Toronto Maple Leafs: It Could Be Another Long Year in the NHL Northeast

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Toronto Maple Leafs: It Could Be Another Long Year in the NHL Northeast
NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 06: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on April 6, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Was there even a time during the NHL's history that the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Northeast Division, let alone made the playoffs? OK, with all jokes aside, "Canada's Team," the Toronto Maple Leafs, haven't made the playoffs since 2003-04—a statistic that has fans feeling very optimistic about the future.

You would think that seven years of not making the playoffs would bring a team, now in 2011, a lot of young yet experienced National Hockey League players that could very well be the foundation for a team to contend for its division.

With that being said, in Toronto's case, that is far from reality.

Toronto has made waste of some of their prospects and draft picks. This all came to terms when Brian Burke made the trade for Phil Kessel with the Boston Bruins, trading two first-round picks (second overall in 2010 and ninth overall in 2011).

The trade ultimately has pushed the Maple Leafs a year or two back. Many critics believe that Burke should of taken his time rebuilding the Leafs by making the Leafs into a five-year project, but it seemed as if the Toronto general manager had other plans. 

The Leafs still lack a No. 1 center. Don't get me wrong, Tim Connolly is a very talented player when healthy, but he is no where near the center the Leafs need to take the next step. Toronto's offence lacks the ability to generate first-line pressure.

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Kessel has shown glimpses of being the superstar Toronto wished for, but has also shown a lot of inconsistency in his game.

Toronto's top-six forward group is full of speed and talent, but lack size and consistency. Forwards Clarke MacArthur and Michael Grabovski had breakout seasons and need to repeat for Toronto's offence to become a threat.

Top forward prospect Nazem Kadri is still a year or two away from breaking out in the National Hockey League, as he has much to learn before becoming a full-timer in the big leagues.

Toronto's defense was able to somehow grab Cody Franson from Nashville in exchange for the ever-so-famous Brett Lebda. Franson brings Toronto a bit of youth and talent to the back end that still needs a lot of work.

Captain Dion Phaneuf and 21-year-old Luke Shenn are Toronto's best defenceman, but both heavily lack offence. The once-feared Phaneuf has seen his point numbers drop through the years therefore making GM Brian Burke trade for former Colorado defenceman John-Micheal Liles. 

Liles brings offence to the table, but isn't the shutdown player that's going to stop opposing teams' stars from generating offence. A title that the Leafs hoped big defenceman Mike Komisarek would hold, but as the games go by, he may hold that title for the Marlies.

Second-year goaltender James Reimer is looking to avoid the always-mentioned "sophomore" jinx. The goaltender from Manitoba posted 20 wins last year with a impressive .921 save percentage in his rookie season. A season that has given many in Leafs Nation something to smile about and feel hopeful for in the future. 

Toronto just doesn't have the firepower up front to score goals, the defense to stop opposing teams from generating multiple chances and their goalie is far too young to backstop a broken-up team to the top of the division. This may be another very long season for fans in Leaf Nation.

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