by PuckStopsHere on 04/21/13 at 06:08 PM ET
Nine of the sixteen playoff spots this season have been clinched. The remainder will clinch over the next few days. I think we have found the most unlikely playoff team based upon recent history. The Toronto Maple Leafs have clinched their first playoff berth since 2004. This is the first time they will appear in the playoffs since the adoption of the salary cap. In part this happened in part because Toronto no longer was able to use their financial muscle to buy up enough free agents to keep their team barely at playoff level with little plan of how to build a stronger team. The salary cap forced them to build a legitimate contender and it is a long process.
Their process got underway properly when they hired Brian Burke. It took him the better part of four seasons to right the ship and as soon as they were ready to make the playoffs, he was fired. Burke's job wasn't over but it was on the right track and the new Leaf ownership wasn't smart enough to see it.
Dave Nonis is the new Leaf GM. He has most of his experience in Brian Burke systems in Vancouver and Toronto. Hopefully he has learned enough to follow Burke's process through fruition.
As for the Leafs this season, they are currently in fifth place in the East Conference and can fall no further than eighth place.
Toronto has improved both offensively and defensively from last season. At forward they have young players in Nazim Kadri and James Van Riemsdyk to be excited about to go along with top scorer Phil Kessel.
On defence, Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson and Carl Gunarsson lead an increasingly solid group.
Young goalies James Riemer and Ben Scrivens are both having strong years. There is reason to wonder if they have what it takes to win in the playoffs, but that is a new question in Toronto. Playoffs have been out of reach for a long time in Toronto and they will make them again this year for the first time in nine years. They have Brian Burke to thank for it more than any other man and they didn't treat him right given all he accomplished.
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