Thursday, April 7, 2011

Question Period

brian burke no tie
Unfortunately, the Leafs were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs Tuesday night thanks to a Buffalo Sabres victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was miraculous that the Leafs were even in the playoff hunt this late in the season considering how poorly they played before the All-Star break.

The Leafs are one of the youngest teams in the league and playing down the stretch in a legitimate playoff race – one where they were essentially required to win every night – is a great experience moving forward. Of course actually playing in the playoffs would be a better experience, but we’re taking baby steps here, so I’m pleased with the late season run.

This season the Leafs answered a lot of questions.

At the beginning of the season everyone asked if anyone besides Phil Kessel would score. Everyone assumed Phil Kessel would hit 30, but not many predicted the same for Nikolai Kulemin and (possibly) Mikhail Grabovski. If Grabbo adds to the 29 goals he already has it will be the first time since Gilmour, Sundin, and Gartner all scored 30+ in 1995-1996 that a Leafs trio has accomplished this feat. They would also be the only team in the league with three 30-goal scorers (Anaheim, Chicago, and, amazingly, the New York Islanders are close as well). Not too shabby.

Everyone also questioned whether the Leafs would actually receive stable goaltending after years of historically bad netminding. It seemed like the Monster and J.S. Giguere answered that ‘yes’ the horribleness would continue, but that answer changed once James Reimer rode in on a white horse and saved the Leafs’ season, Ron Wilson’s job, and our collective sanity.

The most pressing issue (at least for fans) was whether the Leafs would transfer the Bruins another lottery pick. I would cry if that happened, but, thankfully, the Leafs’ play over the last few months ensured that the pick would be around 10. I can live with that.

However, this season created many more questions heading into next season.

Will Mike Komisarek ever recover? Is he destined to play 10 mediocre minutes a night? Does he have to defeat Milan Lucic in a fight to regain his hockey skills?

Who will backup James Reimer next season? Will Jonas Gustavsson still be a Maple Leaf by next year’s training camp? When was the last time you saw Jonas Gustavsson? Is he alive?

Will James Reimer convince me there is a God?

Who will centre Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul next season? Will Tyler Bozak excel as a third line centre or is his atrocious +/- really indicative of his defensive abilities? Are you worried that with Brad Richards’ concussion history he will suffer another injury after Brian Burke hits him over the head with a sack of money?

Has Joffrey Lupul's acquisition transformed Kessel from a pure goal-scorer into an assist machine as well? Is it simply having someone capable of tipping in easy cross ice passes?

Can Joffrey Lupul score 30 goals? Can Colton Orr score 3 goals?

Will Brian Burke actually make a big free agent signing that works out for the team on the ice or will any signings only benefit the Leafs in trade? Will Brian Burke find the next Mike Komisarek to give $5 million? Is the only player who can fix Mike Komisarek named Andrei Markov?

Is Clarke MacArthur for real? Will the Leafs second line that plays on the first line become a dominant second line next season? Can we attribute Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin’s breakout seasons to newfound Dad Strength?

Will the Leafs’ two first-round picks make it to the draft? Will the Leaf scouts be able to maximize the value of those draft picks and did they actually scout a player ranked higher than 60?

How many games will James Reimer play next season? 40? 50? 82? 110!!?

Is the old Dion Phaneuf back? Will his late season point binge carry over into next season? Was the remedy simply telling him to open his eyes when shooting from the point?

Where will Nazem Kadri find himself next season? NHL? Centre? Wing? Carrying Joey Crabb?

Will Matt Lashoff play well enough to solidify himself as the Leafs’ sixth defenceman? Will Brett Lebda and Jeff Finger comprise the AHL’s best defensive unit or the worst? Will Brett Lebda become the ECHL’s best defenceman?

Will Brian Burke become emboldened by the Leafs’ late season record and attempt to aggressively improve the team in the short-term, while sacrificing the long-term or will he display some uncharacteristic patience? Are Burke’s ties permanently undone?

Is this late season surge a mirage or will these Leafs actually reward my faith? Will the Leafs’ playoff drought end next season? How will I convince myself to continue obsessively cheering for them if they don’t?

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