Season Preview 28: Toronto Maple Leafs
After Toronto missed the playoffs for the 3rd consecutive season, the management decided it was time for the Leafs to clean house and start over with the dreaded youth movement that the Islanders and Kings are also going through. Gone are Maple Leaf cornerstone Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, and Bryan McCabe. However, the Leafs have a secret weapon in the form of coach Ron Wilson. Wilson, despite taking the hit for the Sharks not getting to the Finals, has long been able to take teams short on talent (Washington, Anaheim) and get them to play a defensive game to keep the score close and allow the teams to remain competitive.
Also helping to keep games close is goalie Vesa Toskala. Toskala's claim to fame last season was fanning on a 190-foot shot by the Islanders' Rob Davison. Lost in the momentary humiliation was the fact that Toskala shook his gaffe off, shut out the Islanders the rest of the way and won the game. Nothing seems to rattle him and throw him off his game, a talent that will allow him to cover up the defensive short comings of his young teammates. Toskala went 33-25-6, 3 SO, 2.74 GAA, .904 SP last season. He will probably start 65 games or so, but he'll be hard pressed to put up such good numbers this season as the Leafs go through their growing pains.
The Leafs brought back Curtis Joseph for what will probably be his final season in the NHL. Joseph went 3-2-0, 2.55 GA, .906 SP with the Calgary Flames last season, but his veteran presence in the locker room will give the youngsters an example to follow and also allow prospect Jason Pogge to develop another year in the AHL.
So far this season, the Leafs are playing hard and better than most critics thought they would. However, Wilson has the deck stacked against him this season and I believe a playoff spot is out of the question this season. Still, I am sure that the Leafs will be a much improved team after this season and should be ready to make a playoff run next year or the year after.* Read the remainder of this Article in the Premium Content