Toronto Maple Leafs: 10 Bold Predictions for the Leafs' 2011-12 Season
Much to the chagrin of my many loyal B/R followers (sarcasm) I have disappointed. Before the beginning of the 2010-11 NHL season, I had a mission: to pump out article upon article about the triumphs and heartbreaks of our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead, out trickled just two of debatable quality followed by a long season of ups and downs and an even longer offseason.
Yes, I failed to capture the flavour of the 2010-11 season on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or even quarterly basis, but for a season that proved to be so bittersweet, this might not have been such a loss. On the bright side, failure is exactly what makes success so sweet. And it is with this sentiment that I bring to you my inaugural submission for 2011-12.
Mad Scientist or Genius? I'll Let You Decide
My methods may at times be unorthodox but gosh darn it, that hasn't stopped me yet. I have created the perfect storm for predicting Toronto Maple Leafs hockey this season.
By combining 12 old shoe boxes full of NHL trading cards with a broken Voltar Fortune Teller machine (pawned off to me by a delightfully disheveled carnie), together inside the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, I have seen the future!
Here are my 10 Bold Predictions for the Leafs' 2011-12 Season:
No. 1 Applied Science
Kulemin/Grabovski/MacArthur will continue to blur the lines between Toronto’s first and second scoring unit, prompting coach Ron Wilson to giggle uncontrollably off camera. This line will remain steadfast both offensively and defensively and will ultimately compel the Maple Leafs organization to reevaluate the hierarchy and expectation of their top two scoring lines.
Their on-ice chemistry becomes undeniable and essential to the Leafs building a contender. Leading by example, this trio’s work ethic, dedication and passion for the game helps them to continue their rise from mediocrity into the category of NHL elite. By season's end this line will have amassed 87 goals and 109 assists. Gary Bettman will lobby for The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry to add a new element to the Periodic Table: Macgrablemin.
No. 2 Smoke and Mirrors
The Lupul/Connolly/Kessel line will be dubbed the “TML Magicians.” Tim Connolly will razzle you with unbelievable passes but only exhibit enough stamina to keep him playing up to 60 games, while Lupul will dazzle with his solid forechecking and highest points total of his career.
The NHL's first star for the week ending Oct. 16, Phil Kessel will continue to shock and awe with the blinding speed of his wrist shot. Fans will never actually see the shot itself without a high speed camera, but the puck will appear in the back of the net 44 times for Phil.
Spectators will also begin to rebel and suspect black magic when all three players keep disappearing for 5-10 games at a time. Not knowing where a quarter of the team’s payroll is for approximately 35 games, we’ll laugh, cry and join together in communion through online forums to discuss…
No. 3 Triple Threat
Toronto’s third line will be the straw that broke the camel’s back for opponents night in and night out. Tyler Bozak will have a breakout out season topping 50 points (although will not be confined to a third-line role in Tim Connolly's absence), while Colby Armstrong will stave off injuries allowing him to reach a 40-point season for the third time in his career.
Nazem “the dream” will be just that for half of the season, scoring pretty goals and solidifying himself as the Leafs' shootout Jedi Master. The other half will unfortunately be a nightmare plagued by inconsistency and injuries. Luckily for the Leafs, because of the newly acquired depth in the forward position this past offseason, rookie Matt Frattin will get time to shine in the limelight; and he will.
Frattin will prove to be a more than capable stand-in handling third-line duties and keeping the Buds offensively dangerous from top to bottom. In light of the injury to Kadri and his imminent recovery, expect to see a dog fight for this position all year.
No. 4 Hail the Conquering Hero, Maybe...
After an early return to NHL action, Matthew Lombardi will make a strong case for himself to replace Connolly on the Kessel/Lupul line as he will score 10 points in his next three games as a Maple Leaf. In awe of what his incredible foot speed adds to the Leafs' attack, fans will herald him as the new savior (and Brian Burke as a genius) singing his praises.
This excitement will spill onto the streets of Toronto but will end quickly when, while in a fit of celebration after a game, he is hit in the eye with a rogue champagne cork and is sidelined indefinitely...
No. 5 When They Do a Push-Up, They Push the World DOWN
You think that Chuck Norris is tough? I’ve got four words for you: THE LEAFS FOURTH LINE. Colton Orr, Mike Brown, Jay Rosehill, Philippe Dupuis, David Steckel, Darryl Boyce, Mike Zigomanis…okay, they won’t all be on the ice together, but still.
As the season progresses and injuries ensue, all of these gentlemen will have an ample opportunity to do what they do best; enforce the law of the land and grow really sweet facial hair. (Hey Brown, what's with baby face!?!)
The obvious upside of this line will be Steckel’s experience in the face-off circle when he is called for duty. Ron Wilson could also plug him in for key situations on the penalty kill to really expand his role. Coupled with Brown's underrated speed and Dupuis' solid two-way game, we may have a line capable of more than padding the stats in penalty minutes.
On the downside, the Blue and White will have difficulty out of the gate with this line as all six men may be hospitalized with potentially life-threatening injuries in the first few weeks of the regular season. They apparently take Wilson’s expression “fight for a roster spot” too literally and beat themselves into an angry stupor.
No. 6 Captain Crunch of the 21st Century?
Although they will most certainly juggle defense pairings throughout the year, the Leafs have started the 2011-12 season with defensemen Luke Schenn, Keith Aulie, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Komisarek, newcomers John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson, with Capitan Dion Phaneuf at the helm.
Phaneuf was criticized early last season when he wasn’t putting up the kind of big offensive numbers he had in years past. However, after suffering a laceration to his left leg and sitting out 16 games, he came back very strong. If Phaneuf's rocket of a goal against against Montreal and bone crushing hit on Ottawa's Staphane Da Costa is any indication, we may be looking at a potential Norris candidate yet.
Twenty goals, 37 assists, 201 hits...
On a side note, the solid play of rookie defenseman Jake Gardiner, impressing Leafs brass and fans alike, has created a bit of a logjam of sorts on the blueline. I smell a trade coming on...
No. 7 It's Reim Time
One of the most important pieces that absolutely must fall into place for the Leafs to position themselves for a playoff birth is the play of James Reimer. Back between the pipes with just over 40 NHL games under his belt, Reimer will assume his new role as Toronto's No. 1 netminder with the same quiet confidence that won him his chance at the bigtime last year.
Reimer will be good for 64 games and 38 wins, with a .931 save percentage and a 2.44 goals against average. We will continue to affectionately refer to James as "Optimus Reim," but when his performance stats become so incredibly good, people will begin to confuse him with an actual robot alien.
Although goaltender Jonas Gustavsson will also factor into Toronto's goaltending picture this season, he will ultimately hope to rebound from a season plagued with physical setbacks as the Leafs' second option. There is no doubt the Monster has the tools to excel in this league, but whether or not he can display the stamina to handle more than 30-40 games remains to be seen.
No. 8 Shoot for the Stars...End Up on Mars
Now entering the fourth and final year of his contract as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ron Wilson will especially be under the microscope during the 2011-12 season. After a third consecutive season on the outside looking in on playoff action, General Manager Brian Burke is getting impatient but has thus far ignored the angry mob chanting at Wilson, "OFF WITH HIS HEAD!"
Leaf fans are notoriously a "passionate" breed of individuals and so it should come as no surprise that Wilson has his work cut out for him. As Burke has stated time and time again, he has complete faith in Ron Wilson's abilities as a head coach and until recently, had not been given the proper tools to succeed.
With Toronto's depth now arguably better than it has been for years, Wilson needs to motivate this club to the postseason or face the music. As for my well calculated prediction: Good start for the Leafs + Ron Wilson = Contract extension.
No. 9 Full of Surprises
The Toronto Maple Leafs will prove naysayers wrong and produce their best post lockout regular season campaign with a record of 43-29-10 giving them 96 points on the year. This finish will elevate them to second in the North East Division, sixth in the Eastern Conference and 15th Overall.
The Blue and White have a date with destiny and are headed to the postseason for the first time since 2003-04.
For those of you reeling about this prediction, pick your chin up off the ground, dust yourself off and understand that Toronto's balanced attack, more accountable defense corps and reliable goaltending will ultimately be effective. And besides, my methodology for calculating these stats is air tight. It's just science...
No. 10 Playoff Payoff?
The Toronto Maple Leafs will keep the surprises coming when they face off against their division rivals, the Buffalo Sabres in the first round and take them in seven games. Leafs mania will inevitably ensue which prompts the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, to address plans for the infamous "parade" that Leafs fans have been planning for the last 45 years.
Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs will succumb to the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in the Conference Semifinals, so the parade is put on hold yet again.
As previously noted, these predictions are based on staggeringly accurate systems that may or may not have been confirmed by actual scientists and/or statisticians. But on the outside chance that these predictions don't hold true, what predictions do you have for this 2011-12 Maple Leafs team?
Will Brian Burke’s new additions produce a team worthy of playoff glory or will this version of the Blue and White again fail to keep hockey alive in Toronto well into April? According to Burke, the talent is there; it’s now up to Ron Wilson to prove himself as an effective head coach to motivate this club to the postseason.
Failure certainly does make the prospect of success all the more succulent in Leafsland, however, if by the All-Star break this team has played themselves out of a playoff spot for an eighth consecutive season, expect to see Wilson warming his hands over your local community barrel fire. How's that for a prediction?