Screw the playoffs: here are five Leafs that promise Toronto a brighter hockey future

Screw the playoffs: here are five Leafs that promise Toronto a brighter hockey future

(Image: Bridget Samuels) 

With last night’s 4-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, the Toronto Maple Leafs extended their winning streak to three games and pulled even with the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes and within three points of the Buffalo Sabres, who hold the eighth postseason berth in the Eastern Conference. It’s the closest the club has been to playoff glory all year, but, ultimately, it’s too little too late. The Leafs only have seven games remaining in the regular season, including a tough tilt with the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, and both Buffalo and Carolina have two games in hand. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again—it’s not going to happen this year.

Making the playoffs is no longer the most important part of the equation. As the Leafs put together their push over the last couple months, a number of key players have elevated their play. The Leafs have started to look more like a motivated hockey team than a collection of uninterested individuals, and they’re record since the all-star break speaks for itself (a sizzling 15-8-3). It could very well be a sign of good things to come. With that in mind, we look at five Leafs that promise Toronto a brighter hockey future.

1. James Reimer
Need we say anything more about Optimus Reim? His play has been nothing short of stellar since he was called up from the minors earlier this year. He’s replaced both J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson as the Leafs’ number-one netminder and turned in a spectacular rookie campaign. Without Reimer, the Leafs wouldn’t be anywhere near flirting with the postseason. (Image: davidsteadman)

2. Phil Kessel
After a big-time scoring slump midway through the regular season, Kessel came alive (Joffrey Lupul did too, but less so). The often criticized forward has been one of the Leafs’ best players down the stretch and currently leads the team with 29 goals, one shy of hitting 30 for the third consecutive year. (Image: rubyswoon)

3. Dion Phaneuf
Phaneuf has been non-existent for long stretches since coming over from the Calgary Flames, but the captain has returned to form (kinda) since the all-star break and has turned in a number of quality performances in critical contests recently. In his last 15 games, he has five goals and eight assists, including a pair of helpers last night. (Image: Bridget Samuels)

4. Tyler Bozak
Hell, even Bozak has been looking better of late. The second-line centre appeared to be afflicted with a bad case of the sophomore jinx for most of this season, but his play has improved dramatically over the last few games. He has three goals and seven assists in the last seven tilts, vastly better than his two goals and two assists in the previous 22 games.(Image: Torpedo20)

5. Brian Burke
Burkey is the squad’s wild card. Good to his word, he was wheeling and dealing at the trade deadline, making a number of moves that magically helped the team now, while also improving the club’s future. He’s said all along that he wants to create a youth movement in Toronto and his mad genius stylings finally started to pay dividends over the course of the Leafs late playoff drive. Who knows what’s in store next with Burke at the helm. (Image: Angela MacIssac)

• Maple Leafs close in on eighth-place Sabres with 4-3 win over Avs [Toronto Star]
• Leafs keep hope alive [Globe and Mail]
Leafs win in Colorado to boost playoff bid [National Post]
• Leafs beat Avs, move closer to playoffs [Toronto Sun]