Hope for the Future: New Leafs In Toronto
Welcome to our latest series, wherein we detail why each of the teams who managed to miss the playoffs can hope for better days in the near future. Well, probably, anyway.
The Toronto Maple Leafs changed wingers, changed defensemen, and even changed their general manager. In spite of all that, they still managed to do like every other year in recent history and not start winning until it didn't matter any more. How will next year be any different?
Power Play – The bad season gave playing time to young guys like forwards Nikolai Kulemin and Christian Hanson, as well as goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. All of them look like legitimate NHL mainstays deserving of the new contracts they will receive. The team also will get to add top prospect Nazem Kadri to the fold next season, and he should help out right away. Having all these parts together for a full training camp will also pay dividends
Shorthanded – All three of the players I just mentioned will get significant raises as restricted free agents, which might eat up all of Toronto's meager $7 million in cap space. They have $25 million tied up in their top six defensemen, including $3.5 million for Jeff Finger, who was a healthy scratch 43 times this season. They gave up their first two picks this year and their first pick next year for Kessel. They have no room to improve through personnel changes without making trades, and defenseman Tomas Kaberle is their only true trade commodity.
Shootout Win – Like Edmonton, The Leafs can’t get much worse, and they are bound to improve just from having all this new young talent together for an entire off-season. That said, true growth - for the youngsters and thusly for the team at large - takes time.