Leafs should end drought this season

The Toronto Maple Leafs had an interesting off-season, to say the least. For the fifth year in a row—a franchise record—the Leafs failed to make the playoffs. General Manager Brian Burke knew that changes needed to be made sooner rather than later, and began last
season with that thought in mind. Burke acquired Dion Phaneuf and goaltender J.S. Giguere in blockbuster trades last season, and the team’s goals-against improved immensely. After the trade, the Leafs managed to win 13 out of 23 games, whereas before the trade they had won 17 out of 59.

During the off-season, all eyes were on Tomas Kaberle. The highly sought-after defenceman produced several offers from other teams, but Burke declined every deal he received. This means Kaberle will remain with the team unless he waives his no-trade clause—which is a definite possibility if Boston presents Burke with a deal that includes Marc Savard.

At the beginning of the season, the Leafs’ defence will be the highest paid in the league. Phaneuf and Kaberle will lead the highly talented back end, which includes Francois Beauchemin, Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek, and Carl Gunnarsson. On offence, Burke added Stanley Cup winner Kris Versteeg of Chicago to the line-up. Versteeg finished fifth in the league for shorthanded goals, and  will add a much-needed threat on the penalty kill. He is a quick winger with grit, and that is the exact type of player Burke is known to love on his tea The acquisition of Colby Armstrong, a tough player who fits in with Burke’s strategy, will add size and scoring presence up front.  This should take some of the pressure off of forward Phil Kessel who has been shouldering most of the offensive load.

Kessel is coming back from a short season in which he was able to play in only 70 games because of injuries. Even so, he was able to finish 19th  in goals scored in the league. Heading into camp, all eyes will be focused on  Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak who are attempting to make the line-up.

Last season, Bozak played 37 games with the Leafs, and may now be poised to crack the full-time roster; Kadri wasn’t quite ready for the NHL, but stands a reasonable chance this season.  Kessel is desperately awaiting a speedy centre to play alongside him and Kadri seems to be the front-runner.

The Leafs still lack a face-off artist and a true first-line centre, so they’ll still struggle to kill penalties and capitalize on power plays.  However, if they can replicate what they did in the last season’s final twenty games, they should be able to make the playoffs.

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