Vesa Toskala will rebound after his abysmal display of goaltending last season.
The Finnish goaltender was among fan favorites in Toronto during his first season with the Leafs. His flashy, acrobatic style of goaltending proved to be succesful, as he was arguably the Leafs’ most valuable player in the 2007-08 campaign -- even ahead of Mats Sundin. Leafs fans were singing his praises, and hopes to attain the Stanley Cup Playoffs suddenly lifted. But when a goaltender, particularly one who relies on his acrobatics, succumbs to nagging groin and hip injuries, well, you get the product Leafs fans had to endure last season. So Toskala was shut down, and was forced to get surgery while Martin Gerber finished off the season -- and surprisingly well, too.
So it begs the question: Will Toskala be back to form next season, or will he continue to struggle with injuries, thus rendering him virtually useless considering his style.
Well, opinions vary, and many Leafs fans seem to have forgotten just how good he was during his first season. Personally, I’m willing to bet Toskala will perform brilliantly next season, and will earn the tag of the comeback kid.
In fact, if you ask me, I think the Leafs could have very well been in the playoffs last season if it were not for Toskala’s struggles. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, however, as the team has now acquired another highly touted prospect in Nazim Kadri.
But let’s take into consideration Burke’s latest additions to the Leafs’ defense core. With Mike Komisarek and Garnet Exelby added to the mix, Toskala will have the best defensive coverage he’s ever been graced with in Toronto. The Leafs’ defense will no longer be soft and unmenacing in front of the net. Not anymore, baby. Not with Exelby, Komisarek and Schenn guarding the Leafs’ end of the ice. As soon as the opposition crosses the blueline, it’s going to be no holds barred, and for the first time in a long time, the Leafs will be injecting a fresh dosage of fear into their opposition. This means more hits, blocked shots and scrums infront of the net. If Toskala can find the game that made him an effective goaltender two season ago, Toronto will be capable of silencing many of its critics.
It’s also worth noting that, if Burke does manage to acquire Unrestricted Free Agent goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (who is starting to piss me off more than Sundin with his non-decision making), the Leafs won’t be forced to play Toskala the majority of the season due to not having a capable back-up goaltender. If Gustavsson proves to be valuable commodity to the team, then Toskala’s workload could be more suitable to his limits, and he wouldn’t be forced to play with a wonky groin.
Toskala is also a pending UFA next summer, so you can bet he’ll playing with a little more intensity to secure a role as a number one netminder in the NHL.
Thankfully, Toskala will get all the rest he requires this summer after being shut-down during the season. This will give him a chance to fully recover from his nagging groin and hip injuries and, hopefully, make a comeback as the Leafs’ MVP. It’s no secret, however, that groin injuries can often affect a player’s career long-term, so it’s currently uncertain where Toskala’s career will go from here.
If Toskala can find his game again, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if he propels the Leafs into the playoffs. They’d squeak in with the current team intact, of course, but it would still serve as quality experience for a rebuilding club such as the Maple Leafs.
Prediction: Toskala has his best season with the Leafs and will be considered team MVP.