The big question in Leafsland right now is if Toronto will make the playoffs this year. Before I answer this question, I have a few Maple Leaf jokes I’d like to share.
Q: What do the Toronto Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors all have in common?
A: None of them know how to play hockey.
Q: What do Maple Leafs fans do when Toronto scores a goal at the ACC?
A: They stand up and straighten their ties.
Q: What will Toronto say if Hamilton is awarded an NHL franchise?
A: They’ll say, “We want one too!”
Q: What do Leafs fans do when Toronto wins the Stanley Cup?
A: They turn off the X-Box.
Okay, that’s it for now. If you have any funny Leafs jokes, post them in the comments section below. This should be fun. I brought these jokes out because after this season, they probably won’t be as true as there are right now.
Reasons Why Toronto Will Make the Playoffs
Toronto have overhauled their team (for the better) this season. They’ve got a solid back end, led by experienced blueliners like Mike Komisarek, Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin and Garnett Exelby. Jeff Finger and Luke Schenn will continue to improve and are likely to have strong seasons this year. Finally, Ian White is a great two-way defenseman who can contribute at both ends of the rink.
Up front, Toronto has a roster that could do some damage this year. The second half of last season saw a line of Nik Hagman, Mikhail Grabovsky and Jason Blake develop some terrific chemistry. Notably, Jason Blake seemed to find his speed again and actually went to the net. Who knew you could score goals from there? Toronto’s also got some promising youth breaking into the lineup and it’s been quite a while since Leafs fans have been able to say that. You can’t help but be impressed with Viktor Stahlberg’s size and speed this pre-season. His chemistry with Tyler Bozak has been fun to watch and once Phil Kessel returns in November, this line will be even better. Jiri Tlusty and Matt Stajan will also figure into Toronto’s plans up front and are both in need of strong seasons. For these two, it’s a make-or-break season, with players line Nazem Kadri and Christian Hanson on the bubble of making this team. Thus, I expect both players to have career years.
Reasons Why Toronto Won’t Make the Playoffs
As many fans and experts have predicted, Toronto’s fate this season is directly linked to the quality of goaltending they receive from the tandem of Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson. While Toskala didn’t do much to endear himself to Leafs fans last season, it turned out that he was playing injured for much of the year. He’s apparently much healthier this season, but the jury is still out on that. He’s also got Gustavsson right behind him, and that could either serve as a motivator to play well or to be completely unnerved. Ottawa Senators fans will remember how Martin Gerber fell apart with a young Ray Emery playing behind him. Toskala’s never struck me as a clutch performer and I could seem him crumbling like Gerber did. While Gustavsson had a strong playoff last year in Sweden, he’s a rookie in the NHL now and this league is much faster and much more skilled. All this makes me apprehensive about the Leafs goaltending this season and ultimately, about their post-season chances this year.
Also, with such a new-looking team, Toronto appears to be missing a clearly defined captain that can help steer the ship while players adjust to their new teammates and roles. I could see Komisarek being named captain, but it’s kind of hard to lead your team when you’re one of the newest guys on the squad. I mean, if he were to organize a team-building exercise, he’d have to ask for directions from someone like Jiri Tlusty. Weird! Where’s Doug Gilmore or Wendel Clark when you need them? Haha.
My final prediction is that while I believe the Leafs will be much more competitive than they have been in previous years, I can’t see them squeezing into the 7th or 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. I’m not sure they’re at the same level as teams like Buffalo, Montreal or Ottawa, who will definitely be fighting for those last playoff spots. While Toronto’s revamped roster is stronger than it has been in years, building chemistry as a team will take time and it could be months before all of their new acquisitions settle in to their roles. I also feel that the lack of an established captain will hurt them. Finally, I think that with all of their truculence and belligerence, the Maple Leafs are going to need some really, really good penalty killers and I don’t think they’ve got that at the moment. Expect Toronto to finish in that familiar 9th place position, as they have done in previous seasons. The big difference this year is that the future looks promising and a 9th place finish will be considered a pre-cursor of things to come.
Your reporter in the field,