It has now been six seasons since the Toronto Maple Leafs have seen post-season hockey and three seasons since Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment hired Brian Burke as president and general manager to bring the once legendary and storied franchise back to respectability.
Burke has been busy since being hired in November 2008, but after completely revamping the Leafs’ lineup through trades and signings rather than building through the draft, I believe he has finally succeeded as he filled some big holes that were plaguing the team.
The Leafs finished last year a mere eight points out of a playoff spot, mainly due to the brilliant goaltending of the team’s young netminder, James Reimer. Reimer finished the season with a 20-10-5 record and a .921 save percentage despite only starting 35 games. If the Morweena, Man. native can repeat his stellar rookie season performance and avoid the sophomore slump, the Leafs will be in the playoffs given the talent they added on both the offensive and defensive areas in the off-season to provide some support.
Tim Connolly was signed as a free agent out of Buffalo in the hopes that he can be the No. 1 centre the Maple Leafs have been looking for since the departure of Mats Sundin.
Connolly, a 45-55 point centre, may be the playmaker Phil Kessel is looking for. If his health can hold up for the duration of the season, he will provide size and talent to the team’s top line and will also be an asset on the power play. However, I still believe the team’s biggest addition may have gone under the radar.
Matthew Lombardi may have been a huge steal for the Leafs. He will bring shutdown capability to the teams’ bottom-six as well as add a veteran presence to a young Maple Leafs team. Also, his speed and soft hands will provide the organization with some depth at the centre position when combined with his defensive skills. Lombardi will also be valuable to the team when it comes to the penalty kill. Last year, the Leafs ranked 28th in the league, better only then Edmonton and Colorado.
Cody Franson, 6’5’’ and 213 lb., who also came to Toronto in the trade from Nashville along with Lombardi, will attempt to use his size to earn a spot on a defensive unit that can match up with the best in the league. It currently consists of Mike Komisarek, Keith Aulie, Dion Phaneuf, the newly-acquired John-Michael Liles, Carl Gunnarrson and, of course, Luke Schenn.
With all of these additions Brian Burke has given the Maple Leafs the opportunity to once again contend for the playoffs. But games are not won on paper but rather on the ice, so only time will tell if they are as improved as they appear to be.