NHL 2014-15 preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

Carlyle and the Leafs are used to being under a microscope just by virtue of playing in Toronto. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.

A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.

Toronto is our 19th-ranked team.


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Toronto Maple Leafs

Division:
Atlantic
2013-14 finish: 38-36-8, 84 points, 23rd overall; missed playoffs
Leading scorer: Phil Kessel (80 points)
General manager: Dave Nonis
Head coach: Randy Carlyle
Captain: Dion Phaneuf
Opening night starter: Jonathan Bernier
Key acquisitions: Stephane Robidas, Roman Polak, Leo Komarov, David Booth, Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, Petri Kontiola, Matt Frattin
Key departures: Carl Gunnarsson, Paul Ranger, Tim Gleason, Mason Raymond, Nikolai Kulemin, Dave Bolland, Jay McClement, Jerry D’Amigo

Off-season grade: C+. The best descriptor for this off-season? Turbulent. New team president Brendan Shanahan installed an entirely new staff under GM Dave Nonis, including 28-year-old Kyle Dubas and a recently created analytics department. Coach Randy Carlyle got new assistants as well. Signing Booth, Winnik and Santorelli for depth at forward should help ease the burden on an overused top line.


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Greatest strengths: Phil Kessel is coming off another 80-point campaign, Nazem Kadri is ready for more responsibility, and James van Riemsdyk should push for 30 goals again. Offensively, this team doesn’t have much to worry about. Goaltending could be another strength if Jonathan Bernier responds well to off-season sports hernia surgery and James Reimer handles the platoon situation better than a year ago.

Greatest weaknesses: There are still serious question marks about this blue line. Robidas is 37 and twice fractured his right leg last season, while Polak, who is built like a fire hydrant, won’t fill the top-pairing minutes that his predecessor Gunnarsson did. No. 1 man Dion Phaneuf will also likely be moved out of his comfort zone to the left side. On top of that, the team is expected to usher in a new defensive system and has a long way to go after surrendering a league-worst 35.9 shots against last year.

Biggest story line to watch: Will Randy Carlyle remain behind the bench all season long? The veteran coach faces one of his biggest professional challenges in trying to turn this team around at a time when he isn’t believed to enjoy very much job security. While the organizational mantra has begun shifting to innovation and new ideas, Carlyle is decidedly old school.

2014-15 prediction: Toronto remains a bubble team in the Atlantic Division and will be among the group fighting for a wild-card playoff spot late in the year before ultimately falling short.


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