Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.
You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.
Added: David Clarkson, Dave Bolland, Jonathan Bernier
Subtracted: Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Ryan O’Byrne, Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin
The Leafs are going to be good
The Leafs were a pretty darn good hockey team last season, and only got better this summer. They added rugged winger David Clarkson to the mix, a former 30-goal-scorer in the prime of his NHL career. Then they mixed in two-time Stanley Cup champion Dave Bolland (also provides sandpaper, also in his prime), acquired one of the league’s best young goalies in Jonathan Bernier, and re-signed stud forward Nazem Kadri. The emergence of Kadri as a true NHL star gives them a pretty potent group, with all-stars Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul also coming off great years. Their captain Dion Phaneuf has matured into a stabilizing force for a d-corps that includes Jake Gardiner, a guy poised to become one of the league’s best offensive defenseman (I could see him giving their PP a bump). And put it all in front of James Reimer, who’s coming off a season which saw him post a .924 save percentage, and yeah, of course this team is going to be good.
The Leafs are going to be bad
This Leafs’ season could legitimately provide us with one of the more hilarious falls-from-grace in years (well, “grace” is used loosely – how their season ended last year was pretty hilarious in its own right). You don’t have to believe in advanced stats to recognize that a team that gets out-shot by an average of six per game (check “the numbers” category below) probably isn’t a true “five seed” quality team, as they finished last year. But if you do believe in advanced stats, you can always just point to their PDO to know they’ve going to regress. So now you’ve got high expectations for a team that isn’t going to be great in a vicious media market, and the train, oh, how she will wreck. An unimpressive group of no-name defenseman (after the overrated Phaneuf) should hang the unprovens Reimer and Bernier out to dry enough that their confidence can get destroyed early on, and both can be bad. Jake Gardiner is a defensive nightmare. They dress Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren every night. Tyler Bozak gets top line minutes. This roster is a mess.
Flippant barstool prediction
I don’t think they’re going to be as good as your average person on the street does, but I also don’t see them being as bad as the advanced scout folks. I say they’re a mid-pack group that threatens playoffs for most of the season, could sneak in with some breaks.
The Leafs are coming off a year that saw only five teams produce more goals-per-game then them, as they averaged 3.02 a night. The problem is that that seems unsustainable, given that they only generated 26.3 shots a night, the second lowest number in the league. They kept pucks out of their net pretty well thanks to a stellar penalty kill (second-best in the league, 84%), and some good goaltending, but again: they were on the wrong side of the shots list, giving up 32.3 a night (good for 27th in the League).
Okay, but seriously:
I think this is a team that won’t be all that easy to play. They’ve got good enough speed up front, and a lot of their contributors – Van Riemsdyk, Clarkson, Kadri, and Bolland, in particular – have a bit of nasty to them. Their defensive depth is unspectacular, but I think at least one of their two goalies will take the reins and be alright this year, so that helps. If they can get another healthy year out of Lupul, I think they’re a competitive team.
Your NHL.com preview:
Check that out here. Embed issues, apologies.