Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back in Business: The Leafs' Playoff Hopes

That's right, we're back to work - not just BCP but the Leafs too.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is a double-entendre.

With our new Captain's bold assertion that the Leafs will be a playoff team, I decided to look at some teams that we might overtake and how, exactly, we might be able to do so.

Florida:  Horton is out and the team appears committed to the re-build.  They've taken some good steps towards this re-build but the moves they've made will push them backward in the short-term.  With a goalie of Vokoun's calibre there's always a chance for a good year, but Florida should finish the year behind the Buds.

New York Islanders: The Islanders should be the league's worst team this year.  They simply don't have enough veteran talent to support their young talent and goaltending, as ever, is a question mark.

Tampa Bay:  Probably not.  The Lightning are a better team than what they've showed lately.  The addition of Simon Gagne gives the Lightning two very good scoring lines.  Tampa in on an upward trend.

Carolina:  Their division always seems to push them higher up the standings than their roster would dictate but this could be the year Carolina starts to suffer.  Short of Eric Staal there isn't much to get excited about on this roster in the short-term and Cam Ward's back injury has to be a serious concern.

Atlanta:  Kovalchuk is out and in my opinion their goaltending overperformed last year.  Byfuglien, as any Blackhawk fan will tell you, disappears for long stretches at a time and is not the player that he always seems to be at playoff time. 

New York Rangers:  I can't think of a team that I feel relies more heavily on one player.  If Gaborik is healthy then I think the Rangers will be much better than everyone expects.  If he goes down, their depth chart is thrown entirely out of whack and they'll be playing for 1-0 wins.  If Gaborik plays 60 or fewer games, I'll take the Leafs.

Montreal:  Carey Price will do what he always does; play just well enough that Habs fans will think he's the second-coming of Patrick Roy thus causing them to hate him that much more when he only has one good game in every three.  With Price's inconsistency in net, I can't imagine the Habs making the playoffs.

Ottawa:  Tough to say.  If Gonchar is healthy, one of their goalies plays well and Alfredsson continues to play at the same level he has through his entire career, they could be a very good team.  That's a lot of 'ifs'.  How much will the loss of Volchenkov hurt and what can Ottawa expect from Spezza and Alfredsson?  If the Leafs get into the playoffs, it will probably be at the expense of Ottawa so we better earn some good results in the Battle of Ontario.

Those are my picks.  I'm a homer.  I see the East finishing with Washington, New Jersey, Pittsburgh,  Philadelphia,  Boston as locks and Tampa Bay and Buffalo as probable playoff teams.

This leaves Ottawa, Toronto and the New York Rangers to fight over the remaining spot.  It will take strong goaltending, some surprise production among our forwards and for our defense corps to gel but the other teams competing for the eighth seed have their questions as well.

Maybe, just maybe, Dion wasn't as crazy as the mainstream media would have us believe.

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