Several NHL teams failed to make the postseason last year — 14 of them, to be exact — but none failed quite so dramatically as the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs, you’ll recall, were in good shape for the majority of the 2013-14 campaign…until a late-season slide saw them go 2-12-0 over their final 14 games, completing a stunning fall from grace (or, more specifically, a stunning fall from second place in the Atlantic Division.)
It marked the second consecutive season Toronto went out like a house of cards. The year prior, the Leafs famously blew a 4-1 lead in Game 7 of their opening-round playoff series with Boston — though, to hear players explain it, ’13-14 hurt worse. At least against the Bruins, the Leafs were in the playoffs.
“Losing to Boston was hard, but this was painful,” Cody Franson said, per the Toronto Star. “We started playing some of our worst hockey the tighter it got. That’s not what good teams do.”
The Leafs seemed to take Franson’s words to heart. Good teams don’t do that, so the club set about making itself over. All of Randy Carlyle’s assistants were fired; Brendan Shanahan was hired as president and wunderkind Kyle Dubas was brought aboard as assistant GM.
On the ice, the team beefed up its forward group by adding Leo Komarov, Daniel Winnik, David Booth, Mike Santorelli and Petri Kontiola. The defense was given an overhaul by adding Stephane Robidas while trading Carl Gunnarsson for Roman Polak. (Tim Gleason was also bought out of his contract.)
On paper, these changes should be enough for the Leafs challenge for a playoff spot, given what was already in place. There’s some real talent in the core forward group of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri, and Carlyle has vowed to put much more emphasis on defensive awareness and consistency. In goal, the Jonathan Bernier-James Reimer tandem is solid.
But can the Leafs overcome…themselves? This is a group now synonymous with collapse, and questions remain about the leadership group (most notably Dion Phaneuf, who was the target of a potential captaincy stripping this offseason.)
With that said, let’s go to the poll…