Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sadly I predict the Maple Leafs will be out of the playoffs again

The Stanley Cup drought will stretch into season 45 for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not only is that my prediction but for many readers. But there were some strongly contrasting views which likely reflects the die-hard fans and the Leafs haters. 20% believed the Leafs would finish 1st in the East and 30% said the Leafs would finish 15th. That is half the readers out there. Neither is likely to occur.

I don't think that in the improved East Conference and playing in a very strong division, the Leafs will be able to grab a playoff spot. None of the 8 teams that made the playoffs last season look weaker and some appear significantly stronger (Buffalo, Washington, New York Rangers, Philadelphia). Meanwhile New Jersey and New York Islanders looked poised to return to the playoffs. Here are my reasons for another disappointing season.

1. James Reimer

I have a feeling James Reimer will not be able to continue what he accomplished in last season's second half. I believe he will be a very good goalie but still requires seasoning. Unfortunately when he falters you have only Jonas Gustavsson to fill in and a bunch of goalies who have never played in the NHL. You need solid goaltending for a full season to make the playoffs.

2. Tim Connolly and Matt Lombardi

Connolly and Lombardi will help but not likely enough. The Leafs have picked up two players who when healthy are very skilled players. But their health is certainly not assured for this season. Connolly has missed an incredible number of games in his career and couldn't even stay healthy through the Leafs' 9-game preseason schedule. Lombardi happens to be one of the fastest players in the league but is recovering from a serious concussion. He played last night and as expected looked rusty and out of condition. Whether he can return to the player he was is still in question.

3. Phil Kessel

Kessel is not the player I was hoping we were getting. A gifted skater and scorer, Kessel will never be the dominant player he could be in the NHL. He clearly lacks the fire and drive that is needed to be an elite player. He will always be a second line shooter and may rack up a lot of goals over the course of his career but nothing more. Meanwhile the team wastes energy and resources searching for linemates to make him into something he is not.

4. Mike Komisarek

The Maple Leafs defense has been upgraded with the additions of Michael-John Liles, Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner. However, the organization refuses to admit they made a mistake in signing Komisarek and include him in their top six defensemen. He clearly is not. In their final exhibition game it was pointed out that rookie Jake Gardiner's poor coverage led to two Red Wing goals. But he was paired up with Komisarek who supposed to be a stay at home defenseman, something Gardiner is not. Sure he may be good in the dressing room but you need to be good in the ice too.

5. Nazem Kadri

Kadri is only 20 years old so I'm not about to give up on him. However, to make the playoffs the Leafs need him to produce offense for them. But based on the preseason he is not quite ready. He still produces far too many turnovers and insists on trying to skate through NHL defensemen because he was able to do so in the OHL. Until he matures some more he will not be able to make a significant contribution to a playoff drive.

6. Ron Wilson

Whatever he had in his previous coaching stints appears to have eluded him in Toronto. During the preseason the penalty killing still looked weak. With holes in his lineup for the start of the season, the hopes of a strong start appear to be diminishing. I'm ready to move on but when will Burke?

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