The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of 16 teams trying to win the Stanley Cup. Here a few reasons they can win it, followed by a few reasons they can’t.
Why They’ll Win The Cup:
The Top 2 Lines – They may not look spectacular on paper, but Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, James VanRiemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin really have been all the Leafs could have asked for. Each have struggled or been hurt at some point, but they seem to healthy and ready to lead the way into the 2013 playoffs. They lack a true #1 goal scorer, but the depth of scoring forwards can give the team goals in bunches. The power play sits at 13th in the NHL, but could score big goals if everyone is healthy.
Defenseman Cody Franson – Franson is a lesser known defenseman who has quietly been very effective in his brief NHL career. He is a career +30 in 240 games with Nashville and Toronto, and has an impressive 98 points (including 27 in just 42 games this season). At just 25 years old, he is poised to continue his breakout year. He also has more playoff experience than you’d expect, totalling 16 games with the Predators (7pts), along with 17GP with Milwaukee of the AHL and 51GP with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. Keep an eye on Franson this post season.
The Penalty Kill – 3rd in the NHL, having allowed only 19 goals through 45 games, the Leafs can kill penalties. Come playoff time, special teams are important and the PK is often overlooked. Led by tireless worker Jay McClement and Head Coach Randy Carlyle’s defensive mentality, the PK could be huge in the playoffs.
Why They Won’t:
Leadership – Team Captain Dion Phaneuf looked like he might turn into the next Chris Pronger, but it just has not happened. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an above average defenseman in the league, and I’d have him on my team anytime, I’m just not sure I’d have him as my captain and leader. While he consistently plays around 25 minutes, Dion has been a minus player five of the last six years (including this season, currently -1). He just hasn’t quite turned into the rock solid shut-down defender that many believe he should be. He does have a pretty good playoff history, playing in 25 games with Calgary, along with 70 playoff games in the WHL. He seems like a player who should flourish in the tough NHL playoffs, and the Maple Leafs better hope he does. They’ll only go as far as he leads them.
Depth – The bottom end of the Leafs roster leaves much to be desired, especially on the third and fourth forward lines. Mikael Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur are good NHL players, but neither has played an NHL playoff game. Jay McClement, who will be heavily relied upon, has only 4 playoff games under his belt. Tough guys Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren may be useful in a tough series against a team like Boston, but may not be able to keep up with the pace of the NHL playoffs. RW Matt Frattin has just one point in his last 12 games, but showed a scoring touch early on that could make him a candidate to be the next John Druce (circa ’89-’90). He could also be a healthy scratch. On defense, the Leafs spread the minutes around. Phaneuf, Franson, Carl Gunnarson, Ryan O’Byrne(added at the deadline), Mark Fraser and John Michael Liles have split the minutes fairly equally lately. Jake Gardiner and Michael Kostka are the next two in line. It will be interesting to see if the Leafs stick to their even ice-time strategy, or if they will increase the minutes of the top guys to play matchups. Either way, I can foresee Maple Leaf Nation wishing they had another quality blue-liner.
BONUS: Goaltender James Reimer – I’m just not ready to put Reimer into either category. I refuse to believe that Reimer can carry a team in the playoffs, but I also can’t say that I think he will flop. Let’s face it: Reimer has been good. Great at times, bad at times. Obviously (being a career Maple Leaf) he has no playoff experience. Out of all the things I’ll be watching for, the most intriguing (and most important to the Leafs) is Reimer’s performance. The NHL playoffs have made heroes and goats out many goalies before, and will do so in the future. These playoffs will be the true start of Reimer’s career. A playoff-starved Maple Leafs fan base hopes that he, along with Captain Dion and the balanced scoring attack can bring some wins to the Big Smoke.
John Kapty is a freelance sports writer for WestCoastSportsBlog and has also published on Yahoo!