Mercifully, the NHL's off-season has only one more painful night in it before we can begin the daily grind of wondering whether the latest Leafs game represents a new dawn or the harbingers of a collapse. Fun! That's right folks, the 2013-14 season is upon us and in true SBN fashion the megaverse has pulled together a massive and all encompassing preview to the season. As part of that preview, I'm going to look at three vital questions for the season
1. Who's the starting goaltender?
Whoever wins apparently. The question of whether an upgrade in overall goaltending was necessary or even occurred is a nuanced one but if we are to take Randy Carlyle at his word - and when haven't the Leafs been forthcoming? - then whichever goalie is playing the best will continue playing. James Reimer's superlative season last year counts for naught nor does his longer track record or success. Then again, apparently, Jonathan Bernier's pedigree and off the charts potential carries no weight in the decision. This despite a summer of Assistant GM Darren Dreger making the case that Bernier is the de facto starting goalie.
Each will get one of the back-to-back games to start the season in which to begin pressing their case for the number one role. The pre-season counts for little and less as the strength of the opposition and even the Leafs varied so wildly but as throughout their careers Bernier's supposed technical excellence counted for little when it came to results and Reimer's massive holes remained to be exploited. Hopefully that is not a pattern that continues because the Leafs could use two great goalies if they are again planning going to invite over 30 shots a game against.
2. Was the David Clarkson signing worth it?
Of course, we wouldn't have had the insane comparisons to Wendel Clark without it and that at least gives us some respite from the 'search for the next Milan Lucic' that the rest of the NHL has to go through. Just kidding, it wasn't worth it for a number of reasons from the fact that it was a factor in buying out the team's best centreman, that the deal will likely be an albatross in a couple of seasons, and that he is being put in a position to fail.
Much like Mike Komisarek when he signed with the Leafs, David Clarkson has now been burdened with an insane level of expectations. The Leafs have done well to try to publicly temper those expectations especially around points but at the end of the day with that kind of deal you can only count on 'leadership' and 'grit' and 'intangibles' to provide so much cover.
You can begin to see the burden of them already. The need for him to be the alpha male led to him stupidly leaving the bench during a pre-season scuffle and consequently being suspended 10 games. He's also, despite the advice of Wendel himself, run around getting into needless fights and perhaps behaved more recklessly physically than needed. Komisarek was never able to recover from the initial struggles trying to live up to his deal - although as some handsome folks around here suggested at the time and has been reinforced he was never very good - and was bought out this summer. Clarkson can look forward to that at least.
3. Was the success of the 2013 season was a mirage?
This is the storyline of the year. The Maple Leafs made a lot of decisions based on a 48 game season and a seven game playoff series that will have long-term repercussions. A lot has been written on this site in massive depth about why the Leafs are wrong in their assumptions and that they are ascribing too much predictive power to what would be better classified as good luck. Does Randy Carlyle have a system that helps the Leafs beat the odds? A lot of analysis has been done to show that it certainly doesn't like an improvement or a repeatable strategy. Oh and it also isn't doing what the Leafs have said it is doing.
There are obviously hundreds of thousands of variables, both known and unknown, that can determine whether the Leafs are successful this year let alone whether it's something that can be replicated down the line. Success this year doesn't necessarily validate last year's limited success. Having said that, just as with the first playoff appearance in nine years, if the Leafs do well at least that much will be fun.