For the first time in a long time, I am really excited to see the Leafs play. Being an Ontario boy, I have always kept a close eye on the team regardless of how they are playing. Historically, they have been one of the most prominent and successful teams on and off the ice. However, the last few seasons have not been a walk in the park for this once dominant franchise.
Regardless of the past, the Leafs are looking to bounce back this upcoming season. They have one of the deepest forward units in the East which should help them compete with the elite Eastern Conference teams. In the past, the leafs have primarily relied on Kessel and a small group of others to carry the teams offence. This season should be different. As expected, Tyler Bozak looks to be cenetering Phil kessel and James Van Riemsdyk. The second unit consists of Clarkson, Kadri and Lupul. This physical second unit will be able to grind down opponents defense. If utilized properly, they will grind down opposing teams over the long haul. After the top two lines, things get a little complicated. I personally think that Santorelli should center David Booth and Leo Komarov. Regardless of what people think, Mike Santorelli is an unbelievably creative player who can put up solid numbers if surrounded with complimentary wingers. David Booth and Leo Komarov are the kinds of guys who will create a lot of space and time for Santorelli to work. They can both get in on the defense quickly, and create turnovers down low. That leaves Matt Frattin and Peter Holland on the fourth line. These guys could likely be paired up with Daniel Winnick. These last two lines are going to be a tough decision for the coaching staff as they also have Petri Kontiola who was just signed this year from the Finiish elite league. Regardless of who makes the cut, those bottom two lines should be dangerous all season long.
Defensively, the team seems to have the top six pretty well decided. The four returning Leafs are made up of captain Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson and Morgan Rielly. There's also two newcomers to the team. This includes Defensive specialist Roman Polak, and Stephane Robidas. Robidas has a well-rounded game and will likely start on the top pair with Phaneuf. His experience will allow him to log big minutes without being a liability defensively. Despite being underutilized in the past, I believe that Franson will be playing some big minutes on the second unit with Jake Gardiner. Morgan Rielly and Roman Polak will round out the last pair, but will likely be split up during special teams situations. Overall, the team has six solid defense with a wide variety of skills. This should prove to be vital as many of these guys have had success on special teams, whether it be power-play or penalty kill. The one key element of the Leafs defense is the simple fact they they have 3 right-handed guys, and three left-handed guys. This should help the Leafs' back end move the puck quickly in the offensive zone to open up some shooting lanes.
On the back end, the Leafs will have Johnathan Bernier and James Reimer once again. It looks like Bernier will be the number one for the team, and Reimer will start the season as backup. The East is littered with elite goalies, including the likes of Carey Price, Tuuka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist. Toronto does not have the luxury of a star goaltender, but they do have two solid goalies who are both capable of catching fire at any point in the season. Bernier is a good goalie who will put up great numbers if the Leafs defense can avoid costly turnovers and botched defensive assignments.
At the end of the day, every position looks strong coming into the 2014-15 season. They have the roster to put up good numbers in the regular season, and potentially make a push in the playoffs. I am expecting the leafs to sneak into the playoffs this year, possibly wrapping up a 7th or 8th spot in the East.We should see another big season from Phil Kessel, who will be expected to lead the team offensively. I also look forward to see Phaneuf get back to his old form. Given the situation, I believe all the pieces are in place for these guys to succeed.