I love October. Everything about it agrees with me; the cooler temperature, the spiced foods and most of all, the return of NHL hockey.
I spent most of this offseason looking at players we might want to target, line combinations and prospect examinations and all the speculation kind of has my head spinning. Now that we're closing in on the pre-season I'm going to lay off the predictions and suggestions for a second and get back to the root of the game.
Here are ten things I'm looking forward to this season.
10) The End of the Tomas Kaberle Fiasco - One way or another, we should know exactly what the future holds for Tomas Kaberle and the Toronto Maple Leafs by March. If he stays, goes or re-signs - it almost doesn't matter to me at this point, I just want it to end. No matter how things finish, I'll always look back with fondness at Tomas' time with the Leafs and what he brought to the team.
9) Phil Kessel vs. Tyler Seguin - The comparisons, irrelevant though they may be, are unavoidable and I, for one, am looking forward to them. I like the player Kessel is becoming and look forward to seeing the battles that these division rivals will have over the next few seasons. Kessel had his struggles against the Bruins last year and will likely feel more pressure still this season. He's going to have to learn to play well under this pressure and I'd rather see him do it in the six regular season games against the Bruins than in the first round of the playoffs. Bring it on Tyler!
8) Carkner vs. Orr IV - Watching a Leaf beat up a Sen is a time-honoured tradition dating back to the days of Domi. Orr has done his level best to keep this tradition alive and personally, I feel he's done as well or better than anyone. That's why we call him The Sheriff.
7) Burke's First Surprise of the Season - I was on my way to Chapters when I got the news that the Leafs had acquired Phaneuf. I thought it was a joke and imagine my joy when I got confirmation that it was not. Brian Burke is one of the league's most pro-active GMs and he wont let this version of the Leafs flounder if they struggle out of the gate. For the first time, there is no denying that this team is Burke's version of the Leafs and he'll be held responsible for how the team performs. I've learned to expect a surprise and I hope that doesn't make it any less surprising but I wont be surprised if it does.
6) The Defense - Luke Schenn added some serious weight. Phaneuf is a monster. Komisarek and Beauchemin are physical and can be counted on for a momentum-changing hit. These point-men will entertain Leaf fans with their physicality and should make skilled players think twice about making the extra move in open space.
5) Watching Giguere Lose His Job - Don't get me wrong, I think Giguere is a class act and I wish him all the best with his next team. The truth of the matter is, that if this team is going to progress, it will have to be the young goaltending prospects that take them there. I feel that Gustavsson is up to the challenge and can't wait to see him blossom into a full time regular.
4) Who Will Fill the Top Six? - Marcel Mueller. Yeah, yeah, I know but what can I say? I love the guy. Truth is, there will be a lot of guys competing for top six minutes and someone will have to emerge. Unproven guys like D'Amigo and Mueller are possibilities as the season wears on and Colby Armstrong and his ridiculous contract will probably see some time there as well. What this team needs is for someone to step up and be worthy of the top six minutes. This battle will play a large part in determining how competitive the Leafs are this season.
3) Carey Price Meltdown - You know it's going to happen and you know that you'll revel in it when it does. The pressures of Montreal and the fact that he was chosen over Halak after Halak's masterful playoff performance will have Montreal fans shrieking at him all season long. Price will suck and stuff will burn.
2) Nazem Kadri - Kadri will spend time in the NHL this season. How much will be up to him but rest assured, he wont be with the Marlies all year. This is the kid we (and Bryan Murray) wanted and now is when we get to find out what we've got. This year is step one of Kadri's development into a man and a pro. Apparently he worked hard this offseason to put on NHL weight and we'll have to hope that he has the maturity to match. The pressure and scrutiny will be intense for the young man from London - let's hope he's ready.
1) Playoffs!!1 - For the first time since Sundin left, I feel that we have a legitimate chance at the playoffs this year. A lot will have to go right for this team but why not? Our defense is deep and talented. Our forwards are young and hungry. Our goaltending is not Toskala or Raycroft. All of the things that had plagued this team since the lockout have been altered and most observers believe that it's for the better. Watching meaningful Leaf games in games 80-82 is something I'm very much looking forward to and who knows, maybe there's more to follow.
That's my list - what are you guys looking for from our Leafs this season? I don't usually beg for comments but I feel that on this Hockey Eve that I'd really like to hear something, even if it's just one sentence from as many of you as possible. Let's hear what you want from this year and get behind our boys!