Friday, September 9, 2011

Off Season Review: Toronto Maple Leafs

By: Peter Harling
 In Review: After a four game winning streak to start the 2010-11 season, the Leafs struggles resumed and the losses mounted. Captain Dion Phaneuf was lost to a leg injury for sixteen games and didn’t look right when he returned. The goaltending was a concern as both Giguere and Gustavsson struggled to find consistency.

Things turned around for the Leafs down the stretch however. Rookie James Reimer played exceptionally well and took over as the teams starting goalie. Tomas Kaberle was finally traded after much rumor and distraction in a terrific deal. Immediately after Kaberles departure Captain Dion Phaneuf took control of the team and began to dominate play as he did in his early years as a Calgary Flame. In February GM Brian Burke pulls off another steal of a deal by sending Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim for prospect Jake Gardiner and winger Joffrey Lupul. Upon arriving in Toronto Lupul plays on the top line with Kessel and establishes immediate chemistry and finishes the season on a ten game point streak.

In the off season Brian Burke made it very clear he was targeting a number one centre but was unable to sign Brad Richards or trade for either of Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter or Mike Richards. Burke was not shut out though and signed UFA Tim Connolly to play between Kessel and Lupul. Then in another one sided trade, sent Brett Lebda to Nashville (since bought out) for promising defender Cody Franson and center Matt Lombardi. Lombardi was injured with concussion symptoms but says he is healthy, and will be at training camp. Toronto bolstered their defense even more by adding John-Michael Liles for a second round pick. Liles should replace the offence from Kaberle.

Depth Chart:
Left Wing                      Center                           Right Wing
Joffrey Lupul                            Tim Connolly                            Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur                    Mikhail Grabovski                    Nikolai Kulemin
Nazem Kadri                            Matt Lombardi             Colby Armstrong
Matt Brown                              Tyler Bozak                              Philippe Dupuis
Luca Caputi                              Joe Colborne                            Colton Orr
Marcel Mueller             Greg McKegg                          Matt Frattin

Left Defense                  Goal                              Right Defense
Keith Aulie                               James Reimer                           Dion Phaneuf
J-M Liles                                  Jonas Gustavsson                     Luke Schenn
Carl Gunnarsson                       Ben Scrivens                            Cody Franson
Matt Lashoff                                                                             Mike Komisarek

Top breakout Candidates:
Cody Franson managed to produce 29 points (mostly even strength) playing behind Weber and Suter last season. He still needs to compete with Phaneuf and Liles for prime power play time, but the potential is there. Franson just needs the opportunity.

Top Rookies:
Matt Frattin only played one game in the NHL last season, but in the post game media conference, GM Brian Burke stated “he (Frattin) looked NHL ready to me”
Jake Gardiner is the best defense prospect but the addition of Liles will buy Gardiner one more season in the AHL. Marcel Mueller is now 23, and if called up for an NHL audition may steal a job. Mueller impressed down the stretch playing for the Marlies.

Hidden Gem:
Lombardi is cleared to join the Leafs for training camp. This gives the Leafs solid depth down the middle and given Connolly’s injury tendencies, Lombardi may play significant time on the first line.

Don’t Draft:
Tyler Bozak started as the Leafs number one center last season. This season he is the fourth line pivot to start the season.

Best fantasy value:
Kessel will enjoy his best season with the Leafs as his line mates have never been better playing in Toronto. On the Blue line, Phaneuf looks like he may be back at the 50-60 point range.

Fantasy Outlook:
Is this the season the Leafs finally return to the playoffs? The top line is stronger than it has been in years, while the second line was the most consistent line last season and is one of the best in the league. The defense is also one of the deepest in the league with a great blend of size, skill, speed, and youth. The present brings hope and the future is looking very bright in Toronto but this season will all come down to one player, James Reimer. The teams late season surge was possible due to the great play of Reimer. History in the NHL is riddled with Goalies who emerged from nowhere for a one season magical run, only to fail to maintain their success. If Reimer is just another Jim Carey, the Leafs will be in tough. However, if Reimer is for real and can consistently bring quality goaltending all season long, Toronto will see post season action.

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