The 2011-12 edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs have a lot of questions as they inch ever closer to the season opener.
There is a lot of hope that the Leafs will make the playoffs for the first time since the lockout, but there is still a very big chance that the Leafs will miss out once again and put Leaf fans through another long offseason.
Without a doubt, the Leafs appear to have the best chance of making the playoffs as opposed to the previous six seasons. The additions of Tim Connolly, John-Michael Liles, Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi could very well be the acquisitions the Leafs needed to make the added push that died off at the end of last season.
That being said, we will never know until the season begins. So here are five reasons the Leafs will make the playoffs and five reasons the Leafs will not make it to the promised land—although, I don't really want to think about the latter.
Last season, James Reimer emerged as the Toronto Maple Leafs undisputed starting goaltender. In 37 games last season, Reimer had 20 wins with a save percentage of .921 and a goals against average of 2.60.
Going into 2011-12, Reimer now has the chance to prove that he can handle the rigors of a full NHL season as a starting goaltender. I believe Reimer can do that and be the Leafs starting goalie for the foreseeable future.
If James Reimer can play as good as he did last season over the course of the season, then there is no reason he can't lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs. However, there is another possibility surrounding Reimer.
As much as I hate to say it, the 37 games James Reimer played last year could have been a fluke. He still could be a one-hit wonder.
There is also the possibility that he just isn't ready to fill the starter's role this season.
If Reimer shows that he cannot replicate last season's performance, the Leafs will have a tough time making the playoffs no matter how many goals they score.
With Jonas Gustavsson also facing similar questions, the Leafs' playoffs chances really do hang on the head of James Reimer.
Last season, Toronto relied on Dion Phaneuf, Tomas Kaberle and Carl Gunnarsson for most of the offense from the blue line.
This season, the Leafs have Phaneuf and Gunnarsson, as well as new additions John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson.
If all of them can produce at a good rate this season, the Leafs' playoff chances will be greatly improved. Last season, the four combined for 125 points. If they improve on that, playoff chances improve even more.
Last season, a big reason for the Leafs' success was the emergence of the Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin line as an offensive force.
Combined, the entire line accounted for 177 points. If it weren't for that offensive outburst from those three, who knows where the Leafs would have been last season.
The problem is that all three—with the possible exception of Kulemin—stand a big chance of taking a statistical dip this season. Kulemin stands the best chance of replicating last year's numbers, but if both Grabovski and MacArthur falter, Kulemin will see a slight fall as well.
The biggest "if" on the line is MacArthur, who doubled his previous high point total last season. It is unfair to expect him to do so well again, but if he falls back to the 30-point player he was with Buffalo, the Leafs' playoff chances will take a hit unless someone else steps up.
With the additions of Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi, the Leafs have brought in two legitimate offensive centerman to add to Mikhail Grabovski.
They also boast some potential defensive threats up the middle in Darryl Boyce, Phillippe Dupuis, and—if he can adapt to his new role—Tyler Bozak.
If you notice in the above paragraph, I listed six centermen. With only four lines allowed for forwards, the Leafs now have a depth at the center position that they have not seen in quite a while.
However, the Leafs' depth at center doesn't end there. Nazem Kadri, who will be used on the wing this season, can also play center. The Leafs also have Mike Zigomanis, who will most likely play the season in the AHL, barring injuries.
After that, the Leafs have several prospects that could be future holders of the center position down the line as Joe Colborne and Greg McKegg have the best chance of making the team down the road.
Even if Connolly gets injured and Lombardi doesn't play much, the Leafs have the natural center depth that could be essential to a playoff push.
Tim Connolly was brought in to be the playmaking center that Phil Kessel has lacked since joining the Maple Leafs. The risk is that he might not be around that much to be that center.
As we all know, Connolly is injury-prone and the injury bug could very well bite at any point.
Connolly has shown that if he can play up to 60 games, he can produce at a good pace. Even in two 48-game seasons, he nearly produced at nearly a point-per-game pace.
My fear is that if that happens, then the Leafs will be losing out on not only Connolly's offense, but possibly the added offense from Kessel and Joffrey Lupul as well, as their stats would be greatly improved by Connolly's playmaking ability.
Without question, the Leafs need Connolly to have a relatively injury-free season.
Not only do the Leafs need Tim Connolly to stay injury-free, they need all of their injury-prone players to have a season with as few visits to the doctors as possible.
The Leafs have several players that have had injury problems in the past few years.
Matthew Lombardi has said he'll be at training camp, so hopefully he will be in the Leafs lineup for the majority of the season.
Beyond that, Colby Armstrong, Joffrey Lupul, Colton Orr, Jonas Gustavsson and Mike Brown all missed time to various injuries last season. It goes without saying that it would benefit the Leafs' playoff chances if those players have as little missed games as possible.
With the league getting younger, young players still have to learn to fight through the adversity of a playoff push.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the youngest teams in the league, if not the youngest team. While the Leafs made an admirable push for the playoffs last season, it ultimately fell short.
The Leafs could be in for the same fate next season if the young team hasn't learned its lesson. While they made that big push at the end of the season, they need to have a better start to the season or they will be in the same situation come next April.
If Tim Connolly, Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel form a legitimate No.1 line, then it will be the first time they will have one since the Mats Sundin era.
If they can become a scoring threat, the Leafs' playoff chances go way up. Other than James Reimer, this line could make or break their playoff chances.
When you are putting together a first line, you're probably not going to think of these three players first. That doesn't matter. They are what the Leafs have and they will need to perform above expectations.
If Connolly gets injured, then they need to audition Matthew Lombardi in that role and hope he can get the job done.
The biggest reason the Maple Leafs might not make the playoffs will not be due to their own doing. The Leafs have improved and the standings should reflect that.
The problem is that other teams have also improved and might cause problems for the Leafs. Carolina, Buffalo and the New York Rangers all made improvements over the summer. They were also the three teams above Toronto in the standings at the end of last season.
The Leafs might be able to jump over Montreal, but it will be a fight to jump over the other three. There is also the factor of Philadelphia's restructuring. If they fall in the standings, it could present an opening for the Leafs.
It will be a fight, but hopefully the Leafs will be ready for it.