It’s certainly no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs have not made the playoffs since the 2003-2004 season. However, although it may not seem like it at first glance, the 2010-2011 NHL campaign has been a successful one for the significantly better Maple Leafs.
It has been five seasons since the Maple Leafs last reached the post season and they have finished ninth in the Eastern Conference just once during that same time span. The team’s turmoil has come at the worst possible time, with the other two major sports teams in Toronto─the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays─also going through tough times.
However, Leafs fans should feel somewhat good about how the Leafs have played this season.
With Tuesday night’s 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Leafs have surpassed last season’s point total of 74 with a total of 76 points with eight games remaining. The Leafs’ 33 wins are also more than last season’s total of 30.
One of the main reasons for Toronto’s success (if you will) this season has been rookie goalie James Reimer, who has managed to match his impressive American Hockey League statistics in the NHL.
His .925 save percentage is seventh among NHL goalies who have played in 12 or more games, which is better than the likes of Jonas Hiller, Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price, Tomas Vokoun and Cam Ward. His 2.49 goals against average is seventh among NHL rookies who have played in 13 or more games.
His play has been so impressive, that many Leafs fans heavily criticized head coach Ron Wilson for starting veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere in net against the Florida Panthers on March 17th, which turned out to be a 4-0 loss. However, Wilson continues to stand by his decision to sit Reimer after a long stretch of starts for the 23-year-old.
“I’d like to put out there that had he played in [Florida], he may dead right now from all the games,” Wilson said. “Look how fresh he’s been.”
Not all the credit can be given to Reimer, though.
This season has been an absolute breakout one for Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and, if you will, Keith Aulie.
Kulemin, 24, has topped his goal production from the season before for the third straight season. In his rookie campaign in 2008-2009, Kulemin scored 15 goals. One year later he finished with 16, and now, with eight games remaining, barring injury, he has scored 26 goals. He has also made great strides at the other end of the ice, which will no doubt help him for the rest of his career.
Grabovski, a native of Potsdam, Germany, has scored 28 goals and 55 points to go along with a plus-12 rating. All three of those stats are career-highs for the 27-year-old. With Mike Komisarek injured, Grabovski has been given the A on his jersey, showing that he is one of the team’s two alternate captains.
25-year-old Clarke MacArthur, who has also been named an alternate captain due to Colby Armstrong’s injury, has scored 20 goals and has 34 assists and 54 points in 74 games with the Leafs this season. That’s three goals, 20 assists and 23 points higher than his previous career highs of 17 goals, 14 assists and 31 points.
Add 28-goal scorer Phil Kessel into that group and you have four players on the Leafs who have scored at least 20 goals, and three with a legitimate shot to reach 30 goals.
Although he has achieved them at a streaky pace, Kessel’s 28 goals proves that he continues to play at a high level on a below-average team. It’s a cliché, but it’s obvious: the Leafs need a play maker to help set up Kessel and now MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin aswell.
However, as mentioned above, let’s not forget about defenceman Keith Aulie.
Aulie has only played in 32 games with the Leafs this season, but has been one of their best defencemen. With two goals and no assists, Aulie certainly isn’t an offensive defenceman. However, he has looked very solid in his own end with the exceptions of some rookie mistakes, and has even proven that he can fight in the NHL.
The man who some Leafs fans and members of the media have been calling Muhammad Aulie─a spin off of the famous boxer Muhammad Ali─has dropped the gloves twice this season. His first bout was with Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell and his second was with Florida’s Ryan Carter. 94.4 percent of people who voted on HockeyFights.com chose Aulie as the winner over Hartnell, while 90.2 percent chose the Rouleau, Saskatchewan native over Carter. It appears the kid is pretty good.
Thanks to all of this, the Air Canada Centre seems to be louder than it has been in years. Pride and excitement has been pumped back into the building, something that the Leafs want and need─just as any other team would─for future success; and Leaf fans might being seeing that for quite some time.
To go along with all of the young core players and young developing players the Leafs have, Toronto will have 12 draft picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Don’t think that all of those picks will result in future NHLers, or even half of the picks for the matter; but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a good-looking future.
Right now, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a good-looking future.
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