Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 08/18/14 at 02:51 AM ET
Today, NHL.com's "30 in 30" series profiles the Toronto Maple Leafs, and NHLcom discusses "advanced stats" angle as it applies to the Leafs' roster (see: Kyle Dubas' hiring as the Leafs' assistant GM), Jake Gardiner's contract extension, the Leafs' top prospects and the team's front office and roster turnover--as well as the goaltending issue--but there are other questions which remain very pertinent that don't involve Babcock-to-TO rumors or jitters about Phil Kessel's lack of social graces, as noted by NHL.com's Sean Farrell in "five questions" form:
3. What role will forward David Clarkson play? -- A rebound or not from a disappointing debut season in Toronto will tell the tale.
With the depth that the Maple Leafs have added up front, it may prove difficult for Clarkson to find playing time in the top six. That said, if Clarkson brings the kind of two-way game he is capable of, he would be a formidable third-line presence.
Clarkson was spotted training with Sid-the-no-longer-Kid, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo under the guidance of Darryl Belfry last week, in the sunny locale of Esthero, FL...
4. Can the Maple Leafs close the gap between shots on goal and shots on goal allowed? -- The Maple Leafs averaged 27.9 shots on goal per game in 2013-14, a differential of minus-8 per game. Even a slight improvement in puck possession will narrow this gap, a significant hole in Toronto's game last season.
5. Are the Maple Leafs a playoff team? -- They were two seasons ago, and only a late-season swoon prevented them from being there last season.
The elements appear to be in a place with solid offensive production expected from the top two lines; a mobile, young defense; and two goaltenders capable of winning games, but the competition in the Atlantic Division is likely to be fierce.
Therein lies the rub. The Bruins and Canadiens haven't gotten worse, the Lightning and Panthers were predictably aggressive during the offseason, the Red Wings have no plans to relinquish their playoff streak and the Sabres insist that they "aren't that far off."
Anything can happen once the puck's dropped and the media, bloggers and fans have to stop summertime talk and simply watch what stories the players author on the ice, but "right now," the Leafs don't exactly scare the pants out of anybody.
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