As much as the Toronto Maple Leafs seemed to have improved over the offseason, they still have a rather lengthy and turbulent road ahead of them. The short-term goal of once again becoming a playoff team seems to be closer than in previous seasons, but can they actually pull it off this time around?
On paper, the Leafs have what it takes to be at least in the top 8 in the East, and with the right moves the Leafs could make the playoffs a reality this season.
Unlike other powerful teams that just needed the right offseason tweak to help their playoff pushing, like addressing goaltending in Washington, the Leafs must improve in a number of categories and positions in order for them to end their eight-year playoff drought.
Let's see what's on the Leafs' playoff checklist for the upcoming season.
It's no secret that the Achilles heel of the Maple Leafs throughout the years has been their lackluster goaltending efforts.
Goaltending is without a doubt the top priority in Toronto, and with James Reimer's new three-year contract this problem seems to be addressed.
This year, the Leafs don't have a Vezina candidate in goal, but rather an opportunity for success strapping on the pads for them.
I do believe that while James Reimer is a sophomore in the league, he does the ability to lead the Leafs into the playoffs. If Reimer manages to play as well as he did in the home stretch of last season, the Leafs will be in very good shape come playoff time.
Arguably the biggest offseason acquisition by the Leafs was former Buffalo Sabres center Tim Connolly. He was picked up for the main purpose of feeding the puck to sniping winger Phil Kessel.
If Connolly manages to emerge as Toronto's #1 center and stay healthy, he will open up the lineup in a way that has been lacking in Toronto in past years. Helping Kessel score and allowing former top center Mikhail Grabovski to focus just on the second line is something that could really help the Leafs this year.
John Michael Liles, another big name veteran who the Leafs picked up over the summer was brought in to both help the powerplay as well as the defensive corps in general.
Liles helps round out a solid veteran group of defensemen and he could really help the Leafs blue line - another major weak point in Toronto's game.
The Leafs picked up a number of veteran players in free agency, but the players that they really should be looking to are the younger guys who were acquired over the past few rebuilding years.
Former first round draft pick Nazem Kadri, as well as Nashville Predator pickup Cody Franson, must emerge as a no-brainers in Toronto's lineup. They are the future of the team and as players with real potential they need to step up right away.
If Toronto really wants to be taken seriously as a playoff-caliber team, they need to be firing on all cylinders. They need continued offensive production from their second and third lines, and for the defensive players to step up on the rush and on the power play.
Playoff teams usually have a number of stars playing for them who rack up the majority of the points, something that Toronto is lacking. Therefore, they need all the help they can get and scoring from all lines will greatly improve their chances of once again making it to the playoffs.