The Toronto Maple Leafs were a very unpredictable team in 2010-2011. The team opened the season with an impressive 4-0-0 record, struggled consistently in November and December and finished the season with a strong playoff push that left them eight points short of 8th place in the Eastern Conference.
The 2010-2011 season was a roller coaster ride to say the least, and along for the ride were a number of players and staff who either exceeded or failed to come close to their expectations. Some emerged as fan favorites and saviors in Toronto, while others were nearly run out of town (or sent to Nashville, like Lebda) and constantly criticized for their poor play.
Needless to say, the Maple Leafs as a whole have a lot to prove come October. However, individually, the need to display their value to the city of Toronto is at the top of the to-do list for some. Here are five Toronto Maple Leafs with something to prove in the 2011-2012 season.
Tyler Bozak had big expectations in his sophomore year to be the No. 1 center, the perfect compliment to Phil Kessel. Maybe those expectations were unfair, but regardless, Bozak did not perform very well at all with just 32 points and a minus-32 rating.
Looking at the projected roster today, it seems like Bozak will probably fall to the fourth line with additions like Tim Connolly. It is inevitable that injuries will occur throughout the season, and Bozak will have the opportunity to show the city that he can play.
Is he a career fourth-liner, or will he emerge as a player to watch on the Maple Leafs' roster in 2011/2012? That remains to be seen, but it is up to Bozak to prove that he can play consistently at the NHL level.
Much like Bozak, Jonas Gustavsson did not have the sophomore season that he would have hoped. In a season that was littered with heart problems and sub-par play, The Monster posted an .850 save percentage and a 3.29 goals against average, and eventually ended up spending time with the AHL's Toronto Marlies.
With the sudden emergence of James Reimer and the departure of J.S. Guguere, it looks like Gustavsson will be the Maple Leafs' backup goaltender to start the season. But you can bet Gustavsson has a lot to prove in 2011/2012, most notably that he can be the No. 1 goaltender that Brian Burke projected when he was signed in 2009.
There is nothing better in a locker room than a little healthy competition between players, so look for Gustavsson to push Reimer all season long for the starting role between the posts.
Clarke MacArthur was arguably the Maple Leafs' most outstanding player in 2010/2011, and if you look at his stats in past seasons with the Sabres and Thrashers (RIP), MacArthur was one of the NHL's breakout stars of the season. With 21 goals and 41 assists, MacArthur was a big part of the Maple Leafs' second line, which was one of the best in the league.
But if you ask fans and experts alike outside of the Toronto bubble, you will here a lot of people saying MacArthur is a one-hit wonder and won't come close to the same statistical productivity as last season.
Count on Clarke MacArthur to produce again in 2011/2012.
Nazem Kadri was drafted in 2009, and Leafs fans expected big things right away. Unfortunately, they have had to be patient with the 21-year-old, who has yet to really prove he is ready for the NHL.
Kadri has performed in the OHL and shown flashes of brilliance in the AHL since being drafted by Burke, but still looked kind of lost and a little frightened of the speed and size when called up to play with the big club.
The patience of Toronto fans and the media is running out, and some believe Kadri is simply too small and weak for the NHL game, or in other words, a bust.
The fact of the matter is Kadri is an amazingly talented forward with great hands who is a natural scorer. But he has to prove it in 2011/2012 in order for the critics to believe it.
Since being traded to Toronto in 2009 and eventually named captain of the Maple Leafs, Dion Phaneuf has been under a very large microscope. Regardless of the great influence he is said to have in the dressing room, Phaneuf has not yet performed as expected on the ice offensively, or even defensively, and is even sometimes referred to as one of the most overrated players in the NHL
If that is not motivation enough for Phaneuf to have a comeback year in 2011/2012, I don't know what is. If the Leafs want to be a playoff team this season, it starts and ends with their captain and his play on the ice.