Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Biggest Questions for the 2011 Season
Contenders or pretenders, masters or disasters, champs or chumps, champagne and caviar or pizza and beer—these are the questions Toronto Maple Leafs fans want to know.
How will the Leafs fare this season?
Are they finally for real?
What does the future hold for the most popular team in the NHL?
Here are the five biggest questions facing the Leafs as training camp opens in just a few days.
Will Phil Kessel Reach 40 Goals?
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The top line has been upgraded with the addition of play-making centre Tim Connolly, and Joffrey Lupul will be playing his first full season with the Leafs. Hopefully, Connolly will add to the synergy that Lupul and Phil Kessel started to developed last season.
But is it enough to produce 40 goals from the Leafs' top sniper?
I don’t think so.
The top line is only marginally better than last year, so I’m banking on 35-38 goals from Kessel this year.
Can James Reimer Be a True No. 1 Goalie?
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This must be the biggest and most important question facing the Leafs this year.
NHL teams are built from the goal out, and no team can hope for postseason success without top-quality net-minding.
James Reimer gave the Leafs exactly what they asked for when called up last year.
Can his run of good form continue into this year as the Leafs' top goaltender?
Only time will tell, but I am confident he has what it takes to do the job.
Will Jonas Gustavsson Be the Monster or the Munster?
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Even if James Reimer has an outstanding year and wins the Vezina Trophy, someone will still have to cover for him every fifth game or so.
Can Jonas Gustavsson be that man, or will he end up discarded like some old smelly cheese?
When he came to the Leafs just two short years ago, he was heralded as the "best goalie not playing in the NHL." Battling health issues and playing in the pressure cooker that is Toronto hockey, Gustavsson has yet to live up to his billing.
Now in his third year with the Leafs, he is on the spot to produce more than ever—it’s put-up or shut-up time for Gustavsson.
I don’t relish being the bearer of bad news, but I suspect Gustavsson will be dealt before season’s end, as I don’t think he is the type of player who can flourish under all the scrutiny put on him by authors like me, the rest of the Toronto media and the fans.
He will have a much better chance at success if he can play for a team that will allow him to fly under the radar.
Will the Penalty Kill Improve at All?
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It has to, right?
The addition of John-Michael Liles from the Colorado Avalanche gives the Leafs an experienced puck-moving defenseman with some skills to run the power play. At 5'10", he is a little on the small side and will likely not be a solution to penalty kill futility.
On the other hand, Cody Franson stands a big 6'5" and just might give the Leafs a boost with his disciplined play on the back line.
The Leafs finished 28th out of 30 teams last year on the penalty kill. Can they substantially improve this year?
Frankly, I don’t think Leafs fans will see much change until a new system is implemented, and that probably won’t happen until a new Ron Wilson is implemented.
Will the Leafs Make the Playoffs?
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This is the million dollar question, or, in today’s economy, the $350 million question.
Every Leafs fan wants to see the Leafs in the postseason, the league wants to see the Leafs in the postseason, heck, my dog wants to see the Leafs in the postseason—but are the Leafs finally good enough to make it there?
The Northeast division is probably the toughest in the league, and virtually all of the teams that finished ahead of the Leafs last year have improved their squads this year.
You could make the argument that the Leafs should out-perform the Carolina Hurricanes and maybe the Buffalo Sabers this year and squeak into the eighth playoff spot. But the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders will be gunning hard for that spot, as well.
My gut tells me that the Leafs will make it very, very close, but will miss the playoffs once again this year. That is, unless Brian Burke can pull off another stupendous trade before then that catapults the Leafs into the playoffs.