The Toronto Maple Leafs had a spectacular regular season last year. They ended a nine year playoff drought and pushed the Bruins to the brink in the first round of the playoffs. Unfortunately for Maple Leafs nation, the monumental collapse that ensued during the last ten minutes of Game 7 during that series will be the clearest memory they have. It seems that game made the biggest impression on the general manager Dave Nonis who made plenty of moves during the off season.
The Maple Leafs signed former Devil David Clarkson to a seven year deal worth $36.75 million dollars. Clarkson had a nice 15 goal season with in New Jersey during the 2012-2013 campaign and scored 30 in the year before that. Clarkson should provide depth and some additional scoring Leafs. However, the cost is a steep one for Toronto with an annual cost of over $5 million dollars he's now making as much as the Leafs top stars and he is going to have to produce or Maple Leaf Nation will surely turn on him.
Toronto also signed former Blackhawk and playoff star David Bolland who will add depth and leadership in the middle of their lines. Bolland is a two time Stanley Cup winner in Chicago and had 14 points last season. Bolland is a third liner though and the Maple Leafs gave up three draft picks. It cost Toronto one second round pick and two fourth round picks to get Bolland. This is a steep price for a depth guy.
The Maple Leafs also signed former Canuck Mason Raymond who will add speed and scoring abilities to their third line. Raymond had 10 goals and 12 assists in 46 games with Vancouver last year. Raymond was a good signing for the Leafs. He is only on a one year deal and was signed after a PTO in September. It is a great deal for the Leafs and we expect Raymond to have good numbers this season.
Toronto also acquired backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier from the L.A Kings. Bernier had a 1.88 GAA last season but was also the benefactor of the Kings top defense. The Maple Leafs had to give up Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens, and a second round pick to the Kings for Bernier. That is a huge price for a guy who has road the bench for most of his career. Bernier was a number one draft pick in 2006 and has been learning from Jonathan Quick during his time in Los Angeles.
On offense the Maple Leafs should improve slightly this season from the moves that they have made. They bought out Mikhail Grabovski but they have done enough over the off season to make up for his loss. Toronto ranked sixth last season in the NHL in goals per game averaging 3.02. A big reason for their offensive success has been Phil Kessel who had 20 goals and 52 points, leading the team in both categories for the fourth time in his career with the Maple Leafs. Centering the top line with Kessel should be Tyler Bozak who was re-signed with a five year contract worth $21 million dollars. Bozak had a respectable 28 points in 46 games last season. The left wing on the top line will be Joffrey Lupul who has been dealing with injuries for the past two seasons. He had played in just 16 games in 2013 but still managed to acquire 18 points. If Lupul can stay healthy this season, the Maple Leafs will have a stacked top line. Nazem Kadri will center the second line. The 2009 draft pick had the best season of his career posting 44 points in 48 games last year. There is talk that he might get promoted to the top line but head coach Randy Carlyle will most likely keep Bozak up top and only go to Kadri in certain situtations. James Van Riemsdyk will play left wing on the second line and after coming from the Flyers last season he had a slow start out of the gates. Riemsdyk more than made up for it though as he ended the year with 32 points in 48 games. We expect Riemsdyk to improve on his success in his second year in Toronto. David Clarkson will round out the second line for the Maple Leafs. The third line will most likely feature David Bolland, Mason Raymond, and Nikolai Kulemin. Nikolai reminds me a bit of Brad Boyes. Kulemin had a 30 goal year during the 2010-2011 campaign but has slowly been declining. He has had just 14 goals in his last two seasons. We expect Kulemin to remain a dud this season; don't expect him to crack 10 goals this year. The fourth line is strictly for the rough stuff, featuring Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren. The Maple Leafs have an elite top six and they should be able to roll four lines throughout the entire season.
On the defensive side of the ice, not much has changed. The top line will most likely feature Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson who finished last season with 28 and 29 points respectively. Phaneuf could be in line for a big season as his contract will be up in 2013-2014. Gunnarsson and Gardiner will round out the second line. Gardiner played in just 12 games last year and Gunnarsson had 15 points in 37 games. John-Michael Liles will make up one half of the third defensive pairing. Ryan O'Byrne is gone and signed a contract in the KHL so the final defensive spot in the rotation is up for grabs. Toronto has good depth at the defensive position. T.J Brennan, Paul Ranger, or Korbinian Holzer could take the final spot. Our bet is on Morgan Rielly though; the fifth overall pick in 2012 has a good chance at making the big club. Rielly is an offensive defenseman with some serious skill. He is lacking on the defensive side but his puck moving abilities and speed give him unlimited potential. The Maple Leafs should be solid on the back in but they are not going to be great.
Toronto is now playing in the new Atlantic Division which features the likes of Boston, Detroit, Ottawa, and Montreal. Only the top three teams from this division will advance to the playoffs automatically. There Maple Leafs will be in a fist fight the entire year battling for the playoffs but they will most likely have to win one of the East's two wild card playoff spots to be playing past 82 games this year.
Odds to win Stanley Cup: 30/1