Eastern Conference Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs


Who is the favourite to win the Eastern Conference next season? Many experts can’t answer this question. Where do the Toronto Maple Leafs fit into everything? It’s hard to answer this question, too.

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This column will be a regular feature, looking at the NHL’s Eastern Conference and projecting where each contending team will finish. It begins at the top of the standings from 2013-14 and looks at the conference from the perspective of the Leafs. But before we can do that, we need to examine exactly what took place here in Hogtown, a season ago…

Toronto: Coming off of a successful return to the playoffs, the Leafs burst out of the gate to kick of the 2013-14 season, winning seven of 10, and 10 of 15 games to begin the year. Unfortunately, there were signs that pointed towards the bubble eventually bursting, and burst it did.

After looking like shoo-ins to make the playoffs, the Leafs returned from the Olympic break to play some dreadful hockey, winning only six times the rest of the way, including a messy eight-game losing streak. It looked like changes were going to be necessary.

Off the ice, there was indeed some change, with most of the coaching staff, excluding Randy Carlyle, getting the axe. Brendan Shanahan was brought on to bring some credibility to the front office, and he replaced assistant GMs Dave Poulin and Claude Loiselle with a fresh face in Kyle Dubas.

The on-ice changes to the club were notable as well, with the trade of Carl Gunnarsson to the St. Louis Blues for rugged rearguard Roman Polak. Free agent Leo Komarov and Matt Frattin (via trade) returned to the club after spending a year elsewhere. Defenseman Stephane Robidas was brought in to shore up the back end as well.

Up front, the club added forwards Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik, David Booth, and Petri Kontiola to provide some more depth. Goaltender James Reimer, defensemen Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson, and forwards Troy Brodie, Peter Holland, Carter Ashton, and Jamie Devane were also resigned. Notable departures were Nikolai Kulemin, Mason Raymond, Paul Ranger, and Jay McClement.

“The playoffs are a realistic possibility”

The potential good: With high-end talent like Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James Van Riemsdyk, and Nazem Kadri, the Leafs should continue to have little trouble putting the puck in the net this season. The newcomers, including Polak and Robidas, help the Leafs turn around dreadful CORSI numbers, consequently making the team much better defensively. The playoffs are a realistic possibility.

The potential bad: James Reimer is a headache in the locker room. His feuding with Carlyle at the end of last season became something of a sideshow. Everything remains the same. The goaltenders get hung out to dry on a regular basis, and people start losing their jobs.

Last season’s Eastern Conference regular season rank: 12th place

This year’s potential preseason FS rank: 7th place

The Leafs were a good team last season, and should have made the playoffs. With a healthy Bernier, and better possession/face-off stats, there is no reason that they should miss out again in the watered-down East, but until we see this team on the ice, we will remember how they played to end last season. The potential is there for home-ice in the first round, but there is equal potential to finish in the basement once again.

Where do you think the Leafs will finish this season?