Sizing Up the 2014-15 Eastern Conference’s Potential
If you look at the picture above of Jonathan Bernier, you kind of get a sense of how we feel when we look back on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2013-14 season.
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There was the enthusiasm of a positive, albeit disappointing, end to the previous year. There was the acquisition of a talented young goaltender to pair with incumbent James Reimer, the acquisition of hometown boy Dave Bolland, fresh off a Stanley Cup clinching goal, as well as the signing of one of the top UFAs on the market in David Clarkson. Cody Franson had been re-signed after a strong playoff run against the Boston Bruins. The team was this close to eliminating the eventual conference champions.
As I’ve said before, there were good feelings all around.
When the team hit the ice in the pre-season, people were excited to see what kind of identity this version of the Maple Leafs would boast. We knew the talent was there. We knew how close we were. Our time was surely coming.
Apr 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic (17) takes down Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Clarkson (71) during a fight as linesman Scott Cherrey (50) moves in at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
The team began the season on fire.
At the 12-game mark, they were sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference. Goals were coming quickly, and the team was playing well. All of this was in spite of the absence of Clarkson, who had earned himself a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to protect Phil Kessel. Imagine how good the team would be once he was worked back into the lineup.
Things continued to look rosy, though the cracks were starting to show, by the mid-way point of the season. A stretch of tough, lacklustre performances caused the Maple Leafs to come back to the pack with a 20-16-5 record, and despite winning the Winter Classic against the rival Detroit Red Wings, by Game 45 of the season the team had fallen out of the playoff picture.
The boys rebounded to reel off six wins in a row and win 13 of 15 games before the Olympic break hit to re-establish themselves as contenders. There was a comfortable cushion between them and the bottom teams in the conference. After 60 games, the club was 32-22-6, and Phil Kessel was top five in scoring with 31 goals and 34 assists.
The hot and cold nature of the team reared its ugly head again following the break, however, with Jonathon Bernier getting injured and James Reimer unable to recapture his performance from the previous season. The Maple Leafs won only six of their final 21 games, finishing the year at 38-32-11 and missing the playoffs by nine points.
Kessel finished the season tied for sixth in NHL scoring with 37 goals and 43 assists. Bernier finished with a 26-19 record, 2.79 GAA, and a .922 save percentage over 55 games.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this, and it left us in a bad mood for this upcoming season.
Click here to read the series introduction, which includes links to the rest of the series.