We are just over a day away from the beginning of the season so it's time to make predictions for the upcoming season. Throughout the day we'll have a number of previews. I present to you the ray of sunshine in the overcast world that is the Barilkosphere and Honourary President for Life of the Mats Sundin Appreciation Society DGB from Down Goes Brown.
Wow, I'm posting on PPP! Is this how Jeremy Williams feels when he gets called up from the Marlies third-line to play a few games in the big leagues? Am I going to score at a goal-a-game pace for a week then never be heard from again?
Ah well. Here is a small helping of random and disconnected predictions for the upcoming year.
Ryan Hollweg will end a 17-year streak of Leaf fans loving their enforcers
From a half season of Craig Berube to Ken Baumgarter to Tie Domi to Wade Belak, Leaf fans have had a long run of having at least one widly popular tough guy in the lineup every season.
That will end this year. For the first time since Kevin Maguire in 1991, the Leafs' only enforcer will be a designated punching bag who'll be ready and willing but not especially able. It won't take long for Leaf fans to get tired of his nightly Kimbo Slice impression.
Jeff Finger will be a media favorite by November
The anti-Finger backlash is probably the most predictable element of the new season. But the flip side is that it won't take long for folks to realize that while he's not worth $3.5M, he's also not terrible. And that will lead to an emerging storyline of "Jeff Finger, so over-rated he's under-rated!"
The Leafs media loves to bring up Larry Murphy's rough ride but the truth is they barely made a peep in his defence when he was here. This will be their chance to make amends. Damien Cox already has his pro-Finger column written and he'll hit "send" on it the minute the first boos start to rain down from the ACC upper deck.
We're going to hear about Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker and especially Kyle Wellwood all year long
The same media that dogged them and worked to drive them out of town will breathlessly report on every goal these guys score all year long.
And god help us if Andrew Raycroft gets a shutout. The Star will need to print a special edition.
Speaking of McCabe...
Bryan McCabe will waive his no-trade clause to go to allow the Panthers to deal him to a contender at the deadline
Admit it, you hadn't thought of it but you're already nodding your head, aren't you?
Mats Sundin's return to the ACC will be a letdown
Yes, he's coming back. And when he finally gets around to cherry-picking a front-runner to join some time after Christmas, the hockey world will circle the date of his return to Toronto as a visitor.
But even assuming he doesn't pull a Clemens and fake an injury to get out of the game, Sundin's return will be anti-climactic. Half of Leaf nation will want to welcome him back and the other half will want to boo him, but both sides will be so worn down by six-months of indecisiveness that they won't be able to summon the passion to really let him hear it.
And of course, most of the suit-wearing corpses in the platinum seats won't even know who he is.
Two, and only two, of Jiri Tlusty, Nikolai Kumelin, Alex Steen, Jonas Frogren and Anton Stralman will take their game to the next level
And no, I don't know which two. But the truth is, if two guys from the list above can elevate their games to breakout status then that's pretty good. It's not that every young player has to exceed expectations, only that a few do. Two out of five wouldn't be too bad.
Especially since they'll be joined by another forgotten young player...
Carlo Colaiacovo will be one of the best stories of the season
Sure, he's always hurt. But what if he wasn't? For a guy who was considered a top prospect only a year or two ago, he seems to have been all but written off.
Colaiacovo hasn't developed into much of an offensive threat, but he's solid defensively and one of the best open-ice hitters in the league. If he could ever put even a semi-healthy season together, he could be a revelation.
(The best thing about this prediction: in the 90% likelihood that he does get hurt, I can shrug this prediction off as not being technically proven wrong.)
Jason Blake will be good this year
I know, I know. I've been as hard on Blake as anyone. And he deserves it -- he was awful last year.
But this year, Blake looks sharp. Whether he's come to grips with his medical issues or just decided to refocus after a tough year he's looked good in the pre-season. Here's betting that he puts together a decent year -- let's say 25 goals.
And that could be great news for the Leafs since if Blake plays well enough they may be able to find a sucker trading partner at the deadline to ship his albatross of a contract to.
Maybe they can even package him with...
Vesa Toskala will be dealt at the deadline
While deep down we all know Toskala is somewhat over-rated (if he's really a top ten goalie how come you can think of 15 guys better than him?), he's still a solid backstop who would be attractive to one of the handful of playoff-bound teams who always seem to have goaltending issues.
The Leafs will trade Toskala at the deadline for a good-but-not-great package, ride a worn-out Curtis Joseph into the ground down the homestretch, sign a veteran backup in the off-season and usher in the Justin Pogge era on a part-time basis in 2009-2010.
That last sentence had way too many hyphens.
Wendel Clark Night will be the highlight of the season
It will also result in approximately 100 posts on Down Goes Brown in the weeks leading up to the big night.
And when his number goes up, I will probably cry. (Or, as I'll refer to it in honor of his big night, "punching out all my tears".) I will tell my wife that I am having a problem with my contact lens.