once he regains his form, he can and will score close to 70 points, if not more, this coming season.

    Here are Connolly's statistics over the past 6 seasons:

    '05-'06: 63-16-39-55

    '06-'07: 2-1-0-1

    '07-'08: 48-7-33-40

    '08-'09: 48-18-29-47

    '09-'10: 73-17-48-65

    '10-'11: 68-13-29-42

    Carrying those numbers over to a full season and keeping in mind that Connolly will have a change of scenery, he should produce a minimum of at least 65 points.

07. Leafs Trade for Zach Parise

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    What better way to boost Kessel past 40 goals than by trading for his carbon-copy? Zach Parise would absolutely catapult Kessel past 40 based upon his playmaking skills alone; not to mention that Parise is one of the better elite forces currently playing in the league. The biggest question is do the Leafs currently possess the assets to trade for a player of Parise's caliber, while also maintaining the competitiveness of their team? My belief is that they do.

    It would, without question, take a multitude of youthful talent and picks to obtain his services, but we all know Brian Burke would jump at the opportunity to land Parise if he were to become available.

    Picture the possibility of the Leafs first line:

    Parise - Connolly/Grabovski - Kessel

06. Dion Phaneuf Scores 20 Goals and Returns to His Former Self

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    With Phaneuf's numbers on the decline the past few seasons, it is now time for a bounce-back season.

    I am predicting that Phaneuf will score 20 goals and least 50 points, while also returning as the defensive force that earned him a nomination for the Norris Trophy back in 2007-2008.

    Last year, we saw flashes of just how dangerous Phaneuf can be, as his play progressed in the final quarter of the season. Leafs fans will be chanting "Double-Dion" before you know it.

05. James Reimer Wins 35+ Games and Is Nominated for the Vezina Trophy

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    After a successful rookie season, posting a favorable record of 20-10-5, .921 save percentage, 2.60 GAA, with 3 shutouts, James Reimer lives up to the hype surrounding him and wins 35+ games in the 2011-2012 season, while also posting astounding numbers. In turn, this performance earns Reimer a nomination for the Vezina trophy - resulting in him being the first goalie to accomplish the feat since Curtis Joseph did it back in 2000.

04. The Leafs Win 45+ Games

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    After playing near .500 hockey for the past 6 years, the Leafs close the gap and win 45+ games. The last time the Leafs even came close to 45 wins was under coach Pat Quinn in 2004.

03. The Leafs Qualify for the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    Upon missing the post-season for 6 consecutive seasons, the Leafs make their first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance since 2003-2004, when they were captained by Mats Sundin.

    They could not have accomplished this feat without:

     

    - The 40+ goals from Kessel

    - The 70+ games and 65+ points from Connolly

    - The acquisition of Parise

    - Phaneuf returning to form as an offensive threat and a defensive horse

    - The 35+ wins and Vezina-caliber performance by James Reimer

    - The 45+ total team wins

    and last but not least...

    - An abundance of heart and soul provided by the entire team

02. Ron Wilson Wins the Jack Adams Award

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    Because of the epic turnaround season for the Leafs, Ron Wilson is awarded the Jack Adams Award for most outstanding coach.

    Many of the Leafs fans have not favored Ron Wilson's coaching style thus far, but one cannot argue against his all-time coaching record. Although he did not have a Stanley Cup as part of his credentials going into the season, he has been a winning coach consistently throughout his career and did make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Washington Capitals back in the 1997-1998 playoffs.

    Congratulations Ron Wilson.

01. The Toronto Maple Leafs Win the Stanley Cup

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    Hooray! Hooray! The Leafs become the 2012 Stanley Cup champions, ending a 44-year drought. I am quite positive that I do not have to elaborate on the year in which the Leafs last won the cup, as it is certainly embedded into all of our brains. 1967 was not only the year they won their last championship, but it is also the last time they made it to the Finals. Although they did "come close" in 1993—losing to the LA Kings in 7 games in the 1993 playoffs—we all know that "coming close" only matters in Horseshoes and hand grenades.

    Let the parade begin.

The End!

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    I hope you enjoyed my outrageous article.

    Thank you for reading...

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