Monday, September 19, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs 2011-12 Preview

Do the Leafs have what it takes to make the playoffs?

After failing to acquire Brad Richards in the summer free agent frenzy, the Maple Leafs went out an acquired Tim Connolly. A dynamic offensive player, Connolly can impact a game at any time. The unfortunate thing for Connolly and the Leafs however, is that health and durability is often a concern.

For the Leafs this year, some off-season acquisitions will hope to make a difference and vault them into the playoffs.

John Michael-Liles, Cody Franson, and Dion Phaneuf will anchor the blue line with Luke Schenn, and Matthew Lombardi will hope to return to previous form and recover from his own injury struggles last year.
The Leafs chances this year are decent if their forwards can deliver enough offense. Grabovski, Kulemin and Lupul will provide secondary scoring, and hopefully Nazim Kadri can inject some life into the Leafs attack as well.

In goal, they will rely on James Reimer to prove that he is a bona fide NHL starting goaltender.

Either way, the Leafs will be in tough. Unlikely to surpass Boston or Montreal, they’ll want to catch Buffalo for third place in their division. They’ll be close, but likely on the outside looking in once again.


Forwards The Maple Leafs finally have some semblance of a top-6 forward corps, but are they enough?

Phil Kessel Toronto’s best offensive player has had to go it alone for the past couple of seasons. The help of Tim Connolly at center should add a lot of support for Kessel, and a few nice passes. The potential for 40 goals exists, but 35 may be more realistic. He’s your best fantasy bet up front for Toronto.

Tim Connolly
Connolly has been a bit of an enigma. His time in Buffalo featured some highlight reel goals, but his constant injuries have held him back from joining the NHL’s elite club of playmakers. If he plays 60-70 games, he could tally 55-65 points.

Mikhail Grabovski
The sometimes controversial winger had a breakout season last year. Nearing the 30 goal and 60 point marks, he dazzled with his speed and lethal shot. It be not be easy to duplicate last year’s numbers with the arrival of Tim Connolly, but Grabovski’s talent is unmistaken. 55-60 are well within reach.

Nikolia Kulemin Kulemin hit the 30 goal mark and formed chemistry with Grabovski. Much will be expected of the big Russian this year as the Leafs seek scoring depth unseen in recent years from a Toronto squad. Expect 50-55 points and 25-30 goals once again.

Joffrey Lupul Lupul has dangerous levels of talent, but has been unable to put it all together in a meaningful way in recent years. With a full season in Toronto, he’ll get his time to shine. He’ll compliment Leaf forwards well and could see 25 goals, but this team can only have so many 25 goal scorers.

Clarke MacArthur MacArthur was a late addition to the Leafs, but definitely made a name for himself. He broke out with a 62 point campaign, but may be hard-pressed to duplicate his totals with increased depth up front. If he lines up with Connolly and Kessel, he could hit 50 points. Otherwise, assume 40-45.

Nazim Kadri Kadri has been arguably the most hyped Toronto prospect in some time. A troubled start was overshadowed by a better finish that saw him post decent numbers for a rookie in limited action. If Kadri sticks, expect a 35-40 point season with a decent amount of ice time and PP time.

Defence
Dion Phaneuf

The captain had a frustrating year offensively, but finally put it together with a point per game pace over the last month or two. Capable of 60 points, his 30 last year were well below expectations. Expect a modest rebound to the 40 point range.

John-Michael Liles Liles has been the offensive juggernaut on the Colorado blue line for a few years now. Taking his act to Colorado, Liles brings experience and offensive capability to a blueline that would otherwise miss Tomas Kaberle’s influence. Liles can easily surpass the 40 point plateau.

Cody Franson Franson will make his Toronto debut after being traded by Nashville. Franson has a lot of potential and should be able to add 30+ points to his all around game. Toronto will enjoy Franson patrolling the line.

Goaltending
James Reimer
Reimer, like the Leafs, came on like gangbusters late last season. He’s out to prove it was no fluke and that he’s the real deal. Expect him to have the lion’s share of games this year, and set career marks in wins.

Prediction - 25 Wins

Jonas Gustavsson ‘Monster’ has struggled to live up to expectations in a pressure-packed market like Toronto. The young net minder still has potential and he’ll share duties between the pipes with James Reimer this year. Expect a decent year with fewer expectations.

Prediction - 15 wins

TOP SLEEPER
Dion Phaneuf
A greater supporting cast and a season under his belt as captain could provide Phaneuf with the comfort and support needed to see him return to 60 point, 20 goal form.

Phaneuf possesses a powerful shot, and can be a game breaker when he sets his mind to it.

Last year proved to be a streaky one for Dion. If he can iron out those wrinkles and return to form, expect 15 goals and at least 45-50 points.

TOP ROOKIE
F Joe Colborne
The 6’5” Joe Colborne was acquired in the Tomas Kaberle deal from Boston. He put up decent numbers in the AHL, and had an assist in his only NHL game last year.

His odds of making the big club out of training camp may not be extremely high due to the newfound depth up front for the Leafs, but any center that big and skilled stands a decent chance. If Connolly or another center succumb to injury, Colborne may be the first man called.

Potential Breakout Player 
Nazim Kadri
Kadri is a speedster with a lot of skill. Late last year, he received more playing time and made the most of it with 12 points in 29 games.

Playing a full season this year should see Kadri reach the 40 point mark, with the potential for much more in the future.

If Kadri plays center, his numbers may not be as strong as if he lines up on the wing. Given Toronto’s current situation right now, there’s a chance he could land an audition alongside Kessel and Connolly, or enjoy some power play time.

For now, assume he’ll see time on the 2nd or 3rd line with spot power play duty.




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