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Can the Maple Leafs Draw Hope From the Ottawa Senators?

The Ottawa Senators ended the 2010-11 season in 13th place in the Eastern Conference and 26th place overall in the NHL and looked to be on track for a painful rebuild.  As they entered this past season they were picked by many analysts to be battling for the first overall pick, not the playoffs.  Well Brian Murray, Eugene Melnyk and the rest of the Senators organization proved everyone wrong by making the playoffs and they were one win away from eliminating the first place NY Rangers in their first round playoff series.

Now that the Toronto Marlies are one win away from the Western Conference Finals in the Calder Cup playoffs, many people are beginning to draw comparisons between last season’s Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs.  But is this a fair comparison?

The main criteria people are using to compare the two organizations is the success of their American Hockey League teams.  The 2011 Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup championship after missing the playoffs for the previous five AHL seasons.  Colin Greening, Kaspars Daugavins, Erik Condra, Bobby Butler, Zack Smith and Jared Cowen were all part of the Binghamton squad that won the Calder Cup in 2011 and each of these players played significant roles with the Senators this past season.

The Marlies are still in the middle of their Calder Cup run but after finishing 3rd overall in the regular season and with the addition of players like Jake Gardiner and Matt Frattin the team is expected to compete for the Championship.  Thus far things have gone as planned as they swept their first round series and they are one win away from a spot in the conference finals.  Looking at the Marlies playoff roster there are at least three players that are locks to be on next year’s Maple Leaf roster: Jake Gardiner, Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri.  There are a few more players who should push for jobs as well including: Korbinian Holzer, Jerry Damigo, Nicolas Deschamps, Jay Rosehill and goaltender Ben Scrivens.

The one clear difference between the Senators of this past season and the Maple Leafs heading into next year is the fact that Brian Murray cleared the deck at the 2011 trade deadline to give his young players an opportunity to make the big club.  Murray shipped out five veteran roster players including key pieces Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher to acquire draft picks and to get younger.  The Maple Leafs on the other hand, stayed the course this past trade deadline to try and make the playoffs.  Saying that, the Maple Leafs don’t have many roster spaces available without making some deals this off-season or sending high priced veterans to the minors (the ability of which may be eliminated depending on CBA negotiations this summer).

American Hockey League success does not guarantee success in the NHL but it definitely does not hurt.  For one, it gives the opportunity to young players in the organization to get playoff experience which they have not been getting at the NHL level.  The Marlies are also not your typical AHL team employing high priced veterans to try and win a championship.  Save Mike Zigomanis, the Marlies core is made up of players that could figure into the Maple Leafs future.  That being said, I do not think we should read too much into a successful Marlies playoff run.  But with the parity in the NHL right now there is no reason why the Maple Leafs can’t have an improvement in the standings like the Senators this past season and make the playoffs in 2012-13.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Toronto Maple Leafs, | KK Members Blog | Permalink
  Tags: prospects, toronto+marlies

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