Few Leafs fans will be able to forget the game seven meltdown against the Boston Bruins in last year’s playoffs. It was a traumatic moment that set the stage for a summer of big changes in the Leaf Nation. General Manager Dave Nonis delivered big and made some huge changes in the off-season.
First, he went out and re-signed top line pivot Tyler Bozak. Next came his signing of arguably the most coveted of the summer’s free agents in former New Jersey Devil, David Clarkson. A trade brought Dave Bolland, the two-time Stanley Cup winner over from Chicago. Likewise, a trade with Los Angeles sent the Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier.
Add in that Nonis was able to sign Paul Ranger and speedy winger Mason Raymond for one million dollars each, as well as re-signing Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri, the Leafs had a very productive off-season.
At the time of writing, the Maple Leafs sit with a record of 6-3. There have been bright spots early on and some things that need to be changed immediately if the Leafs hope to succeed.
Let’s start with the pros. The Leafs goaltending, save for a few games, has been excellent. Jonathan Bernier looks great so far, though, I’m not ready to anoint him the saviour just yet. Based on the small sample size we’ve seen, Bernier looks pretty good. James Reimer has looked steady as well, save for the game he was pulled in Ottawa early on. The hope is that these two net minders will push each other to be better over the course of the season.
Another bright spot is the Leafs offence. With Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, and James van Riemsdyk leading the way, the Leafs have ample scoring. Add in the unexpected offence of Mason Raymond and Dave Bolland, and the Leafs are rolling when they need to put pucks in the net.
Now onto the not-so-good things. The Leafs defence has looked suspect most games throughout the beginning of the season. The Blue and White also lead the league in giveaways with 133 at this point. To counterbalance that, they are third in the NHL in takeaways with 73. They also routinely get out-shot by their opponents, a trend which has carried over from last season. They still find ways to win, but if that keeps up they are playing with fire.
The Leafs have a lot to look forward to, as well as some questions that need to be answered. The fact that they have found ways to win with regulars such as Nik Kulemin, Mark Fraser, Frazer McLaren, and David Clarkson out. That is no small feat. Having David Clarkson in the line-up for the first time next week should provide the Leafs a huge boost.
Questions that need to be answered are another matter. How long can the Leafs keep winning games while being badly out-shot? Who will be the true number one goalie? Will overall team defence improve?
This is a very interesting year for the Leafs and their many fans. They have some excellent talent both on the ice and coming up through the system. Many things need to improve, but if the Leafs play well together, with some excellent goaltending and a little bit of luck, they may indeed just make it back into the Promise Land.