Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sporting News does not think the Leafs are good enough to make the playoffs

The Sporting News has ranked the non-playoff teams from last season in order of which teams might make it this year. Our Maple Leafs - rated as doubtful. Here is the list:

1. Minnesota Wild: Last season: 40-33-9 (89 points). Key addition: Martin Havlat. Playoff prospects: Solid. The Wild nearly made it last season without Marian Gaborik, thanks to a great year from goalie Niklas Backstrom. An infusion of energy and offense from new coach Todd Richards should boost this franchise. Look for Brent Burns to have a big season playing for Richards.

2. Dallas Stars: Last season: 36-35-11 (83 points). Key additions: None. Playoff prospects: Good. Goalie Marty Turco will have a better season, which immediately lifts the Stars. But instability in ownership is never good and it appears the Stars are on more of a budget than they have been in the past. Getting and keeping Brenden Morrow healthy is absolutely crucial to this team.

3. Buffalo Sabres: Last season: 41-32-9 (91 points). Key additions: None. Playoff prospects: Promising. While we didn't like Buffalo's quiet offseason, there's still enough homegrown talent with the Sabres to make a playoff push. A healthy goalie Ryan Miller is a difference-maker for the Sabres.

4. Florida Panthers: Last season: 41-30-11 (93 points). Key additions: Jordan Leopold, Scott Clemmensen. Playoff prospects: Decent. The key will be replacing departed defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, which won't be easy. The goaltending duo of Clemmensen and Tomas Vokoun is the best in the Southeast Division, and coach Peter DeBoer has proven to be a great hire.

5. Nashville Predators: Last season: 40-34-8 (88 points). Key additions: None. Playoff prospects: Declining. Nobody is going to expect Nashville to contend, but there is so much homegrown talent. David Poile and Barry Trotz know how to run an organization, and Pekka Rinne was a find in goal last season. So it's never smart to bet against the Predators. A tight budget along with an impossible schedule work against Nashville.

6. Ottawa Senators: Last season: 36-35-11 (83 points). Key addition: Alex Kovalev. Playoff prospects: Murky. Until the Dany Heatley situation is settled, it's hard to predict how Ottawa will fare. But a healthy Pascal Leclaire is an upgrade in goal and this team played well for Cory Clouston down the stretch last season.

7. Edmonton Oilers: Last season: 38-35-9 (85 points). Key additions: Nikolai Khabibulin. Playoff prospects: Average. Even with the addition of Khabibulin, there hasn't been enough improvement for the Oilers to make a significant jump in the competitive Western Conference. The wild card is new coach Pat Quinn. If he can light a fire under this roster, we could see internal growth from some of the young players.

8. Atlanta Thrashers: Last season: 35-41-6 (76 points). Key additions: Pavel Kubina, Nik Antropov, Evander Kane. Playoff prospects: Better than you think. John Anderson had the Thrashers playing well down the stretch last season, and the defense is shaping up to be offensively gifted, led by Kubina, Toby Enstrom, Ron Hainsey and Zach Bogosian. If Ilya Kovalchuk signs a contract extension, it's an indication he believes the team is headed in the right direction. If he doesn't, it could become a distraction.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs: Last season: 34-35-13 (81 points). Key additions: Mike Komisarek, Wayne Primeau, Francois Beauchemin. Playoff prospects: Doubtful. Brian Burke deserves credit for adding a lot of grit to a roster that had little, but there's still not enough scoring. Toronto is on the right track but probably a year away.

10. Tampa Bay Lightning: Last season: 24-40-18 (66 points). Key additions: Mattias Ohlund, Antero Niittymaki, Victor Hedman. Playoff prospects: Not yet. There's actually a lot to like in Tampa. Hedman and Ohlund immediately address the glaring weakness on defense. GM Brian Lawton has done a commendable job fixing mistakes made by an overeager ownership last year. But to expect the Lightning to jump from 66 points to the playoffs is asking too much.