5 Toronto Maple Leafs To Watch During Training Camp
State Of The Toronto Maple Leafs Heading Into Training Camp
They are the most valuable hockey franchise in the world, and have sold out every home game since 1946. But despite these facts that the Toronto Maple Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup since 1967, a stretch so long that 17 other franchises have won the Stanley Cup since then. But yet there may be some room for optimism in Toronto about the 2013-14 NHL season.
Coming into the 2013 season there is genuine optimism that the Maple Leafs will make the playoffs and possibly make a deep run. After all, they made the playoffs last season as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and only lost their first round series to the Boston Bruins because of one of the best comebacks in the history of sports. This great season was made possible because of a very talented core group of players headed by Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk that has the potential to make Leafs fans forget about their years of misery.
In order to set about becoming a successful hockey team and perennial contender the Maple Leafs must first answer some serious questions about their team. These question marks include debates over who will be the starting goaltender of the future, whether the team wants to change its leadership situation after this season, and whether or not their young players will develop enough for the team to stay out of the free agent and trade markets.
The first place that the Maple Leafs will be able to answer these questions is at training camp and this will go a long way to gauging how realistic it is to believe that the 2013 season will be a great one.
This is a list of the five Maple Leafs to keep an eye on during training camp with the question marks in mind surrounding the Maple Leafs listed above.
5. Morgan Rielly
A first round pick in 2012, Morgan Rielly possesses a great deal of skating ability and passing ability from the back end of the ice. Rielly spent last season developing in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors, and at the age of 19, is still eligible to play at the major junior level. Many people in Toronto will want to hear nothing of Rielly going back to the Warriors though as he just got done turning heads in a pre-season rookie tournament. Expect Rielly to become one of the biggest stories of training camp for Toronto as a tug of war begins over whether or not it is best for him to play in the NHL at this point in his career.
4. Dion Phaneuf
In most cities a nine-year veteran that plays on the defensive pairing and serves as the captain of your beloved team would be offered a contract extension well before he enters the final year of his contract, but apparently not in Toronto. Their captain Dion Phaneuf is entering his tenth season in the NHL and has served as the team's captain during the last three seasons, but enters the last year of his six year, $39 million contract as a lame duck. Without a productive season that ends in a playoff run it is likely that Phaneuf will be offered nowhere close to to the monetary level he values himself at and will go elsewhere. Training camp would be a good time to go out and prove himself, or he may risk moving on before the end of his contract.
3. James Reimer
After a 2013 regular season when James Reimer posted a 19-8-5 record, .924 save percentage and 2.46 goals against average, it appeared that he would be the goaltender of the future. Apparently the Leafs management did not agree with public opinion when they acquired Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings during the summer to challenge for the starting goalie gig. How Reimer responds to this challenge during training camp could dictate the future of both his career in Toronto and in the NHL.
2. Jonathan Bernier
For a guy that has only appeared in 62 career NHL games there is a lot of hype surrounding the arrival of Jonathan Bernier in Toronto. Granted, Bernier has been effective during these 62 games as a backup, but is he good enough to trade for when you already have James Reimer starting? That is a question that could be debated endlessly for days without a definitive answer. One thing that everyone can agree with though, is that Bernier will have a lot of pressure on him during training camp to provide justification for his acquisition.
1. David Clarkson
The pressure is on David Clarkson after signing a 7-year, $36.75 million contract this offseason. Sure he is a native son of Toronto, and the nostalgia that goes with signing a local boy is nice to think about, but when push comes to shove, production is what breeds the love of fans. Fans will be enamored with Clarkson's rugged style of play, but will surely be expecting a little scoring to go with physicality for a player that is making over $5 million per year. Given the fact that he has never averaged more than .575 points per game and has not instantly become a top end scorer at the age of 29, that could be a recipe for disaster. It will be interesting to see if Leafs fans are satisfied with Clarkson once they actually see him hit the ice during training camp.