Maple Leafs: Five Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrun
The Toronto Maple Leafs have always kept things interesting and firing GM Brian Burke three days before camps opens is perplexing, at least from a timing point of view.
But such is life for an organization that has written the book on weird decisions.
There are new owners and a new GM -- well, sort of in the promoted Dave Nonis -- but the same old problems for a Leafs squad that remains saddled with questions in goal and at center entering the shortened 2013 NHL season.
Nonis is more patient than his mentor, Burke, but I suspect he'll still be aggressive on the trade market.
Hockey's biggest market hasn't tasted the playoffs since April 2004 -- that's nine years (eight seasons) for those counting.
1. The coach from day one
Randy Carlyle replaced Ron Wilson as coach March 2 and had about a month of hockey to get to know his new team. With the tight window between a new CBA being announced and puck drop, that small window last March/April may actually prove to be crucial, a head start that other new coaches around the league won't get with this crammed season start. Still, there's much work to be done in Toronto, and the No. 1 priority has to be tightening up defensively. The Leafs were 29th out of 30 teams in goals against last season. Given Carlyle's pedigree in Anaheim during the Ducks' contending years, you can expect the Leafs to improve defensively.
2. Step right up, JVR
Toronto's big offseason move was to acquire forward James van Riemsdyk from Philadelphia in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn. The Leafs toyed with the idea of giving JVR a shot at center, as they try to fill that gaping hole at the No. 1 pivot position. But that idea has been shelved for now. Either way, JVR's size and strength up front will be a welcome addition.
3. Of greatest concern is goaltending
James Reimer was a wonderful story in 2010-11, but he failed to carry that excellent play into 2011-12 as an early neck/head injury derailed his season. He was never the same when he came back and, unfairly or not, Toronto's shaky goaltending was at the heart of a dramatic free fall in the Eastern Conference standings in February. Toronto and Vancouver have spoken on and off since the end of last season about Roberto Luongo. If the price is right, this is a trade the Leafs must make. Nonis acquired Luongo during his tenure as Canucks GM and covets the big Canadian-Italian stallion. But the Canucks aren't giving him away. If the Leafs can acquire Luongo, their chances of making the postseason improve dramatically overnight. Luongo will be hungry to prove his doubters wrong after falling out of favor in Vancouver, and I for one truly believe he still has the goods to be a top-5 goalie in the world. Make the trade, Toronto.
4. Kill some penalties!
The Leafs were a woeful 28th on the penalty kill last season. It's a perennial problem that has plagued Toronto for years. Somewhat astonishingly, the Leafs have been bottom-four in the entire NHL on the penalty kill from 2006-07 through last season -- a stretch of six straight years near the basement in this domain. You can't win a lot of games in this league if you can't kill penalties. Again, given Carlyle's defensive pedigree, look for this area to improve. The offseason signing of excellent penalty-killing forward Jay McClement also will be a key here.
5. Keep her going, Joffrey and Phil
The one-two punch of top-liners Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel was impressive last season, with both earning All-Star Game invites in the middle of terrific offensive years -- Kessel putting up 37 goals and 82 points, both career highs; Lupul chipping in 42 assists among his 67 points. Their continued offensive magic will be essential for the Leafs to have any chance to get into the Eastern Conference playoff dance.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering eighth NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 1
Scoring Lines: James van Riemsdyk
Word out of Toronto is that the project to move van Riemsdyk to center (thus solving the Leafs' depth-chart issues) is off given the short training camp and looming start of the season. That means the Maple Leafs' best three players all play on the wing. Unless Joffrey Lupul or Phil Kessel can secretly play center, the Leafs will not have the best possible lineup on the ice. Given how Kessel and Lupul connected last season, here's betting van Riemsdyk is the odd one out. -- Sean Allen
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Maple Leafs:
• June 23: Acquired RW James van Riemsdyk from Philadelphia.
• July 1: Re-signed RW Matt Frattin.
• July 1: Signed C Jay McClement.
• July 20: Re-signed LW Nikolai Kulemin.
• July 24: Signed C Keith Aucoin.
• July 30: Re-signed D Mark Fraser.
• Sept. 12: Re-signed G Ben Scrivens.
• Jan. 13: Re-signed D Cody Franson.
• Jan. 13: Signed D Mike Mottau.
• RW Colby Armstrong (unrestricted free agent, signed by Montreal)
• D Luke Schenn (traded to Philadelphia)
• G Jonas Gustavsson (traded to Winnipeg)
• RW Joey Crabb (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington)
• LW Jay Rosehill (unrestricted free agent)