Nazem Kadri exploded onto the scene out of training camp on his way to scoring 44 PTS in 48 GP, much to the delight of Don Cherry, one of his most vocal supporters. He was a top player right from the first week, and helped the team win some important hockey games early while some of their other scorers (like Phil Kessel) struggled to get on track. Credit to Matt Frattin, who was one of their best players early in the season before getting injured (I had him as the team MVP by week 3). Joffrey Lupul was on fire when he was healthy enough to get on the ice, but injuries continue to be a concern going forward. Trading Luke Schenn for James Van Reimsdyk is looking like a great trade, with JVR being one "American college guy" Burkie was smart to acquire.
Many people said James Reimer was not reliable enough to be a legitimate starting goaltender after a disastrous 2011/12 campaign, which fuelled Roberto Luongo trade rumours right up until the late season trade deadline. Mike Gillis lost the game of chicken, leaving the Leafs with just Reimer. He played some spectacular games down the stretch, but also played some bad games. He just may be one of those "roller-coaster" goaltenders who will make fans run the gauntlet of emotions. Enjoy the highs, survive the lows.
Preseason Rank: 23
Midseason Rank: 5
Final Rank: 6
GM Grade: B-
1st Star: Phil Kessel
2nd Star: James Reimer
3rd Star: Nazem Kadri
UFAs: Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak, Colton Orr, Ryan Hamilton, Ryan O'Byrne, Tim Connolly, Mike Kostka
RFAs: Mark Fraser, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Joe Colborne, Frazer McLaren
Best Contract: James Van Riemsdyk 5 more years at $4.25M
Worst Contract: Mikhail Grabovski 4 more years at $5.5M
What I said about them in preseason: With Brian Burke getting fired, who knows what's going to happen. Dave Nonis has moved to drop Lombardi and Connolly, so it's not like he's taking a run at this season. If they are taking a shot a a rebuild, then they wouldn't want Luongo.
Hindsight: Perhaps my assertion that burying Connolly in the minors was a sign they wanted to tank the season, was a little off. He has NHL level talent, but perhaps it was addition by subtraction.
It has to be considered a good year for both Dave Nonis (and by osmosis Brian Burke), as this roster is definitely on the up swing. There are brighter days ahead for Leaf Nation, who got a taste of playoff hockey this year for the first time in a long time. They have quality prospects in the system, a core of quality young hockey players who should ensure this roster is competitive for a long time. Despite snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the most epic manner imaginable, there are many reasons for Leaf fans to be optimistic about the future (certainly more so than Canucks fans).