With training camp less than a month away, there is still time to ponder some of the nagging questions facing the Toronto Maple Leafs this offseason. The answers to some of those questions may be positive, while others may be negative. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few zingers:
Will James Reimer continue where he left off or suffer the sophomore jinx?
Is this Ron Wilson’s last year?
Will the first line be competitive enough to make a difference?
Are the Leafs going to finally be a playoff team?
An obvious positive is the play of goalkeeper James Reimer. The Leafs went 20-10-5 last year with Reimer in net and clawed their way back into the playoff hunt after an abysmal first half.
The question is, can Reimer maintain that 92 percent save percentage he had last year over the course of a full season? To keep the Leafs in the hunt this year, he'll have to.
The heart wants to say absolutely, but the brain begs for proof. If the proof is in the pudding, then chew on the number of games played last year where the Leafs were out-shot or out-chanced yet prevailed with Reimer between the pipes as food for thought. The stomach may be over-ruling the heart and brain in this case.
Another question is the coaching of Ron Wilson. Many pundits have posed that the Leafs need to make the playoffs this year for Wilson to keep his job.
I am not sure that is entirely the case. However, there are some areas of play that fall directly on the head coach’s shoulders—success or failure in these areas is a direct responsibility of the coach. What I am talking about, of course, is the power play and penalty kill.
Special teams have been abhorrent under Wilson’s term, and it seems to me that these two aspects of Leafs’ play must substantially improve for his job to be safe. It follows that if they do, the Leafs may become a playoff team anyway.
Aside from tactics, fans have complained about Wilson’s choice of personnel on special teams for much of last season. Putting the right people on the ice at the right time and developing a system that actually works may be the biggest contribution Wilson can make for the Leafs this year. If there is no improvement and Wilson fails, he needs to be shown the door.
Perhaps the biggest question going into the new season will be the production of the new and improved first line. Out is Tyler Bozak, in is newcomer and former Buffalo Sabre Tim Connolly.
While Connolly is a decent, proven, hard-working player, I am not sure that his addition is enough to really give the Leafs true first-line numbers. I can see them being marginally better, but not equal to top lines around the league.
Perhaps I am over-estimating the importance of having an effective first line. Perhaps the second and third lines can compensate. Regardless, I believe that as the first line goes, so will the fortunes of the Leafs.
The Leafs have had successful preseasons in years past and then flopped out of the gate. While I am modestly optimistic about their chances this year, it will take a good month of regular season action before we will know if the 2011-2012 Leafs will be in the playoff hunt or looking to take advantage of an actual first-round draft pick they hold next summer.