There were some people saying that Toronto could possibly be a playoff team this season. Most thought they were destined for another top 10 draft pick.
They started the season by trading Matthew Lombardi and waiving Tim Connolly; clearing cap space but also looking like the Leafs were already viewing this season as a lost season. Then there were probably even more people predicting the Maple Leafs doom after they lost Joffery Lupul.
The fact that it took Phil Kessel a little while to get going probably had even more people worrying about the team.
But a third of the way through the NHL season and the Maple Leafs are sitting in a playoff spot and only getting better.
HOW THE PUCK DID TORONTO DO IT?!
Toronto flipped a good portion of their roster between this season and last season. A lot of these changes came on defense. Korbinian Holzer and Mark Fraser have spent most of their careers in the minor leagues. They’ve come up this year and made a major impact. 27 year old Mike Kostka had never played a game in the NHL but after a stellar display with the Toronto Marlies during the lockout he earned a spot on the team and on the power play earlier in the season. While he’s seen a diminished role in recent games he has still made a huge impact on this season.
Most of the Leafs moves on defense are moves within the organization; calling on three players who have been playing in the AHL. In a move that a lot of high profile teams are afraid to make Toronto have excelled using what was previously thought of as AHL talent to get NHL results. The Marlies have been one of the best teams in the AHL for the past few seasons so it stands to reason some of the top players from the team would get a shot with the big club.
But with a team with as high a profile as Toronto you don’t always see them giving AHL talent a shot.
More often you see teams giving their younger higher profile players a shot. Even if those players had been wallowing in the AHL maybe longer then they should have. Nazem Kadri was already being labeled a bust by some both in Toronto and around the league. Some were saying that he would have a chance if he got out of Toronto. But with the Leafs shedding cap space and in turn opening up roster spots and top six opportunities Kadri finally got his chance in Toronto. He has excelled and is currently leading the team in points.
The injury to Joffery Lupul opened up opportunities for another young player. Matt Frattin was called up following Lupul’s injury and has put up 10 points in his first 10 games. The Leafs major off-season acquisition James van Riemsdyk has also made a big impact on the team this season. These three players represent a major change up front for the Leafs are finally moving in the right direction.
In addition to the big ticket changes there have been a few smaller changes that have made a big difference. Adding defensive forwards like Leo Komarov and Jay McClement have made the team deeper and much tougher to play against.
A few weeks ago I wrote how James Reimer was a legit number one goalie. Since that article Reimer continued to excel until he was sidelined with an injury. Since Reimer went down his back up Ben Scrivens has posted back to back shut outs against Ottawa and Florida. Reimer will be probably be back on the ice within the week which will create quite an intriguing goalie controversy.
What do you think? Comment below and let’s start a discussion, all opinions are welcomed!
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