By: Adam Basciano
It has been far too long since we’ve updated. First off, I apologize for that. Several things contributed to the hiatus. Firstly, this little thing called life sometime prevents you from keeping up with all your hobbies and creative outlets. Secondly, the lockout shortened season put a damper on my excitement a little. Then the shock and surprise of making the playoffs took over, and for a little over two weeks, I was in overdrive because of it and couldn’t possibly be coherent enough to put my emotions into word’s. That’s all behind us now. A brand new season is upon us, and we’re back and can’t wait for the regular season to get going!
The Maple Leafs making the playoffs after such a long drought, and pushing a team the quality of the Boston Bruins to the brink of elimination was definitely exhilarating and fun to watch. However, the disappointing, heartbreaking, and tear inducing collapse in the last half of the final period, suggested the team had room to improve. General Manager Dave Nonis took notice, and spent the off-season doing just that. One area the team needed an upgrade was at centre ice. Last season, only Tyler Bozak and Jay McClement had any success at taking and winning a faceoff. To that end, two time Stanley Cup winner Dave Bolland was brought into the fold. His addition not only gives us added strength down the middle, we’ve got a player who has been through the wars of the playoffs, faced every adversity that brings, and succeeded. He’s a smart two-way player who can add 10-15 goals to the offense as well. While we were a tough team last year, when it was all said and done, Boston did have their way with us when it came to puck battles and grittiness in the corners. Enter David Clarkson! He’s fearless, full of energy and as the pre-season showed won’t shy away from defending his teammates! Unfortunately, we’ll be without him for the first 10 games of the year due to suspension. Two season’s ago he had a career high 30 goal season. Can he duplicate that, not sure, but I can see him being in the range of 15-20 goals for sure. The other big off-season acquisition for the Leafs was goaltender Jonathan Bernier. While he played second fiddle in Los Angeles, his numbers were stellar. Everyone who speaks of him says he can be a bona fide #1 goaltender. However, judging by the pre-season, James Reimer isn’t going to roll over and give up the net. Nor should he. Having a healthy competition between two goalies makes both of them better. And it’s paramount to have two guys playing at the top of their game if the team hopes to make the playoffs come April.
Pre-Season is meaningless when it comes to wins and loses but several players used that opportunity to make this team on merit. 19-year-old defender Morgan Rielly showed incredible offensive awareness, good hockey sense, defensive composure and poise earning himself a roster spot. The team will likely use the 8 or 9 games to decide if he can handle the NHL full-time, or be sent back to his junior team. The other standout at training camp for me was Mason Raymond. The former Vancouver Canuck was signed to a professional tryout before playing so well that the team couldn’t afford not to sign him. A solid responsible two-way forward with immense speed and an offensive touch around the net. For the most part, he’ll be a great third line winger, but with the temporary absence of David Clarkson can be an adequate fill in on our top six set of forwards.
Have the Maple Leafs improved their team from last season. Yes, I think so. Making the playoffs will be a difficult task though thanks to divisional realignment, and nearly every team being improved as well. Can Nazem Kadri build on a strong performance in a shortened season? Can Joffrey Lupul stay healthy and continue to be a scoring force on the ice? Can both goalies perform at the level expected of them? Can Dion Phaneuf keep his boneheaded idiotic on ice decisions to a minimum? We know what Phil Kessel will bring. As for the rest, only time and the next 82 games will tell. Do you Be-Leaf? We do…