May 4th, 2004. That date can mean many different things to people; but for any die hard Toronto Maple Leafs fan like me, you’ll recognize that date as the last time the Leafs saw playoff action. It was game 6 in the conference semi-finals against the Flyers where they lost 3-2 off Jeremy Roenick’s GWG to put away the series. Since then I’m sure many suffering fans have developed distaste for the Flyers, I know I have. But that’s all in the past; it’s time to look ahead to the future which looks very promising.
This year’s free agency class hasn’t created much of a “frenzy” for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s safe to say that the Brad Richards situation put a damper on the Leafs’ hopes of acquiring a top line centre. Despite all this, the Maple Leafs and fans have a lot to look forward to this coming season. Arguably the biggest name the Leafs have signed this off-season is Tim Connolly. The 30-year-old had 13 goals and 29 assists in 68 games last season with the Buffalo Sabres. Connolly will add some jump to the top 6 forwards, and he has the potential to be a 70-point or more player, provided that he stays healthy. He will be contending with Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski to centre the top line of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Mathew Lombardi is also in the mix for the top centre position, if and only if he is healthy enough for action. Nazem Kadri will most likely be moved into a winger position, which will suit his style of play a lot better. Kadri has the skill, but the size factor is his biggest issue. If he wants to have an impact on this time, he’s going to have to train hard so he can provide more “truculence” along with his finesse.
Brian Burke also locked up three of their solid grinders Mike Zigomanis, Darryl Boyce, and Joey Crabb to one-year contracts. Along with the acquisition of Philippe Dupuis, the Maple Leafs will have all the force necessary from their forwards. And who can forget Colton Orr? Expect to see a lot of offense this season. The forwards are developing quite nicely within the organization. Joe Colborne and Tyler Biggs are just two names for fans to get excited about.
With the average height of 6’3, the Maple Leafs’ defense will hopefully live up to the expectations they’ve had on their shoulders for the past two seasons. Look for Luke Schenn to continue his strong and dominate play on the Leafs’ blue line from last season. With any luck, John-Michael Liles will do what he was brought here to do, which is fill in the hole of puck-moving defenceman Tomas Kaberle. Brett Lebda was the closest thing the Leafs had to Kaberle during the second half of the season; that isn’t a good thing. Miraculously Burke was able to pull a rabbit out of the hat and actually acquire something decent for him in Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi. Many fans including myself have been less than impressed with the performance of Mike Komisarek, former all-star defenceman for the Montréal Canadiens. If his dreadful play continues, it is likely that Burke will pool him in a trade for another asset that he may have his eye on. And let’s not forget about Optimus Reim, the Maple Leafs’ number one goalie James Reimer. The 23-year-old from Morweena, MB, had a 20-10-5 record, with .921 SV% and a 2.60 GAA; not bad for a kid buried within the system. He is an outstanding athlete and human being, who this year will give the Leafs some much needed support in goal.
May 4th, 2004. Given some of the additions Brian Burke has made combined with the development of the young players in the system, that date will likely be changed to mid/ late April of 2012 when the playoffs begin. The Maple Leafs are a solid young team and should definitely make the post-season this year.
- Michael Cappabianca