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January 9, 2013 | 7:13pm ET
Season Preview: Toronto
By Shawn Hutcheon, TheFourthPeriod.com

The Toronto Maple Leafs began 2011-12 with promise, but earned just two more points (80) than Montreal with a 35-37-10 record. The Leafs finished fourth in the Northeast Division and out of the playoff picture. Then-GM Brian Burke heard the criticism during the off-season and sent the rights to goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to the Winnipeg Jets for a conditional seventh round pick in 2013. He also moved defenseman Luke Schenn to Philadelphia for forward James Van Riemsdyk. Toronto fans were clamouring for a deal that would bring an elite goaltender to Air Canada Center and while a trade for Vancouver Canucks star Roberto Luongo remains possible, it won't be Burke the one pulling the trigger after being replaced by Dave Nonis on Jan. 9.

At the 2012 Entry Draft, the Maple Leafs held the fifth overall pick in the first round and chose Morgan Rielly from the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League.

Forwards

The Leafs forward corps is young, speedy and skilled. It can score goals in bunches, as Toronto finished sixth in the conference in goals-for. Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur each scored 20 or more goals, while Tyler Bozak finished the season with 18 lamplighters. van Riemsdyk will fit in well with this group that will only improve as the season moves along.

Defense

The defense is anchored by team captain Dion Phaneuf who brings a gritty, physical presence to the Leafs blueline. He can contribute offensively, as well. Last season, the big defender scored 12 goals and assisted on 32 others for a total of 44 points, which saw him end the year as the fifth-leading scorer on the club. He leads a big, mobile group that includes veterans John-Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek, along with young players such as Carl Gunnarsson and Jake Gardiner. The blueliners can be intimidating in all areas of the ice and have improved each season.

Goalies

The big question mark for coach Randy Carlyle's club has been, and continues to be, goaltending. The Leafs have only one NHL-caliber netminder on its roster in James Reimer. He has appeared in 71 games during the last two seasons and has a record of 34-24-0-9. He has amassed a save percentage of .911 and a 2.83 goals against average. Not everyone in the organization is convinced Reimer is a No. 1 puck stopper, which has brought about endless rumors of a trade for Luongo.

Projected Outcome

Overall, the Leafs should be an improved team in 2013. It all hinges on who will carry the bulk of the game action in the crease. Barring a deal for a goaltender, Reimer will be the key to the Leafs playoff hopes with help from Kessel and Phaneuf. Toronto has proven it can score goals, but can it keep pucks out of its own net? The answer could mean a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs this May, but it is more likely the Leafs will hold onto their fourth place finish from last season.

3 Players to Watch
 
Joffrey Lupul
The Leafs need another All-Star performance from Lupul if they want to compete for a playoff spot this shortened-season. Lupul's in a contract year, so there might be that added incentive to perform beyond expectations, and the Leafs could use that. They'd like to get him signed to an extension, but time will tell when/if that gets ironed out.
Jake Gardiner
The future of Toronto's defense, Morgan Reilly notwithstanding, will be counted on significantly this season for the Leafs. Gardiner's spent time in the AHL this season, and that'll be fairly significant for the Leafs, as they look to get off to a quick start this year, and having Gardiner contribute at both ends of the ice will be important.
James van Riemsdyk
Toronto's big off-season acquisition should fit in nicely with the rest of the club. Whether or not he plays center, and plays it well, remains to be seen, but the Leafs know what he's capable of.

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