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There Are Plenty Of Reasons For Hope

Tuesday, 16.03.2010 / 12:01 PM / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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There Are Plenty Of Reasons For Hope

   
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Here are two numbers that should give hope to any Leafs fan.

They are 2.84 and 3.61.

The first is the goals per game surrendered by the Leafs in the 13 games since the acquisition of goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere and hard rock defenceman Dion Phaneuf. You might have guessed the second: the number of goals surrendered by Leaf goalies Jonas Gustavsson and Vesa Toskala in the 13 games that preceded the deal.

There are few things sillier than extrapolating a bogus number over a long gestation period. It’s like saying if baby Huey continues his initial rate of growth, he will be 3.5 tones by its 18th birthday. Likewise, just because someone has a good first month of the season, he is not really on pace to score 50 goals.

But there are some projections that can withstand a little scrutiny and while the sample is small, the conclusion is arresting.

Say the Leafs were able to carry that 2.84 average over a season.

It doesn’t seem out of the question. Mike Komisarek returns to a defence anchored by Dion Phaneuf. Behind Giguere, who has played well, Gustavsson should tackle the campaign with a season under his belt and his heart issues in the rear view mirror. Carl Gunnarsson has been an upgrade for a defensive corps that is the strongest element of the team.

What we are talking about with Luke Schenn going into his third full season and Gunnarsson going into his second isn’t improvement, only parity with what has happened since the trade.

And where would that land the Leafs?

The answer is…probably in the playoffs.

Based on this year’s standings, a 2.84 goals against average would leave the club tied for 21st place in goals against.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have an identical goals against average but unless the Leafs add comparable firepower, you can’t compare the two.

Instead, consider the Nashville Predators who have fashioned a 2.83 aggregate and sit in seventh in the Western Conference.

The Preds have scored 193 goals, 10 more than the Leafs. What isn’t comparable is the points total. The seventh-place Predators have 81 points, 23 more than Toronto.

The Leafs have substantial holes up front. There is no absolute guarantee that Giguere’s game won’t backslide, that Gustavsson won’t hit a rut or that a sizable chunk of the blueline bunch won’t fall to injuries. The top six, Francois Beauchemin, Luke Schenn, Tomas Kaberle, Phaneuf, Komisarek and Gunnarsson are fine. Jeff Finger is around to provide depth but Kaberle’s no-trade contract expires at the draft and he could be moved for a forward.

Still, the hyper-speed acceleration of Nikolai Kulemin’s two-way play and the presence of the defensively-able Tyler Bozak are benefits the club figures to enjoy next year.

Nor will it hurt that uber goaltending coach Francois Allaire will have the summer and pre-season to add more building blocks to Gustavsson’s game and tinker with Giguere’s mechanics.

So even with Leaf fans anxiously watching as Burke trolls for forwards, they should be able to look forward to next season with the knowledge that scoring only two goals won’t necessarily end in a Leafs’ defeat.
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