Alright, so with 10 games left in the season and Sundin possibly on the shelf for at least one game, this is how I figure things will come down. I have read the predictions. Everyone thinks the Leafs will miss, all be it slightly, but still miss the playoffs for a franchise first 3rd straight year. I believe the common oppinion is a 9th place finish. CBC is cancelling shows and blaming the leafs, fans are jumping from buildings and the sky is falling... wait wait wait.. I'm here to tell you that all the neigh-sayers are wrong. Yes I've said that before and yes I even wrote the Leafs off in February along with everyone else. As a die-hard fan that was probably the first time I had ever, and I mean EVER, given up on my team, but, everyone has a breaking point/reality check at one time or another. However, with that said, after the chemistry these guys have shown over the past few weeks I believe no matter how late or how many "why couldnt they play this way all year's" I hear, they will in fact make it. After studying all the schedules, heres why...
Lets start with the bottom and work our way up. The Maple Leafs, as of the time I'm writing this blog, sit in a tie for 10th in the east. As a result of the wins column that sits them in 12th. Directly in front of them are the 11th place Florida Panthers also with 74 points. The Panthers have 10 games left also and after having lost 3 straight they have now rolled off a 5 game win streak. There are some pluses to this club such as the great leadership and skill of Olli Jokinen and the youth movement they sport with the likes of Nathan Horton. There are however some negatives such as the rumoured riff between captain Jokinen and his bench boss Martin.
Those of us Leaf chasers remember Martin from his Senator days where he also managed to have issues with star players ie. Jason "Spaz" Spezza. Although I think Spezza is possibly one of the cockiest players in the NHL and I absolutely hate him, you cant deny that this kid has got skills. Martin would have chosen to sit him rather then give him that front line center spot he now patrols. So we know there is probably some fruit to the story that his players aren't necessarily fighting to hand deliver the invitation to the Sunday bar-b-q where Martin is concerned. Although in my oppinion he is a big issue on that club and likely will be without a job come summer, he isn't the only problem. Another glaring problem is the teams inconsistancy. This is sure to come when you have young guns that are trying to find their place in the NHL but these guys can get hot one minute and the next they are colder then the blood running through your ex-wife's icey veins. And as goes the team, so does the goalie and he has deffinately seen some more consistent days however I wouldnt hang a noose around his neck considering the shoes he's had to fill. My take... these guys manage a hard fought 5-4-1 record in their final 10 contests.
Next we have the 10th place Washington Capitals. This, in my mind is the 'REAL' team to beat. They have an unbelievable record since making the coaching switch. They went out and picked up good ole boy Sergie Fedorov at the deadline.
They are lead by the Big O who can win games on his own, and they have a future calder trophy winner in Nik Backstrom (even if he does pull a McCabe once in a while). Sure they have trouble puting together a solid month and maybe lack a bit of consistency but so do the others at this position in the standings. With their offensive punch and the game breakers throughout their lineup these guys are dangerous. My take... They turn out a satisfying 7-4-0 record in their final 11 games.
In 9th place we have the sob story of the league. The boo-hoo, our stars left us cause we tried to short change them Buffalo Sabres.
First off let me begin by saying, how, on Gods green earth does Lindy Ruff STILL have a coaching job on this squad??!! If he wasn't drinking buddies with the man trying to play manager he would surely be making a trip to the grocery store with his food stamps. This team needs to put both Ruff and Regier in the unemployment line. I mean common, Campbell for Bernier?? Yah Bernier is an awesome prospect but Campbell was the heart of this team. 3 words, PAY THE MAN! Oh what they should have learned from Brier and co walking away. This team is bad folks. They underachieve because they have lost faith in their leadership. Miller is inconsistent because he knows wanderer Jocelyn Thibault isnt taking his job anytime soon, Vanek has his check in pocket win or lose. Roy is decent and has played well but with the acception of a handful (maybe) of players this squad needs to be blown up as bad as anyone. If it weren't for the rivals to the north having such hard times you'd hear it a lot more too. Wait till you're down by 3 or 4 goals then turn em loose and hope Lindy you dummy.. that'll win you one here and there but thats why you're going to be golfin next month. My take... The sabres are gonna plummet, they've lost 4 straight and they will go 2-9-0 down the stretch.. not to mention they play the red hot Leafs 3 times in their final 11 along with the Habs and Sens as well. Tickets are cheap in Buffalo for a reason.
Right now the troubled Flyers hold down the 8th spot. They are inconsistent as well. Their coach is at the front of controversy (I always thought he was a problem there) and should be relived of his post although he will likely maintain the job with only 11 contests to go. They are growing. After finishing dead last in 07 and failing to get the right ball in the draft (still think that damn lottery is rigged by our good buddy Gary... whats with the curtain anyway? cant we see you pull the ball?? someone needs to make this man a pair of cement shoes. I could go on about Bettman for hours but thats another blog all together) they will pull it together but its a process folks. The Flyers are a work in progress. My take.. They will make it and I'm betting they slide into 7th too (more later on this) After they go out in the first round they should fire their greacy coach and keep moving forward. stretch run.. 4-5-2.
I'm not going to stop there because I have to include the Bruins. Boston sits 7th currently but they are going to miss the post season people. You heard it here.. They haven't been playing good hockey lately. They are without their best player and have been for most of the year (ironically thanks to the Flyers) they've lost 3 straight as I write this and 7 of their last 8 contests have come up loses. Do the math guys, that's 2 of a possible 16 points! wow. You can't expect to be playing in mid April if you skip the games in March. My take... 3-6-2 down the stretch and thats being liberal.
With all that being said, the leafs are one of, if not THE, hottest team in the NHL right now. They have the ball rolling and show no signs of it stopping. When you watch these guys right now it feels like no mountain is too high, not even a 3-0 defficit with 15 minutes to play. This is not the Leaf team we've been watching for 4+ months. I'm betting the buds go 7-2-1 in their final 10 games and despite the "experts" saying they need to win all 10, if all of these predictions come true that would land the Leafs in the post season.
In fact it would land them in a tie for 7th with the Flyers. The season series was tied but the Flyers +/- ratio will undoubtedly be better handing them the 7th spot. And guess what, if fate has its way, and I'm sure it will, this will set up a first round meeting with non other then the Ottawa Senators. We all know how those clashes have gone down in the past... cough* cough* choke! cough* cough*
here's how I figure its going to look come the second week of April...
7th - Phi - 89 pts
8th - Tor - 89 pts
9th - Was - 88pts
10th - Bos - 88 pts
11th - Fla - 85 pts
12th - Buf - 79 pts
This of course isnt taking into account the 3 teams below these clubs but I think they are right-offs at this point. So there you have it folks, 06 leafs miss by 2 points, 07 Leafs miss by 1 point, 08 leafs make it by 1 point and the world sleeps easy. Look out Sens, here we come!
you heard it here!