Previewing the East: Toronto
Have the Maple Leafs finally turned the corner?
DETROIT – The Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference next season where they will be reunited with a trio of Original Six rivals (Boston, Montreal and Toronto) in a division that also includes Buffalo, Florida, Ottawa and Tampa Bay.
Throughout the summer, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose will take an analytical look at a different Eastern Conference team. This week it's the Toronto Maple Leafs:
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
2013 Record: 26-17-5
Head Coach: Randy Carlyle (fourth season)
Home Rink: Air Canada Centre
Red Wings All-Time Record vs. TOR: 275-273-93-3
2013-14 Games: Dec. 21 @ TOR; Jan. 1 in Ann Arbor; Mar. 18 @ DET; Mar. 29 @ TOR.
Pending Unrestricted Free Agents: Defenseman Ryan O’Byrne.
Pending Restricted Free Agents: Center Nazem Kadri, left wing Leo Komarov, and defenseman Cody Franson.
Free Agents Lost: Defensemen Mike Komisarek, Mike Kostka and Mike Mottau, and left wings Clarke MacArthur and Ryan Hamilton.
Free Agents Gained: Right wing David Clarkson, left wing Troy Bodie, and defenseman T.J. Brennan.
|Leafs forward Nazem Kadri produced 44 points in 48 games last season. Toronto's former first-round pick has one goal in two career games against the Red Wings. (Photo by Dave Reginek)|
Despite their heartbreaking loss in the Stanley Cup playoffs, last season can only be thought of as a success for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who qualified for the postseason for the first time in 10 years.
The Original Six franchise wound up on the wrong end of one of perhaps the most-shocking Game 7 outcomes in Stanley Cup history when the Boston Bruins mounted a late rally to overcome a three-goal deficit.
Turn the page, and Toronto is gearing up for another dogfight in the Eastern Conference, particularly with the Red Wings moving to the newly re-configured Atlantic Division.
The Leafs are overjoyed that their top-line right winger Phil Kessel took his game to a higher level last season, as well as the playoff series against Boston. His 52 points in the regular season and four goals in the postseason were both team-highs.
A lot is expected of newcomer David Clarkson, the former New Jersey Devil, who signed a seven-year deal worth $36.7 million to play for his hometown Leafs. An agitating forward, Clarkson is a versatile player, who brings plenty of character to the club.
There has been criticism that the Leafs haven’t addressed their two biggest needs at center and on defense. In some ways, Toronto has put faith in the re-signing of Tyler Bozak, who returns as the top line center where he’ll likely work with veteran wingers Joffrey Lupul and Kessel.
The Leafs also acquired second-line center Dave Bolland in a trade with Chicago. He has always played big in big games with the Blackhawks (he’ll be remember forever for his last-minute, Cup-clinching goal against Boston), and should give the Toronto club a boost.
Certainly, playing for the hometown team should help guys like Bolland and Clarkson.
Defensive depth is never a bad thing, and the Leafs certainly seem to have a surplus of serviceable blueliners led by Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson and John-Michael Liles. Toronto has six defensemen signed to one-way contracts and that doesn't include 23-year-old, smooth-skating Jake Gardiner, who is a top-four defender. Combine that with the fact that they have less than $4.9 million left in cap space and still need to re-sign restricted free agent Cody Franson and center Nazem Kadri, also a RFA. While Franson maybe on the trade block, the Leafs insist that he and Kadri can still fit under the cap ceiling.
As far as the goaltending situation goes, both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier believe that they deserve the No. 1 designation in Toronto. Bernier was traded in June to the Leafs from Los Angeles where he had been the back up to Jonathan Quick. Speculation is that there will be a pretty good goaltending battle in training camp. A lot of teams tried to get Bernier in the offseason, but that doesn’t mean the Leafs are prepared to hand him the No. 1 role as Reimer undoubtedly will have something to say about that.
FEEL GOOD STAT
19 – Number of power-play goals allowed in 2013. The Maple Leafs had one of the stingiest penalty kill units in the league, producing an 87.9 percent penalty kill percentage (138-of-157), finishing second only to Ottawa.
100 – Toronto’s goals against when playing at 5-on-5 was near the bottom of the league last season. That was nearly 80 percent of the total goals allowed by Maple Leafs. Fortunately, the Leafs scored 108 goals at even-strength.