Offseason additions add to optimism in Toronto
Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis was content with his labors when he met reporters in an offseason July press conference.
Just 53 days earlier, his team blew a three-goal lead in the third period of a Game 7 of vs. Boston. Instead of basking in the glow of Toronto's first playoff appearance since 2003-04, Nonis had to ponder what went wrong in that first-round exit, and what needed to be done to make sure it didn't happen again.
So, he traded for Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Bernier and Chicago Blackhawks center Dave Bolland, and signed New Jersey Devils right wing David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million, free-agent contract.
Suddenly, a good Maple Leafs team that had a bad ending, was a better team with renewed vigor.
''I've done what I can do,'' Nonis said. ''We're pretty happy. I think we'll be pretty competitive. I can tell you (coach Randy Carlyle) is happy with the options we have in a lot of areas.''
Toronto opens vs. Montreal on Oct. 1.
Clearly, Nonis believes his team has been fortified. But in an Atlantic Division that includes Boston, Detroit, Ottawa and Montreal - all of which made the postseason last year - have the Maple Leafs improved enough?
Here are five things that bear watching:
DYNAMIC DUO: James Reimer had a solid year last season (19-8-5, 2.46 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage). Still, on June 23, Nonis and Kings general manager Dean Lombardi agreed on the blockbuster trade, with Bernier being sent to Toronto for left wing Matt Frattin, reserve goaltender Ben Scrivens and a draft pick. Twelve days after the trade, Bernier agreed to a two-year contract worth $5.8 million, despite only having played 62 NHL games. He was impressive - 29-20-6, 2.36, .912 - as Jonathan Quick's backup with the Kings, and with Reimer scheduled to be a restricted free agent following this season, Bernier's long-term future might be right here.
CONTROLLING THE CAP: Right wing Phil Kessel and defenseman Dion Phaneuf are Toronto's anchors, and both will be unrestricted free agents after this season. Should they reach the open marketplace, they will attract big dollars. All that said, the Maple Leafs have been building toward that end. In fact, with some cuts and creativity, Toronto will have $30 million in salary cap room next summer.
SECOND ACT: When Nazem Kadri met with reporters after agreeing to a two-year deal worth $5.8 million on Sept. 11, he was content and eager to move forward. ''At the end of the day, this was the only place that I wanted to play,'' he said. The Maple Leafs are glad to have him back. Kadri totaled 18 goals, 44 points and was plus-15 in his first full season. And he will be expected to improve on those numbers while centering a second line with Clarkson and left wing James van Riemsdyk.
TOUGH TORONTO: When Brian Burke was introduced as general manager of the Maple Leafs in 2008, he vowed that his teams would ''play a North American game. We're throwbacks. It's black-and-blue hockey. It's going to be more physical hockey here than people are used to.'' Burke is in Calgary now, but his words live on. Last season, the Maple Leafs led the NHL with 44 fighting majors. And the additions of Clarkson and Bolland should provide Toronto with even more grit.
JOLTIN' JAMES: Van Riemsdyk enters his sophomore season with Toronto after a debut campaign that was impressive. Traded from Philadelphia - and raised in Middletown, N.J., as a New York Rangers fan - he has never been a stranger to loyal fan bases and proud traditions. As such, he fit right in with Toronto, and finished with 18 goals and 32 points.