The Toronto Maple Leafs havenít qualified for the post-season in eight years, donít have a number one centre, are coming off one of the worst collapses in NHL history and recently underwent a coaching change. That certainly doesnít make them sound like an underrated team, yet they are one.
Year in and year out since the 2004-2005 lockout, experts, correspondents and bloggers have ranked the Maple Leafs outside the Eastern Conferenceís top eight heading into the upcoming season. We now sit about a month and a half away from the beginning of training camp 2012 and the situation isnít any different.
What many people fail to remember is that the Maple Leafs had tremendous success during the first half of the 2011-2012 season, at least for a team that wasnít expected to make the playoffs. They sat first in the entire league in early November and were still in the hunt for the post-season at the All-Star Break. Then, somehow, some way, the Leafs managed an epic collapse that sent them to 13th in the conference, 12 points back of eighth.
All the negativity surrounding the Leafs just goes to show that it is the last bit of something that leaves the biggest impression. People tend to forget the good, and thatís exactly what has happened with the majority of Leaf fans and much of the media.
All it takes is one glance back at the first half of the campaign. Take that glance and you will realize that the Leafs are capable of qualifying for the post-season.
It all starts up front, where Leafs general manager Brian Burke has improved his top-six group, although not as much as many would like to see. Still, James van Riemsdyk fits will into head coach Randy Carlyleís physical system. Also, as long as he continues to develop and becomes what many people think he can, van Riemsdyk will regularly find himself on the Leafsí top line in no time.