NHL Pre-season Predictions: Atlantic Division – No. 5 Toronto Maple Leafs

THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Fifth in Atlantic Division

2013: 26-17-5. Fifth in East.

KEY DEPARTURES: Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Kostka, Clarke MacArthur, Mike Komisarek, Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens.

KEY ADDITIONS: David Clarkson, Dave Bolland, Jonathan Bernier.

THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Phil Kessel (85), Nazem Kadri (70), Joffrey Lupul (63).

PROS: With newcomer forwards David Bolland and David Clarkson, the Leafs will have more edge and playoff experience than the squad that collapsed in Game 7 of their first round series against Boston last spring. Another off-season addition, Jonathan Bernier, gives the Buds more depth in goal and could make last season’s starter James Reimer a valuable trade chip. And their defense corps got a boost of skill and experience when former Lightning blueliner Paul Ranger (who skated for the Leafs’ AHL affiliate last season) agreed to a one-year NHL contract; Toronto’s improved depth on ‘D’ gives them more options with developing youngsters such as Morgan Rielly. All in all, the Leafs should be an even more physical team that can bang with the best of them, but they’ll still need a number of things to go their way – including good health for injury-prone Joffrey Lupul – to make the playoffs for the second straight season.

CONS: The hockey statistics community erupted in derision after Toronto chose to keep Tyler Bozak as their No. 1 center and sent the speedy Mikhail Grabovski (whom coach Randy Carlyle wasn’t a fan of) packing via an amnesty buyout; consequently, Toronto still doesn’t have a bona-fide elite pivot and after their summertime transactions, there is little salary cap space with which GM Dave Nonis can address his roster. The choice to bring in another netminder – one who hasn’t yet established himself as a big-time NHL starter – when Reimer had claimed the starter’s role last season has raised eyebrows and could lead to a scenario where Bernier falters and Reimer’s confidence is waylaid. And when you consider that enforcer Frazer McLaren is Toronto’s third-best left winger, it’s clear the Leafs’ depth up front leaves something to be desired.

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X-FACTOR: The goalie situation in Toronto will be monitored closely and have a huge impact on how far the team makes it this season. Just when it appeared as though James Reimer was emerging as a legit No. 1, in comes Jonathan Bernier, who was considered L.A.’s goalie of the future before Jonathan Quick stepped up. Both still have so much promise – but neither has played a full-length NHL season yet. The competition should be a good thing, but also has at least some potential to create ill will. If one, or both, come through with strong seasons, though, Toronto will be all the better for havng the depth. We have them making it back into the playoffs, as a crossover seed in the East.

PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: 47 years and counting…