Before I explain why, I want everyone to know that im the furthest thing from a biased, blue and white goggle wearing delusional fan. I am usually getting bashed on Leaf forums for my negativity towards the team the past few years because I thought they were pure trash from the get go every season. I have predicted basement finish's the last 2-3 years and have not been a fan of the direction they have taken. Now in saying that I really do believe they will be quite improved. I will break it down line by line.
VERSTEEG - BOZAK - KESSEL
- Yes to many the first response after reading that first line is " man thats a pretty weak 1st line and you are basically correct but I think they will be alot better then most will predict. First off Kessel has had a full offseason to train (no injury like others) and he came to camp in the best shape he's ever been in and has basically ripped up the preseason. 40 goals from him is a very realistic target this season. I hated the Kessel deal from day one but I have to admit he looks dynamic and fast. Bozak although unproven looks like the real deal. Sure he only has 35+ games under his belt but he was very impressive in that small sample size and has again looked legit this preseason. He is the perfect type of centremen to be in the middle with Kessel because he always would rather pass the puck then shoot. He is sneaky good and once people see this kid play on a regular basis they are going to be reminded of Paul Stastny (even Denver's head coach said they are very similar players). The word is already getting out league wide how solid Bozak is. Now we come to Versteeg. two 20 goal seaons under his belt, a calder nomination, a cup ring and will be given a much bigger role. He was only one of a handfull of players last season that was able to crack the 20 goal mark while seeing just around 15 minutes of icetime per game. He has prolly been the best player this preseason and you can really tell how talented the kid is and he prolly didnt have the room to unleash some of it in Chicago because of depth reasons. Go look at the two plays he made last night in Detroit and he's basically been doing that stuff all preseason. I think Versteeg with first line minutes and first unit PP time is easily capable of 30 goals/30 assists next season. I know most people will criticize this line and understandable so, but I think people are going to be suprised just how effective they are going to be.
Kulemin - Grabovski - McCarthur
- I'll start off by saying that Grabovski is prolly me least favorite player on the team. He is unable to make players around him better, hes weak defensively and very inconsistant. The only thing I like about his game is his speed. Kulemin on the other hand is a flat out beast. He isnt well known just yet but last season he was the teams best forward. He can play any style, finesse, grinding, he can score goals, forecheck, play effective defence and he looks primed to break out this season. He reminds me alot of Chris Kunitz with more natural offensive skills. 20+ goals/20 assists is very attainable. McCarthur to me is just filler and really not that great. Will bring good speed to the line and they will be one of the faster 2nd lines in the league. Will be very inconsistant. I think this 2nd line and its lack of offensive production will be a bigger issue then the first line.
Sjostrom - Brent - Armstrong
Tim Brent will start the season off as the 3rd line centre. Not sure how long he will last there as he really hasnt show me much but management and the coaching staff is really high on him. Sjostrom is a hard worked and solid PK'er while Armstrong is prolly one of the better third liners in the game although overpaid imo. I think they will have to go out and find a much more legitiment 3rd line centre, maybe sign Brendon Morrison if he doesnt make the Nucks.
ORR - Hanson - Brown
I actually really like the makeup of this line and they have a ton of nasty. Hanson is like Bozak, very unproven but hes a big boy and seems to have developed a meanstreak over the offseason. Brown is tough and can really skater. Orr is Orr and will again be one of the best heavies in the NHL. I think this can be a really good 4th line and set a good tone when they get on the ice.
KABERLE - SCHENN
PHANEUF - BEAUCHEMIN
GUNNERSON - KOMISAREK
Great defence on paper although I am not nearly as high on this group as many fellow leaf fans and its because I really question there ability to skate. They get beat alot when they get into one on one isolation plays. I think they will be somewhere around middle of the pack defensively. Schenn looks fantastic this training camp and looks primed for a strong 3rd season.
Giguere is certainly no longer the goalie that he was when he won the cup but he is undoubtable better then Vesa Toskala. He should be a solid tender and Gustavsson makes for a pretty solid backup. I dont think goaltending will be a strong point but it will be passable.
When people analyze this team naturally the first thing they bring up is the offence and it certainly does have its concerns (centre depth, high end talent, size in top 6) but I really think they will be fine in regardss to scoring and its the defence and goaltending that is the bigger worry. The past few seasons the leafs havent had trouble scoring goals, but they certainly have had trouble keeping it out of there own net. I think people are going to be suprised how good Bozak, Versteeg and Kulemin are. I think they will have a improved powerplay and there seems to be a good energy around this team (they are one of the youngest teams in the league and seem to have gelled very fast). After the Phanuef/Giguere trade they played really good hockey and were much better defensively once they got rid of Toskala and inserted Giggy.
I still think they dont have enough impact players on forward and the defence isnt as good as it reads on paper but this will be a tougher team to play against and I think they have improved. I actually think they will suprise and grab the 8th seed and make the playoffs and this is hard for me to say because ive been such a pessimist about the team the past few years.
Take the over with the point totals for the Leafs.
This has become badly exposed in this series. Outside of Kobe they dont have a single player who consistantly tries to attack the rim or even dribble thru the seems of a defence. Im sorry but did anyone see what Rondo did to Nelson this past series? Sure Nelson better in games 4/5 but by then the series was basically toast. Rondo is going to completely make Fisher useless.
If the Lakers even make it to the finals they will not beat the Celtics. Not enough ability to dribble thru defences and really only one consistant player whos able to create his own shot.