Following what should be classed as a successful season for the NHL team, the Toronto Maple Leafs enter the close season with a number of questions to answer about the future of the playing staff. Building a strong group of defensive players has served the maple Leafs well, but now the addition of quality forward play could be the main factor in determining if the Leafs can kick on next season to improve on their first round play-off loss this season.
In a season shortened by the NHL strike and lockout the form of the Toronto Maple Leafs was not only a surprise for hockey fans and experts, but a welcome return to the big time. Having not made the play-offs for nine years and winning the last of their Stanley Cup’s in 1967 the time must surely be right for Toronto come again as a major hockey force. Despite the strong showing in losing in game seven overtime to the Boston Bruins Toronto gave GM Dave Nonis a number of headaches as the team begin planning for next season.
The Maple Leafs have looked to build a strong defensive grouping with young players forming a powerful group, but questions remain over their ability to perform against the best forwards in the NHL. 22 year old Jake Gardiner was a standout in the comeback from 3-1 down to the Bruins and looks to be able to make the jump to NHL star over the next few seasons. In contrast, captain Dion Phaneuf continues to frustrate fans and surely coaches with errors at important points in big games; the 28 year old Phaneuf has one year left on a $6.5 million per season contract and could be moved on as the Leafs try to attract a high quality forward to Canada. Phaneuf was jeered by fans after mistakes in Games four and seven essentially handed victory to the Bruins.
Before the season experts claimed the weak spots in the Maple Leafs organization were in goal and in the forward line. The form of goaltender James Reimer in the short playoff run showed he has the potential to become a top class goaltender in the coming years. The lack of a high class forward is the major problem the Leafs face during the close season as the possibility of attracting a star player could see some changes in the playing staff. By removing the high salary of Phaneuf space could be created under the salary cap and used to bring in a forward to help improve on this seasons short playoff run.