2009-2010 Toronto Maple Leafs Season Preview

"This is a day that represents failure. I’m not happy. My teams have been in the playoffs for seven straight years and (missing), it burns my butt. Any day that you have to stand in front of the media and talk about not qualifying for the playoffs should be a kick right in the groin to everyone in the organization. I take it personally and professionally."

- Brian Burke, March 31st, 2009

The anger and disappointment in Brian Burke's voice was evident the day that the Leafs were mathematically eliminated from the 2009 playoffs. In reality, that team had been dead for a long time, a victim of atrocious goaltending, streaky scoring, and a penalty kill that did more to kill the team's hopes than any opposition penalties.

The Leafs are coming off of four years without playoff hockey on the trot. With the lost 2004-2005 season added on the club's loyal fans have now gone half of a decade without seeing a playoff game. Since Jeremy Roenick ended their 2004 playoff run in overtime of game six of the Eastern Conference semi-final the buds' fans have watched as three Canadian teams have taken a shot at the Stanley Cup. The Calgary Flames fell in seven to the Lightning before the Edmonton Oilers suffered the same fate as the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. Finally, two years ago, we had to watch the Ottawa Senators make it all of the way to the Final before being crushed by Anaheim. So I guess it wasn't all low points. And who was the architect of that Stanley Cup Winning team? It was current Leafs GM Brian Burke who fans hope will be able to re-create his success for the league's second-longest suffering fans.

After the jump, we'll see just how things are progressing.

Who's In

Francois Beauchemin, Tyler Bozak, Garnet Exelby, Jonas Gustavsson, Christian Hanson, Phil Kessel, Mike Komisarek, Colton Orr, Wayne Primeau, Rickard Wallin, Viktor Stalberg

Brian Burke identified two areas where the Leafs were sorely lacking: team toughness and defence. Komisarek and Beaucheming are the big additions to the back end that should help improve both areas. Garnet Exelby adds a bit more NHL-calibre depth as well. Colton Orr's role will be to keep the Leafs' skilled players (stop snickering) from being teed off on night in and night out.

The penalty killing unit will be aided by the additions of Wayne Primeau and Rickard Wallin; two experienced penalty killers that can hopefully improve the league's worst penalty killing unit. Lord knows the goaltending could hardly have gotten worse so Jonas Gustavsson's eventual emergence as the # 1 should help. Failing that, Joey MacDonald posted a .901 sv% behind a defence that features none of Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek or Luke Schenn.

Oh yeah, and Burke made kind of a big deal to bring Phil Kessel to Toronto to fill one of the "elite forward" boxes on his checklist. Hopefully at least one of Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson, and Viktor Stalberg can help out in this regard.

Who's Out

Boyd Devereaux, Martin Gerber, Ryan Hollweg, Curtis Joseph, Olaf Kolzig, Pavel Kubina, Brad May, Jaime Sifers, Anton Stralman 

The only player of consequence that left was Pavel Kubina and that move was made mostly to free up the cap space needed to sign Mike Komisarek. Everyone else was either washed up (Kolzing, Joseph), surplus (Sifers, Stralman), old and busted (May, Devereaux), or an idiot (Hollweg).

Strengths

Most reporters have the memory of a gold fish. This is why every year since the lockout Leaf fans have been faced with the same question: who is going to score?!?! Well, if fans, critics, and the media wanted to show a bit of knowledge they'd focus on the fact that the Leafs lack 'elite' scorers because if there is one thing that this team can do it is score goals. It isn't consistent and it hasn't been enough but it comes in bucketfulls. Here's a nice chart to hand to any clueless person that asks whether the Leafs will be able to score this year:

Season

Goals/Game
Rank

Powerplay
Rank

2005-2006

9th

2nd

2006-2007

8th

16th

2007-2008

11th

15th

2008-2009

10th

16th

Can you spot the pattern? After every off-season of predicting an offensive meltdown that'll leave the Maple Leafs languishing in a scoring drought that would make Peter Crouch's start to his Liverpool career seem prolific the Leafs have responded by finishing in the top third of team scoring (or a fraction off). The other thing you'll notice is that apart from the first year after the lockout the results have not been as driven by success on the powerplay as you would expect.

As Mirtle noted in his preview, the Leafs might not have a guy go over 65 points but they also have eight that have a good shot at breaking 20 goals this season. Usually balanced scoring like that is viewed as a strength.

Weaknesses

Uhh...Let's start with the most vital position in all of sports: goaltender. Right now, Ron Wilson is standing firmly behind Vesa Toskala. There will be an entire post dedicated to his shortcomings so let's just say that when you're banking on your goalie to return to form and that form is outside of the top 30 in save percentage (and that was his good year!) then you have a problem in net.

And along came a Monster. Now, in the interests of keeping things relatively sane, Toskala is coming off of major surgeries and is working with a new goaltending coach. He could, conceivably, improve. But is he going to rise above his previous high of 31st among goalies? Not likely when he's been consistently trending downwards. But Jonas Gustavsson comes over with a much vaunted pedigree that calls forth names like Henrik Lundqvist (yay!) and Mikael Tellqvist (SON OF A....!). Considering that he is possibly the goalie of the future it behooves the team to give him his shot sooner than later. If he falters at least the team knows that it's time to go back to the drawing board. In this case, his name would be Joey MacDonald.

Prediction

As Down Goes Brown has pointed out, making predictions, much like pimpin', is certainly not easy. But in the words of Eyebleaf: PLAYOFFS!!1. The Leafs' offence may be inconsistent but it'll be helped by the addition of Phil Kessel in November (don't even bother, we know), the possible improvement of Matt Stajan, Mikhail Grabovski, John Mitchell, and the possible re-emergence of Lee "Blue and White Ninja" Stempniak, as well as the possible emergence of Viktor Stalberg as an offensive weapon. They might not all improve or maintain their previous levels of scoring but with Niklas Hagman, Nikolai Kulemin, and Jason Blake in the mix as well as Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson chomping at the bit to get a shot in the bigs I don't think scoring will be a problem. That's without including the offensive resurgence of Tomas Kaberle or his effect on Francois Beauchemin.

The Leafs' playoff hopes will live and die in net. The defence is, on paper (stupid paper), one of the best in the conference but it's all for naught if the Leafs' have a team sv.% of .895 again. The Leafs have three shots at improving their goaltending in-house: either Toskala magically recaptures his pre-Toronto form, Jonas Gustavsson proves to be the Leafs' goalie of the future, or Joey MacDonald takes over for a shitshow for the second year running and improves on his .901sv% of last season. Once the defence develops some chemistry there won't be an excuse for either of those three to hide behind and I think at least one of them (hint: his name rhymes with bonus) will grab their opportunity by the horns.

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