Or is the team a lot closer than most people seem to think?
This is just a rough draft ... sorry for misspellings (if any), but to me, this team isn't that far off top 6 in the conference!
Blake Grabovski Stajan
Tlusty Ponikarovsky Kulemin
Stempniak Bozak Mitchell
Orr Mayers Hanson
Van Ryn Finger
*=if not Gustavson
This list doesn't include Hollweg, White, Frogren, Stralman, the other Mitchell, Didomenico, or Kadri.
Now before I send everyone into a comment-frenzy stating how this team has no shot, let me clarify my stance.
First of all, Toskala has to be better for this to happen. Plain and simple. I fully expect the Leafs to bid him adieu if he doesn't step up this season anyways, and the same applies to Pogge I am sure, but the fact is, he CAN be a top-flight goalie in this league, and if the Leafs end up with Gustavson, they'll have two goalies who CAN be great, the question is if they WILL be.
Second of all, and the most glaring gap, top caliber scoring forwards. Now I am a firm believer in the fact that defensemen should play defense in their own end and let the forwards worry about the offense. On that note, I think that Kaberle could be peddled for at the very least a top line forward straight up, or ideally, a top line prospect, a top 6 established foward and a 2nd - 4th rounder. Granted Kaberle is no Pronger, but with the price tag that was paid for his services in Philly, Kaberle should be able to garner the Leafs a healthy return.
Third of all, I expect this defensive group to be one of the hardest to play against night-in and night-out. The Leafs have 4 of the top 30 defensemen in hits from the last season under contract now in Finger, Schenn and new acquisitions Komisarek and Exelby so one would be hard-pressed to say that teams will be excited to play against the Leafs, especially considering that all 4 of these players cracked the top 30 and not one of them played over 70 games.
Fourth of all, the team was 10th in the league in goals for last year, so the offense wasn't the problem, it seems to rarely be the biggest problem for the Leafs the last half decade.
Fifth, and last of all, this team will come together better than any post-lockout team, mark my words. With as many as 7 players in the lineup on a regular basis that are more than happy to drop their gloves to the ice and punch anyone in the face that is willing to join them, this team will form a bond quickly, and will be able to rely on one-another more than any other in recent memory.
All in all, I know I am going to receive ample flak for this blog, and my views, but I hold relatively high expectations for this group. I know the team is rebuilding through the draft, but I genuinely think that Burke has set this team up for a chance to be in every game, every night. I'm excited to see the results, and barring some sort of disastrous trade or injury bug, I fully expect this team to be in the playoffs next year.
Leafs nation, we WILL feel the electricity of the playoffs once again come the spring!
I anxiously await the feedback, so let me have it!