(photo courtesy of Jon’s brain)
With the puck dropping Wednesday night to start the NHL season, everyone is scrambling to get their predictions out there for the world to see. Here at TLN, we’re no different, and it’s time we got in on the fun.
Go ahead and scroll down for our Eastern Conference standings predictions, along with a quick defence from each writer on their Leafs ranking.
Overall, not looking good for the Leafs, but I think something everyone can agree on is that the East is 1) weak 2) completely wide open from about 5th to 14th place.
I believe the Leafs are heading in the right direction, but recent changes in team philosophy doesn’t equal a vastly different on-ice product for the 2014-15 season. These things take time. Toronto will score goals, but it will continue to struggle defensively as the team adapts to new line mates and systems. I expect the Leafs will make a push for one of the final playoff spots, but will ultimately fall just short
The Leafs are heading into the season piggy-backing off of one of the best summers they’ve ever had. They haven’t completely given themselves a makeover, but all the small changes they’ve made shows a giant philosophical change that creates hope and rustles the jimmies.
*(my name was drawn from a hat to play the role of the optimist.) The Leafs have a roster good enough to be a playoff team in the East (because a lot of these teams aren’t very good), and with some added depth at the bottom of the roster it’s a little less scary when injuries inevitably happen. Of course, the Leafs still have Carlyle, and nobody does less with more than Randy Carlyle. His impact is strong enough for a two spot drop, which may ultimately only be a 4-5 point difference between making the playoffs and a typical Toronto spring. If Carlyle is canned by American Thanksgiving I think the Leafs are a playoff team, but if it’s a longer wait than that 10th spot seems like the safest bet.
If Carlyle wasn’t the coach I’d probably put the Leafs in the playoffs. They have a talented team. They have the goalie, the top-end forwards and the skill on the backend. The problem is, until Carlyle is no longer the coach, I don’t trust them to utilize all the talent properly. I also don’t think Carlyle will last the whole season, but by the time he’s gone, it’ll be too late. The teams on the cusp – Columbus, Washington, New Jersey – are all better and less volatile than the Leafs. That’s why I see them just missing out.
The bottom of the roster finally features players who can actually play hockey. Whether they’ll be properly utilized is an entirely different story. The Leafs have the talent to play with the top dogs of the East, but it’s a matter of getting the most out of a defensively deficient team, something Carlyle hasn’t been able to do in his time here so far. The new assistant coaches could provide a step in the right direction, but I doubt it’s enough to turn a historically bad possession team into one that’s even mediocre. While the Leafs do have a great power play, it’s mitigated by a disastrous penalty kill. That leaves the Leafs biggest strength in net. Can Bernier repeat his spectacular debut as a Leaf? It’s possible. But can goaltending alone get the current state of the team into the playoffs? I wouldn’t count on that.
We’ve talked a lot about how the Leafs are a tough team to read because they have their fair share of talent (at least relative to the conference), but coaching has made them a trainwreck. At the very least, they should be contending for the last playoff spot. The 5th to 14th spots are up in the air, and I’m going to go ahead and put the Leafs at the top of that pile. I truly believe Carlyle will have little control of this team and they’ll take a step forward in the possession game. On top of that, they’re capable of ripping off some unbelievable goaltending and shooting the lights out, so I think if they get things straightened out, they make a big jump.