A lot of things are about to change for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not their playoff predicament. That’s sealed, whether or not they run the table in the final three games of the season. They are not going to participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth season in a row. The Rangers’ win on Monday night, over Boston, made it impossible for Toronto to catch the New Yorkers. The best they can do now is tie Buffalo at 90 pts, and edge them out based on season series. Not gonna happen. The six-year, non-playoff streak is, by far, the longest such streak in Leafs’ history. But there are more promising aspects on the horizon than there have been in years. And one of the biggest changes coming is that the Leafs are going to stop relying on other mediocre teams to lose in front of them for Toronto to gain success.
That’s going to change because, next year, the Leafs won’t have to try and squeak their way in to the postseason. They’ll have a full year of James Reimer. (Here’s hoping the sophomore jinx decides to infect another netminder. Sergei Bobrovsky, maybe). That alone could put the Leafs sniffing the 100-point mark. Teams that rack up 100 points don’t usually worry too much about what the teams immediately in front of them are doing. Those teams worry about winning the division or the conference.
Just relax. I’m not saying the Leafs are going to win the Northeast in 2011-12. But they are going to contend there. They will score more goals next season, especially if Brian Burke can upgrade that number one centre spot. Not that Tyler Bozak’s a bad guy, but I think we all understand now that he’s not the number one centre on a Stanley Cup contending team. We concur on that, right?
The way the Leafs have played since Reimer’s inclusion on January 1st, it’s virtually impossible to imagine them not making the playoffs next year. They will have another year of experience under their belts. Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn will be further entrenched as Toronto’s terrible twosome on the blueline. Keith Aulie will start with the big club in October. Carl Gunnarsson will continue to improve (we all hope).
And, frankly, I cannot imagine this club enduring the same swoon they embraced in October and November of 2010. Could it happen? Sure it could. But, to my point, these guys seem different. They’ve learned this season. They’ve grown. And, for the first time in forever, they don’t have any decrepit, overrated veterans in the room providing downer material. Yep, the times they are a-changin’.