Phil Kessel

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.

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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 numbers:

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.

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Comments (13)

  1. Did you even play the game?

    • Hey Normal Fan, Before you ask if played the game maybe you learn the game as he probably has more knowledge about the game than you ever will.

    • This comment makes no sense. What you implying, that if he had played hockey he wouldn’t say x? I don’t get it, maybe you disagree that the Leafs D is horrific, but sorry that is true… that’s why they let in 4 goals in the third period(sorry I know that’s a fresh wound). I personally do see them squeaking in, but failing due to their lack of defense(again). Even if they resign Franson they need 2 significant better defensive defensemen.

    • Did you ask that to JB? Do you even read brah? Is that question supposed to somehow be a suggestive explanation as to why he would speculate the Leafs won’t make the playoffs? A similar forecast to most logical people residing outside the centre of the universe over there in Southern Ontario. The best part about this year is the season will be an extended version of that game 7 in the first round against my new fav team Boston.
      Leafs fans think the below average roster is somehow contending for a cup, until they realize maybe they aren’t top tier and would be nice to make the playoffs(or not blow a 3 goal lead in the 3rd), until things sort themselves and you realize the roster full of overpaid plummers was overperforming the whole time… and it’s gone.

    • Bourne played pro for a few years.

      Look, since 07-08, only one team has shot as high a percentage at 5-on-5 than 2012-13 Toronto: the 09-10 Washington Capitals. The ’13 Leafs are above tons of Penguins teams, Canucks teams, Red Wings teams, you name it.

      What’s more likely: Carlyle found a way for his Leafs roster to be as potent offensively as the deepest forward groups we’ve seen in the last seven years, or a few of their players got hot and the season wasn’t long enough for them to go cold again (like in 11-12) ?

      Put another way: year after year, the only player who can elevate his team to shoot 11% or better while he’s on the ice is Sidney Crosby. Players like the Sedins, Malkin, and Ovechkin are in the 10% range. Crosby has never led the league in on-ice shooting%, because some guys get the bounces and finish ahead. But they fall back the next season, unlike Crosby.

      Toronto is not that talented.

  2. Hey Normal Fan, Before you ask if played the game maybe you learn the game as he probably has more knowledge about the game than you ever will.

    • lol normal fan. he clearly played the game. go leafs go! 2nd place in east & stanely cup this year!

  3. If it comes down to a battle of confidence in net between Reimer and Bernier, i’m giving the edge to Bernier, and I think you see him as the starter by the end of the season with a slightly better performance all around. He probably won’t be enough to save this team night in and night out with a soft D in front of him, but he isn’t going to lose confidence in his ability i know that much.

  4. I don’t think this is a playoff team.

  5. Clearly Normal Fan is joking around with his comment. You poor saps took the bait.

    Also clearly, the Leafs are all bubble team at the least, and most likely compete for 2nd in a competitive Atlantic Division. Their young core will be improved, and the Clarkson and Bolland additions will help as well. Goaltending and Defense are improved also. Regardless of what the adv. Stats say, this is a team that knows how to win. It’s also surprising how quickly people forget how they came back from 3-1 down in the Boston series last year, while generally outplaying the Bruins after game 1

    • Hey Jordan, Justin’s wife probably know more about the game than you ever will as well.

      • Justin’s wife must be a hockey genius then, good on her for that. You could learn a thing or two from Hockey experts like us.

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