Playoffs or No Playoffs
Howard Berger feels that the Leafs are primed to return to the playoffs after a season's absence. Of course this has led to a deluge of comments by non-Leafs fans about the myriad of reasons why the Leafs will miss the playoffs. Apparently, few if any of these people have any clue what they are talking about. Much like...
Adam Poirier a self-proclaimed 'diehard Leafs fan' (cannot be too diehard since he is writing off the Leafs' chances of making the playoffs before the season starts despite a huge overhaul) and 'fantasy sports expert' (no idea what that means, I do pretty well in an NBA pool but I am no fantasy sports expert). He has given six reasons why the Leafs will miss the playoffs. Here are my rebuttals.
1. The Leafs were a popular pick to miss the playoffs despite coming very close. They missed the playoffs despite coming very close. That is called achieving, not underachieving or over achieving.
2. This point torpedoed any credibility he could have hoped to escape with. The Leafs scored the 9th most goals (254/3.10 per game) and had the # 2 ranked powerplay (107/21.4%). Those are far from weak numbers. I am guessing that what Adam meant to say was that the Leafs were weak offensively 5 0n 5. And we were. But we have made moves to improve this. The team's forwards are much quicker and deeper as a group than last year. The youngters featured two players in the top ten in rookie scoring (Wellwood and Steen) and another that just missed being in the top 30 (Stajan). As for Poni and Antro, they developed a great chemistry towards the end of the year and were starting to put up numbers that would translate to very solid seasons. It is not a huge leap of the imagination that between FIVE players they can't find 60 points of improvement to off-set the loss of the Human Glacier, Jason Allison. Not to mention that Mats and Peca will both have had complete off-seasons rather than the long vacations they had had entering last year. All in all, the Leafs offence should get even better.
3. Again, Poirier shows that he is the kind of fan that knows the players names and considers that being diehard. Yes, a lot depends on how Raycroft performs after a full off-season instead of 10 games in Finland and a 12-month vacation. However, Maurice showed in the Canes' unsuccessful run to the cup that he is very adept at handling two tenders. Also, both Aubin and Tellqvist have put in some extended runs as a # 1. Granted, I would be much more comfortable with Aubin than Telly but it will hardly be a case of living and dying by Raycroft's turnaround.
4. This just a mess of contradictions. First, he ridicules the Leafs for signing two behemoths then he acknowledges that Kubina was the # 1 defenceman on a Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning squad. He proceeds to mock the Gill signing (a defenceman with seasons of +16, +21, and +16 before last year's Bruins meltdown) because we have so many guys on the Marlies that should be 'adorning' (I think he meant donning since the players are not ornaments) the Leafs jersey. I disagree. The Leafs have maybe 3 guys that have the experience to play the full season: Kronwall who is basically a lock for a spot, Carlo who has played only 25 games, and Karel Pilar (Who?) who is still a Leaf and could make a return from his heart troubles. The others he mentioned have a chance to make the team but they only represent a combined 21 games of NHL experience. Considering that Maurice (Update July 20, 2006: Now he won't have to do all of the work.) has floated the idea of using 5 D, those three would be better served by more time in the minors.
5. The Leafs have made more substantial changes than almost any rival in the East. Pittsburgh is still Pittsburgh and will miss the playoffs. Atlanta can't play defence to save its life (Update July 20/06: They do not even have Lehntonen signed yet! How did that platoon go last year?). Philadelphia has yet to come to terms with Simon Gagne, lost Kim Jonsson, is still the same plodding team that got wrecked by the Sabres, and looks to have lost their captain, Keith Primeau, to post-concussion symptoms. The Islanders are a joke (one thing right for Adam!). Literally. The Rangers were exposed as a bit of a fluke and they will come down to Earth this season. Florida lost Luongo so that might cost them a few points. The Devils are currently trying to figure out how to re-sign their players and not go over the cap (bye bye Gomez). The Hurricanes will again be tough, nothing you can do there. Tampa improved their goaltending marginally but then they lost their top defenceman in Kubina so that is not exactly a team on the rise. And, finally, the Capitals have only Ovechkin and Kolzig. Looks like the East is not exactly filled with the proverbial beasts.
6. Again, he overestimates the other teams. Yes, ottawa manhandled the Leafs in 7 of 8 games (in the important one we smoked them) but they have lost Chara, Havlat, and most importantly, Hasek. Sure, Gerber looked good for the Swiss against Canada but he was also a career backup until recently. Boston needs much more than Chara (woefully exposed during the playoffs) and Savard (made his rep on the backs of Kovalchuk, Bondra, and Hossa) to get to the playoffs and are depending on repeat strong performances from Hannu Toivonen and Tim Thomas. Buffalo has already lost Jay McKee, Mike Grier, and Taylor Pyatt as well as having 10 players going through salary arbitration in the next few weeks. They will be hard-pressed to keep most of those players and will drop off as they are less of a surprise package. Montreal, if anyone, definitely overachieved. Huet, a journeyman goalie, played like the second coming of Jose Theodore and will have to repeat it just for the Habs to have a chance to make the playoffs. As well, a lot of their offensive guys (Ryder for one) had career seasons and they will have to repeat those feats just for a chance.
All in all, for a diehard fan, Poirier really discounts the Leafs chances and looks for basically any reason to count them out. Well, as a true fan I revoke your Leafs Nation passport. You are dead to us.
As a final nail in the credibility coffin, he then points out that he picked the Vancouver Canucks (!?!?) to face the Florida Panthers (!?!?) in the Stanley Cup Finals! Fantasy Sports Expert? The emphasis is clearly on the fantasy part.