In a season that was expected to be unusual, the Maple Leafs year has so far lived up to that, odd moves and strange decisions. (e.g. benching Kaberle for a period)
With another half of the season still to go, the question is: What can we expect as we head into the New Year and what will 2009 bring for the Leafs?
There is one obvious thing that we know 2009 will bring the Leafs, that thing, you ask, is Lord Stanley’s Mug. Yes, anyone that has NHL '09 will be able to see the Leafs win the cup!
Unfortunately, that is only in video game land. In real life, there is no Cup in the Leafs' near future. Despite that, there are many changes a foot in the Leafs' Locker room that will affect how they play on the ice.
One of the biggest changes is the arrival of the Maple Leafs new General Manager, Brian Burke. He will definitly make some big changes to the Leafs' lineup, and the players know it.
I’m sure that Burke walked into the room on the first day he got there and said it flat out to the entire team, “No one is safe, except Schenn.” To be honest, you can see it in some of the players.
They are working harder and as a result, playing better overall. Burke projects fear into players and commands respect. Even when I see him on T.V, it scares me a little bit. Every player on the team is working harder, and if it keeps up the Leafs will receive their reward with time.
Another new face around the Leaf locker room is Lee Stempniak.
Stempniak was acquired in a trade from St.Louis for Alex Steen and Carlo Coliacovo. I can admit that Coliacovo was becoming more of a pain with his constant injuries, and it was the right move to drop him while they still could get someone decent.
However, removing Alex Steen from the roster might not have been a good move. He had been struggling in recent games and did not have a very productive season in 2007-'08. However, he still had a good future ahead of him, and the Leafs where impatient when it came to him.
Stempniak should be a good asset to the team. He isn’t the most skilled, and he might not be the fastest guy on the ice, but he is a hard worker and he does have some moves, just not a large repertoire. I have a feeling he is a diamond in the rough and will prove vital to the team when it counts the most.
Aside from the big things, what changes will make the difference in 2009?
Ron Wilson will need to make sure he keeps doing what he’s doing. He is a good coach and the players respect him. That is major. If the players don’t respect you, you will not get anywhere as a coach.
Toronto’s defence will also need to tighten up for them to be successful in 2009. Toskala is a good goalie, but he can’t stop them all. He is facing too many shots in games and seems to be taking a lot of criticism for letting in a few.
He was struggling in the early part of the season, but now seems to have found himself and is playing, possibly not at his best, but better than in November.
So, in the New Year, if Toronto’s recent play is any indicator, they might be able to pull off a playoff spot. If they know Burke means business and Ron Wilson makes them work, the Leafs will be firing on all cylinders come January. If things go well, they might even put a scare into a few teams (I’m looking at you Ottawa).