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PHT’s Pressing Questions: Will Toronto finally make the playoffs?

Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT

Toronto Maple Leafs v Vancouver Canucks Getty Images

Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.

When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.

It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.

All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

So yeah, long time.

Long time.

For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.

Which brings us to the question at hand:

Will the futility end this season?

If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.

Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.

His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.

That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.

The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.

Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.

“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.

“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”

As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.

James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.

Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.

To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.

The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.

He’s just one of a number of Leafs that need to improve from disappointing 2011-12 campaigns (others, to name a few: Tim Connolly, Cody Franson, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles.)

But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.

“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.

“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”

Related

For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.

  1. vbcaps - Jan 16, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    NOPE. Sorry Toronto…you don’t have goal tending and competition is going to be too step

  2. ThatGuy - Jan 16, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    No.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Jan 16, 2013 at 2:11 PM

      The Leafs will definitely make the playoffs. I’m not so sure what year this will occur, but I am quite certain it will happen again some day. I only hope my great-grandchildren live to see it.

  3. vanindeed - Jan 16, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    If they get Luongo they make the playoffs. If not forget it.

  4. dolanster - Jan 16, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    No proven goaltending, porous D, no one beyond Kessel and Lupul to score. Why would anything think they *would* make the playoffs? “Will they finish ahead of the Islanders?” is a more sensible question.

  5. steelcity333 - Jan 16, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    This is the easiest “pressing question” to answer so far. The answer is NO. They have decent depth at wing but no true number one center and no legit #1 goalie. They will not make the playoffs.

  6. bruinsfan19 - Jan 16, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    HAHAHA Toronto and playoffs in the same sentence ha but seriously no

    • sunderlanding - Jan 16, 2013 at 2:22 PM

      I guess they don’t teach proper sentence structure in Boston. Let me help you. Here are some sentences that have “Toronto” and “playoffs” together that make sense: “Toronto will not make the playoffs this year.” “Toronto might never make the playoffs again.” “Even if Toronto does make the playoffs they’ll be so surprised they won’t know what to do.”

  7. buddysguys - Jan 16, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    Luongo or no Luongo they dont make the playoffs….They have a couple of nice players to build a core around but when you Tim Connolys and Mike Komisareks on your team you will be going no where.

  8. buddysguys - Jan 16, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    Luongo or no Luongo they dont make the playoffs….They have a couple of nice players to build a core around but when you have Tim Connolys and Mike Komisareks on your team you will be going no where.

  9. valoisjoeybfeld69 - Jan 16, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    What can they give up for Luongo that won’t hurt them in the long run? Remember this guy as a front loaded contract worth 64 million with another 48 million coming.

  10. spongebobsportspants - Jan 16, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    Noone is in danger of losing their job now. Coach and GM are relatively safe. It’s possible the plan is to tank and get a high draft pick. Only 48 games… but it’ll be a long season for us Leaf fans!

  11. thecheeman - Jan 16, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    Is it crazy to think they could finish ahead of seven of these teams? Jets, Islanders, Panthers, Lightning, Habs, Devils, Sabres, Senators, Hurricanes.

    Crazier things have happened.

  12. dolanster - Jan 16, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    Finishing ahead of Lightning, Devils, Senators, Hurricanes = crazy. Jets and Sabres and Habs = unlikely, but maybe. Islanders and Panthers = good shot. So I figure Toronto finishes ahead of four or five of those teams, if they’re lucky.

  13. hockeyflow33 - Jan 16, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    The NHL could expand the playoffs to 28 teams and the answer would still be no

  14. sjsharks66 - Jan 16, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    Sorry to say it leafs but i don’t think so. :(

  15. valoisvipers - Jan 16, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    Leafs have been real hot out of the gate the last 2 seasons maybe a shortened season will work for them. I doubt it but…..

  16. beergold - Jan 16, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    About as likely as Kessel going into the corners and taking a hit fighting for the puck or ending a season with a plus rating to his credit. They have sucked and they DO suck….Burkes legacy will haunt them for years to come!

  17. steelers88 - Jan 16, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    NO. Sorry. I feel your pain Leafs fans the Pens didn’t make the playoffs for a long time in the early 2000’s and look at them now. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

  18. jimw81 - Jan 16, 2013 at 10:04 PM

    im sorry but this article is a waste of internet bandwidth

  19. tatdue - Jan 17, 2013 at 3:39 PM

    I say they make it….F’K you all :)

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