Leafs Primed For Playoffs?

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For the first time since the 2003-04 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs may be on the verge of ending its post-season drought.

Many factors led to the Leafs' demise during the 2009-10 campaign, which ultimately meant the relinquishment of Tyler Seguin to the Boston Bruins. Inconsistency was the primary issue, as many key players were ineffective or downright useless---I'm looking at you, Vesa Toskala. The off-season acquisitions of Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin had fans salivating at the potential of the team's defense corps. However, things took an unfortunate turn for the worse when both Beauchemin and Komisarek---it was later revealed he required season-ending surgery for a pre-existing shoulder injury--- struggled mightily out of the gate. Moreover, the combination of Toskala's horrendous goaltending and Luke Schenn feeling the affects of the dreaded sophomore slump only added to the nightmarish start to the season. Leafs fans had to endure seven torturous games before the club posted its first win. To put it simply, the Leafs didn't even take a step forward before they crashed and burned.

It was not until January 31 that Burke injected a fresh dose of hope into the Leafs' fan base. The Leafs parted ways with Jason Blake, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Ian White and Toskala. In return, the Leafs acquired Fredrik Sjostrom, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and, most notably, Dion Phaneuf, the new captain of the Leafs.

From that day onward, the Leafs played the brand of hockey Burke initially promised its fan base. Physical, aggressive and a never-say-die attitude. Phaneuf embodies all of those qualities, and the 25-year-old rearguard had fans on their feet and chanting his name in his first game as a Maple Leaf

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FF-JxnN0kdI.

Was it a sign of the future?

Well, the Leafs finished the season in respectable fashion, posting a 13-10-3 record in its final 26 games. Interestingly enough, if the Leafs were to maintain that level of play throughout the regular season, they would have been on pace for 39 wins in 78 games. Now, consider that both the Boston Bruins (sixth place in the Eastern Conference) and the Montreal Canadiens (eight place) made the playoffs with 39 wins in four extra games. However, the Leafs' roster had undergone drastic changes since the beginning of the 2009-10 campaign, and despite their valued efforts late in the season, they were destined to finish in the Eastern Conference basement.

I'm not suggesting this is how the Leafs will fare in the 2010-11 season, because anything can happen throughout the course of an 82-game schedule. And as we all know, there is no shortage of questions surrounding the Leafs that could determine the team's fate as they attempt to avoid giving up another top-five draft selection to the Bruins.

However, here are some more statistics to mull over as you pencil in your predictions for the Eastern Conference next season:

- The Leafs allowed 765 shots on net in the final 26 games, which would put them on pace for 2411 shots against in 82 games. The Detroit Red Wings ranked ninth in the National Hockey League with 2413 SA last season. The Leafs ranked 13th in the NHL with 2440. And keep in mind, Toskala was in net for a large portion of the season.

- The Leafs scored 62 goals in those 26 games, which would put them on pace for about 194 goals for in 82 games. The Boston Bruins finished last in the NHL with 196 GF last season, while the Leafs ranked 25th with 210. Although the additions of Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong should help, the defense and goaltending will clearly determine the team's fate.

- The Leafs allowed 68 goals against in those 26 games, which would put them on pace for 214 GA in 82 games. The New York Rangers ranked 10th in the NHL with 214 GA last season, while the Leafs ranked 29th with 263.

Bring on the 2010-11 season! Here's a video preview to get the adrenaline flowing.

Leafs 2010-11 Preview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oyn44rMmLpQ

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