Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs have been waiting for 41 years for the team to win the Stanley Cup again. They’ve sat through the Harold Ballard years. They were patient during the early part of this decade, always believing they had a shot at the Cup.
The next few years will be the true test of their patience. This is a team that isn’t very good, and won’t win many hockey games. Fans need to realize this, and let Toronto build the team over time the same way Pittsburgh did.
Forwards: One of the smartest things Mats Sundin did was decide not to come back to the Leafs. Okay, so there’s a chance he still may do so, but one look at the team roster and he would quickly decide that he may be better off playing in Atlanta or Los Angeles.
Toronto is the kind of team that an opponent can rest their checking line against. There’s just no one here that scares another team into making sure someone is shadowed at all times. Jason Blake is the only true goalscorer, but he’s only scored more than 30 goals once in his career. He had a disappointing 15 last season. That’s just not going to cut it.
At least their young players will be able to get lots of ice time. Guys like Jiri Tlusty, Mikhail Grabovski, Dominic Moore and Alexander Steen will be given every opportunity to succeed. But without a leader upfront, they’ll have no one to teach them anything.
Defence: On the bright side, Bryan McCabe and his defensive gaffes are gone. But so is his booming shot and the amount of ice time he eats up each game. Sadly, there is no one to replace him.
Tomas Kaberle will be the new leader of the Leafs blueline. He’ll have Pavel Kubina, Jeff Finger and Carlo Colaiacovo backing him up. Except for Kaberle, the minutes should be distributed more evenly amongst the rest of the defencemen. That’s not saying much, but it’s all they’ve got.
Goaltending: No more goaltending controversy. There was always an argument, who was worse: Andrew Raycroft or Vesa Toskala. Now, Raycroft is in Colorado, and Toskala has the number one job all to himself.
Toskala and Raycroft were both wrongly blamed for the team’s woes. They are good goalies, but the team was lost on the ice, behind the bench and in the general manager’s position. That is changing, and Toskala will benefit from it.
On the flip side, former Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph is now known as current Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph. He signed a one-year deal to be the backup, but watch for controversy when Toskala loses a few games in a row, or if Joseph gets off to a fast start.
Pool picks: Tomas Kaberle is a good draft pick to have for your pool. Jason Blake may be worth a late-round pick on. Stay away from: Nik Antropov. He plays well when he’s on a line with Mats Sundin. How will he fare now that Sundin is gone from the team?
Miscellaneous: The new coach, Ron Wilson, already seems to be fed up with the media in Toronto, and the regular season hasn’t started yet. How’s he going to act when this team loses seven games in a row and the media is calling for his head? He’s a good coach, but he hasn’t been given much to work with. Still, he needs to make sure his problems with the media doesn’t carry onto the ice.
Expected finish: Fifth in the Northeast division, 14th in the Eastern conference
Overall: For years, the Leafs have screwed up their future by trading away young players/draft picks for overaged players. The future is now, and the Leafs have no one to take over the reins. If the fans stay patient, this is a team that can turn things around, but it will take a few years.