This is the most exciting and hopeful part of the season. Players are returning to camp, new players such as Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, Zach Bogosian, T.J. Brodie, and others will be meeting their new teammates for the first time.
But this excitement and hope is met only with the pressure, angst and anger from another failed season that still hangs over management and the returning players on this roster.
So it will be imperative for all the players to get up to speed quickly because in a 56 game season there is no room for inconsistency in play as that could mean missing the playoffs as a shortened season doesn’t provide the runway to turn things around if things go bad.
With that said, two fundamental questions will need to be answered if the Leafs are to have a different fate this season.
How much of that inconsistency we saw last year can the team overcome? Secondly, How does this newly assembled roster respond to any adversity it faces?
The answer to the first question may come in the moves made in the off season; Gone are guys like Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen incoming are Joe Thornton, T.J. Brodie, Wayne Simmonds, and Zach Bogosian to mix things up in the locker room and help keep the group accountable. But they also offer experience and grit to a roster that leaned too heavily on speed and skill.
These off-season moves provide the Maple Leafs one of the deepest, most divers group of players it has seen in a long time. With this new found depth, Coach Keefe now has internal competition for ice time as tool to keep the players motivated and focused. Those that can’t or in some cases won’t keep up, will find themselves on the outside looking in for ice time. No more easy rides if some thought that was the case previously.
So with that said, I expect the team to put forth a better effort every night. They won’t win every game, but if they can find a higher and more consistent level of play, that should improve their results and help them overcome the ruts that they found themselves in last year.
The question of overcoming adversity has plagued this team over the years. To be able to overcome adversity one has to have confidence, and that is tricky thing to manage over the course of a season.
This team has shown for a better part of 3 seasons a tendency to display a Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde complex. When the team is winning, the game looks so simple and they are world beaters. Face a tough opponent, lose a couple of games and then the wheels start to come off and things get ugly.
This is where I am interested to see how the guys the Leafs have coming in can help to navigate the peaks and valleys of this condensed schedule. Each of the veterans are going to be expected to bring a level of a maturity and mental grit to help this group along when the going gets tough.
I will have a keen eye on how the team responds to the first sign of trouble, be it in a tight checking game where the goals may not be coming so easily or after a loss or two. If the additions can help the Leafs overcome the challenges ahead, it will go along way to finding the consistency and confidence I spoke of that will truly make this Leafs team a Cup contender this season.
So for my prediction, I am going with the pundits and say the Leafs win the Canadian Division and finally crack through the playoff ceiling and make it to the semi-finals.
The work GM Dubas has done to round out the roster, finding Rielly a suitable defence partner in Brodie, changing up the dynamic on the ice and in the dressing room with the additions of Thornton and Simmonds and Bogosian should go a long way to correcting what has hampered this team over the last couple of seasons. Which should give the Leafs the edge in the all Canadian Division.
Now let’s sit back, and enjoy the ride! I know I do this every year being the enternal optimistic that I am, but I am excited for this season and I expect big things from the boys in blue and white.
Go Leafs Go! Let’s get this season started!