For The Toronto Maple Leafs The Playoff Drought Is Over!

Posted: April 29, 2013 by frasemd in Uncategorized

TML Playoffs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a playoff team once again!  After years of disappointing seasons Leaf Nation can rejoice once again as the Toronto Maple Leafs are heading to the post-season.  Before I discuss each season where the Leafs did not make it to the post-season, it is important to note that for any sports team making the playoffs is much more than a continuation of games played.
Making the playoffs means that not only are fans excited but so is the organization as a whole, along with the NHL. The NHL and MLSE will be able to generate massive profits from television ratings and commercial advertisements. MLSE will also generate from the minimum of two additional home games, which will sell out. Playoff ticket prices have been raised on average 75% for the Leafs home games, which is going to continue to generate huge profits for MLSE. The Leafs in the playoffs will also help local businesses (hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions) as they will generate massive profits due to increased volume of customers.
From a player development standpoint, with the Leafs being in the playoffs it gives the younger Leafs a chance to gain some valuable playoff experience which is key in not only developing these players but also developing team unity.
It should be very clear why the playoffs are so important.  Now imagine missing the playoffs every year from 2005 until 2012.  In this article we look back at the squandered Leaf’s seasons that left Toronto’s team without a playoff bid for 7 years.

2005-2006 season:
Following the NHL lockout which cancelled the 2004-05 season, the Leafs returned in September of 2005 with Pat Quinn back as the head coach for the Leafs. The 2005 draft had the Leafs picking goaltender Tuukka Rask in the first round, 21st overall as management hoped that he would be the team’s starting goaltender of the future. The Leafs also had new players in their lineup including; Jason Allison, Alex Steen, Kyle Wellwood, Jeff O’Neill, Eric Lindros, Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian White. The Leafs had many new faces in their lineup after losing veterans Alexander Mogilny, Brian Leetch, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tom Fitzgerald, Bryan Macrchment, Trevor Kidd, and Ron Francis in the off-season. The Maple Leafs supported a 41-33-8 record at season’s end, missing the playoffs by only 2 points.

2006-2007 season:
In the off-season coming into the 2006-2007 season, Eric Lindros signed with Dallas after an injury filled season with the Leafs. The Leafs lost their second line center in Jason Allison and defenceman Aki Berg and Luke Richardson to free agency. With Ed Belfour leaving the team by signing with the Florida Panthers, the Leafs needed to find a starting goaltender. They traded 2005 first round pick Tukka Rask to Boston for the 2003-2004 Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft. Raycroft would go onto have a very disappointing season with the Leafs sporting a record of 37 wins and 25 losses with a 2.99 GAA and .894 save percentage.  The Leafs would go onto a 40-31-11 record led by captain Mats Sundin and Head Coach Paul Maurice.
What Leafs fans care about with regards to the 2006-07 season is who they drafted. Four current Leafs were drafted in the 2006 draft; Nikolai Kulemin (2nd round 44th overall), James Reimer (4th round 99th overall), Korbinian Holzer (4th round 111th overall- currently with the AHL Marlies), and Leo Komarov (6th round 200th overall).  These draft picks would end up becoming major aspects of today’s Toronto Maple Leafs.

2007-2008 season:
Prior to the 2007-2008 season many believed that the Leafs were beginning to look in a new direction for their General Manager. Ferguson attempted to save his job by trading three draft picks for goaltender Vesa Toskala and forward Mark Bell. It was believed Toskala would solidify their goaltending situation, while Raycroft was demoted to the backup role. The Leafs also signed Jason Blake in the off-season, after scoring 40 goals for the Islanders the previous season.

The season got off to a rocky start for the Leafs, leading to the team firing GM Ferguson early in January, and bringing back former GM Cliff Fletcher as the interim General Manager. Fletcher was given the “interim” tag because many believed that the Leafs were simply waiting for Vancouver Canucks GM Brian Burke’s contract to expire so they could make a play and hire him.

The season was another disappointment for the Leafs as they finished 36-35-11, which lead to many discussing the status of Captain Mats Sundin. As Sundin’s career was winding down, many believed that the Leafs would trade Sundin to another team in order to acquire draft picks to assist in building for the future. The problem was that Sundin used his no-trade clause to remain with the Leafs.

A positive thing to look back on about the 2007-2008 season was the Leafs draft. The Leafs drafted two players who are currently important members of the Leafs; Matt Frattin (4th round 99th overall) and Carl Gunnarsson (7th round 194th overall).

2008-2009 season:
The Leafs used the 5th overall pick in the 2008-2009 draft by selecting defenceman Luke Schenn who jumped directly into the Leafs lineup and had a productive season. Prior to the season, the Leafs also lost fan favourite Darcy Tucker and Raycroft as they were bought out. Leafs management also brought back former goaltender Curtis Joseph to serve as their backup goaltender.

The Leafs were also able to sign defenceman Jeff Finger and Niklas Hagman prior to training camp and continued to alter their roster by acquiring tough guy Jamal Mayers and forward Mikhail Grabovski.

With the young Maple Leafs out of the playoff race early in the season, new GM Brian Burke began to leave his mark on the Maple Leafs team by shipping out long time Leafs Alexander Steen, Carlo Colaiacovo and Nik Antropov throughout the season in order to acquire prospects and picks to clear cap space moving forward. Burke signed college free-agent Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson to contracts late in the season.

The Leafs would go on to sport a 34-35-13 record which had them finish 12th in the Eastern Conference for the second season in a row.

2009-2010 season:
Burke began to change the makeup of the Leafs at the NHL draft by selecting Nazem Kadri with his 1st round pick, 7th overall. Burke wanted to add “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” to his roster, and looked to free agency by signing Mike Komisarek, Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill, and Francois Beauchemin. Burke also signed Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson who many thought of as the best goaltender not playing in the NHL at the time. Gustavsson was coming to the team to backup Toskala as Curtis Joseph retired in the off-season.

The teams biggest move was trading two first round and a second round draft pick to the Boston Bruins for forward Phil Kessel. This was a big risk for Burke, as Kessel was viewed as a one-dimensional player who would score a lot of goals but was very limited in the rest of his game.

Burke would continue to revamp his roster throughout the year including moving Juri Tlusty to the Hurricanes. He also traded 4 players; Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Niklas Hagman and Ian White to the Calgary Flames for Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie. While Sjostrom and Aulie are no longer with the Leafs, Phaneuf has gone on to become the Leafs captain and best defenceman.

Burke was also able to trade Blake & Toskala despite their bad contracts to the Anaheim Ducks for goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. With all of these moves, Leafs Nation seemed to be optimistic heading into the future despite having  the worst record in the Eastern Conference at 30-38-14.

2010-2011 season:
In the off-season the Leafs didn’t make a ton of significant moves to their roster despite the retirement of Mike Van Ryn. Burke began to boost the depth of the organization by signing younger free agents in the off-season including; goaltenders Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas, and players; Marcel Mueller, Matt Lashoff Joey Crabb, Mike Zigomanis, and Clarke MacArthur. Burke also acquired gritty forward Colby Armstrong and traded three prospects to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Kris Versteeg.  Wilson and Burke decided to name Phaneuf as the 18th captain in Leafs history.

The team was heading in the direction winning their first four games of the season. However, the Leafs lost Colby Armstrong and starting goaltender J.S. Giguere to injures which lead to the team falling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. With backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson struggling in his second season with the Maple Leafs, the Leafs called up Reimer. Reimer played well in goal, playing 37 games with a record of 20-10-5 with a 2.60 GAA and a .921 save percentage, earning a NHL Rookie of the Month award for March.

Lead by Reimer, the Leafs had a late season push towards the playoffs, going 8-2-4 in February and 9-5-1 in March, before a poor April where they only won one of four games, leaving the Leafs three points out of the playoffs.

Knowing his current roster needed to be improved Burke traded Beauchemin back to the Ducks for Jake Gardiner and Joffrey Lupul who is a major facet of the organization today.

The Leafs climbed out of the basement of the Eastern Conference competing for a playoff spot late in the season finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 37-34-11 record.

2011-2012 season:
The Leafs selected right-winger Tyler Biggs (22nd overall) and defenceman Stuart Percy (25th overall) late in the first round of the 2011-2012 draft.

Burke traded defenceman Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney to Nashville for Matthew Lombardi and defenseman Cody Franson. Burke would also trade a second round draft pick to the Colorado Avalanche for offensive defenceman John-Michael Liles.

The Leafs went  4-1-1 through their first 6 games. However, in an overtime loss against the Montreal Canadiens in their fourth game of the season, the Leafs lost Reimer to a concussion when Canadiens Brian Gionta ran over Reimer.

The Leafs had several problems with their team as they headed into December including Connolly once again being injured, leaving forwards Kessel and Lupul without a center. Bozak was moved back up to the first line and the Leafs relied too heavy on the Lupul-Bozak-Kessel line failing to get continued production out of the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin line.

Reimer returned in December but struggled and played poor in net making Gustavsson the number one goaltender. However, both goaltenders and the team began to play poor in February which lasted throughout the remainder of the season.  The Leafs went 4-9-1 in February, 5-8-2 in March and 1-1-3 in April effectively removing themselves from the playoff race.  They finished 13th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 35-37-10.

With the Maple Leafs sliding in the standings in late March, Burke fired Head Coach Ron Wilson. Wilson was replaced by former Ducks Head Coach Randy Carlyle who had worked with Burke when Burke was the Ducks GM. Many believed that Carlyle’s structured style of physical hockey, attention to detail and special teams systems would re-vamp the team.

The last move that Burke made before the trade deadline was trading Dale Mitchell to the Ducks for Mark Fraser. This move never received any notice at the time but looking back now was a steal for Burke and the Leafs. Fraser has played extremely well for the Leafs this season alongside Cody Franson and has certainly become a great addition to the team.

2012-13 Season:
Prior to the NHL lockout, Burke traded Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers in order to acquire James van Riemsdyk which gave the Leafs another top six forward.

Burke’s only important signing in the off-season was forward Jay McClement. Burke was hoping to add a forward who is responsible defensively and can play on the penalty kill. This signing has paid dividends for the Leafs as McClement has been one of their most reliable forwards the entire season.

After the conclusion of the lockout, management fired Brian Burke from the General Manager and President position and promoted assistant General Manager Dave Nonis to the GM position. Nonis has made a number of smaller moves which has greatly helped the hockey club. He demoted Connolly and Komisarek to the AHL, clearing up cap and roster space. Nonis picked up fighter Frazer McLaren off of waivers from the San Jose Sharks, and shipped out Lombardi, Mike Brown and Steckel throughout the season. At the NHL trade deadline, Nonis was able to acquire depth defenceman Ryan O’Byrne for a 4th round draft pick.

The Leafs have finally qualified for a post-season position, largely because Carlyle has been able to get the most out of his team. Based largely on the structured physical brand of hockey that the team has played Carlyle has forced the Leafs to become one of the toughest teams in the NHL.

The Leafs have received huge performances this season out of several players. Kessel is in the top ten of the NHL scoring race, Kadri has performed extremely well in his first full season with the Leafs and when healthy Lupul has been an emotional leader for the Leafs scoring big goals and being extremely physical every shift.  Phaneuf is in the top ten of the defence scoring race, while playing his best defensive hockey of his career. McClement has been great for the Leafs as he is an affective checker and is one of the reasons why the Leafs penalty kill has risen from the bottom of the league in past seasons to third best in the league this season. The combination of Fraser and Franson has been a great shutdown pair of defenceman for the Leafs. Komarov has become a fan favourite in Toronto as he is a hitting machine and the Reimer-Scrivens combo have been outstanding in goal this season. Reimer has solidified himself as the Leafs number one goaltender for years to come with his stellar play this season, as he has single-handedly won games for the Leafs down the stretch.

All of these players and their contributions, along with the stellar coaching of Carlyle have led to the Leafs first post season berth since 2003-2004. In the first round the Leafs will be matched up against the Boston Bruins.  Enjoy it Leafs Nation, as this is a time to rejoice and enjoy watching Toronto’s team attempt to win the Stanley Cup!

By: Danny Amodeo – Hockey Writer

Photo Credit: Toronto Maple Leafs

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