The goaltending was a concern as both J.S. Giguere and Jonas 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 Kaberle's departure Captain Phaneuf took control of the team and began to dominate play as he did in his early years with the Calgary Flames.
In February GM Brian Burke pulls off another steal of a deal by sending Francois Beauchemin to the Anaheim Ducks for prospect Jake Gardiner and winger Joffrey Lupul. Upon arriving in Toronto Lupul plays on the top line with Phil Kessel and establishes immediate chemistry and finishes the season on a ten game point streak.
In the off season 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.
In another one-sided trade, sent Brett Lebda to Nashville (since then he was bought out) for promising defender Cody Franson and center Matt Lombardi. Lombardi was dealing 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.
Top Breakout Candidates - Cody Franson managed to produce 29 points (mostly even strength) playing behind Shea Weber and Ryan 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 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 - Matthew 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 - Phil Kessel will enjoy his best season with the Leafs as his line mates have never been better playing in Toronto. On the blue line, Dion Phaneuf looks like he may be back at the 50-60 point range.
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.
Pete Harling is and always has been passionate about hockey. He loves to watch it, play it but what he loves the most is fantasy hockey. Follow Peter Harling on twitter: @pharling. Email Coach Harling at [email protected].