Lord Stanley and the Original Cup
For a team that hasn't made the playoffs in the last seven years, it is ridiculous to think we could have a chance to compete for the cup.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup, it was shown in black and white because color TV wasn't available for live productions.
The Leafs have real hope of winning the cup and winning it soon, in high definition 3D, and these are seven reasons why.
Tyler Bozak may not be the top-line center we had all hoped he would be, but he has the capabilities to be a great third-line center.
Third-line centers have to be fast, two-way, shot blocking, faceoff winning defensive, offensive players. And Bozak has the ability to do all of these things.
He can win the faceoff, tough it out of a corner clear the play, hit a burst of speed and finally score.
With Army (Colby Armstrong) on his right and Kadri on his left, that is a third line that will compete with any unit in the NHL. To say the third line of the last five years has been less than successful one only needs to look at the Leafs pathetic penalty kill numbers where we have been consistently in the dregs of the NHL.
Bozak alone will not save the Leafs, but he is one of the keys. A great defensive center for the third line. To win the Cup, you must have a great third line.
Brian Burke - Toronto Maple Leafs
Brian Burke is a love him or hate him kind of Manager. But it doesn't take a long look back into our history to know that Toronto really has had a 30 good years of history of having extremely average general managers.
Cliff Fletcher obviously being the one GM in the last 30 years that has been excellent. Before that it was Punch Imlach, and he was only excellent in the '70s.
Burke has a plan and he is following the plan. He is known for landing outrageous top notch deals, and his deal with Calgary might be called that.
But steadily, sometimes luckily, he has been improving the depth at each position.
Although harassed about the Kessel deal not many NHL teams dig their way to the Stanley Cup without a top notch sniper who can whizz the puck by the top net minders in the NHL.
He has been rebuilding the team to be stronger, faster and more disciplined one position at a time and without a strong minded, strong willed GM in Toronto, you will never reach the top prize of bringing the Cup home.
Luke Schenn making himself known
The top six defensemen have all been switched out in the last three years making this team one of the top six squads in the NHL.
Likewise, they have strong offensive minded defensemen in Schenn and Phaneuf. The 2010 Leafs lacked anyone creatively quarter backing the power play.
Although Kaberle led the Leafs in assists because of his role on the power play, it almost always looked the same. The same becomes predictable.
With Schenn and Phaneuf on the power play, they are both capable of moving to the center rotating the play across the ice forcing a realignment of the defenders and creating openings.
Phaneuf has the ability to be a Dave Andreychuk type of goal scorer by hanging out in front of the net during the power play and banging in the rebound.
How the parings turn out in the end will be seen after training camp, but we can now say we finally have a big fast defense core. Aulie and Franson at 6'5" lead Komisarik 6'4", Gunnerson and Lashoff at 6'2" in size with only the veteran Lillies being under 6'0".
To compete for the Cup, you need to have big defensemen to block the increasingly big forwards, and you need to have a few offensively minded defensemen to create opportunities especially on the power play.
Phil Kessel making his move
Phil Kessel is the team's leading sniper and getting better every year. Phil Kessel is 23. As amazing as that might seem or as disappointed people are with his performance sometimes, ask yourself what you were doing at 23.
Phil Kessel is not Sidney Crosby, but one of those only come along once every decade it seems.
He is due his recognition, as he is one of the top skaters in the league, and when he pushes himself, he can get into a sniping position with moves that would make Guy Lafleur proud. He has an amazingly fast and accurate wrist shot.
This year we expect him to get some more assistance from Tim Connolly than he did from Tyler Bozak. Lupul proved himself an adequate first-liner. But the modus operandi is the same get Kessel some space, give him the puck, high five, skate to center ice.
Kessel is capable easily capable of 40 goals and probably capable of going to 50 goals as long as he is consistent in his play each night. Considering he finished in the 30s and had two streaks of 10 games where he didn't get a goal, and he was double teamed on a regular basis.
With Phil doing his job, the extra 15 goals leads to a good spot in the playoffs. Without Phil or someone like him there is NO chance the Leafs compete for the Cup.
The MacRussian line might be one of the best second lines in the NHL. There are a lot of good second lines in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Boston and Washington teams that come to mind where their second lines are amazing!
However that said the second line of the Leafs is extremely consistent. When I think of great Leafs line of the past 10 to 20 years, I have a hard time jumping to an overwhelmingly exciting second line.
I am sure I am going to get 40 comments reminding me of great historical second lines, but the MacRussian line is the most consistent I remember in years.
Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur have blended together to become such a seamless line that watching them work is almost poetic. Kulemin like Kessel has an incredible wrist shot and is quick to find a position to unleash it.
Grabovski is a quick moving center that when he drives toward the net rather than around it he creates opportunities that and his teammates capitalize on.
MacArthur finally getting the puck and space at the same time had a break out year and hopes to continue that year.
Having an awesome second line is key to the cup. No Stanley Cup winner in the last five years has had an average second line.
Tim Connolly before he was a leaf
Tim Connolly is not Brad Richards, get over it. He also has spent a fair amount of time on the DL. But he is also about a point per game man for the last five years.
Tim Connolly is a quick well versed center who understands one of his results is to pass the puck beyond and forward of himself.
More importantly he will be able to give Phil Kessel some double teaming relief and get Phil the puck more often in the open. While every team would like a Brad Richards, one of the things that to be a Maple Leaf, you have to be able to with stand the pressure from the fans, the rink and the media every day of the year in Toronto.
While everyone likes Richards' skills, it is questionable whether or not he could handle the media pressure. Connolly has already handled years of pressure in Buffalo and worked through the pressure of being in the spotlight.
This is a chance for Tim Connolly to show the world what he can do on the biggest hockey stage in the world and the Leafs need a passing center to feed the pucks to Kessel and Lupul. Connolly could score 20 goals a year by being near the net to whack in the rebound from Phil's shot.
Key to Connolly's game is to pass move back into position and expect to receive.
Add 10 goals to Connolly and you have a team at the top of the standings not at the bottom contending for the greatest sports championship in the free world, the Stanley Cup.
Reimer taking a moment
The Leafs have a No. 1 starting goalie.
Brian Burke and most everyone knows in hockey that you build a team from the net out. You must have a strong No. 1 goalie or you can't win games.
Games in the NHL come down to a few percentages. Parity means that the an goalie headed towards the AHL has a .895 save percentage and a goalie headed toward the Hall of Fame a .925 save percentage. It's a .03 difference. Over 2,000 shots in a season, though it is 60 goals or 10 to 15 more games won than lost.
His play is textbook drop and block, he is fast and cool headed. There are lots of "goalies" in the Leafs system ,but they need not only a goalie but a leader.
Optimus Reim as he is called is both cool on camera and on the ice. With the skills of Felix Potvin and the coolness of Patrick Roy, he is positioned to have a home in the blue paint for a long time.
To win and compete for the cup goalies are going to have to be stellar. The defense has to know it can pinch in and the offense take a risk without it ending up in the back of the twine every time. You have to rely on that guy if your going to have playoff and cup hopes.
Great goalies have lead their teams in the NHL, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur to name a few. To win the Cup you need that guy.
James Reimer is that guy.
The last guys to win the cup in Toronto
The Stanley Cup is no longer about having a few exceptional players or possibly it never was, but it is about having a well balanced team. A team that makes up for each other faults and plays together as one unit.
The Leafs are stronger in net by 30 goals, strong on the penalty kill by 10 goals, stronger on the power play by 10 goals, stronger on the third line by 10 goals and stronger on first line by 10 goals.
Between 60 and 70 goals over last season moves them from minus-35 to a plus-35 plus-minus, from the lower eight to the upper few in the NHL and makes them a contender for the Cup.
The only way to do it in a Salary Cap environment is the way Brian Burke has one step at a time from the net forward.
The Leafs have added enough depth in the last 12 months to be a real contender for the big prize the Stanley Cup.