Toronto Maple Leafs: 2014-15 NHL season preview
Numbers-savvier front office offers hope
Last season's record: 38-36-8 (84 points), 6th out of 8 in Atlantic Division, missed playoffs.
Last season's story: Toronto found itself at the unhappy intersection of old- and new-school hockey analysis after the quants said their hot start was unsustainable given their horrid possession rate. The Corsi Hockey League isn't a real thing, but the puck is, and the Leafs had it less than pretty much anyone. To the Eye Test guys' chagrin, a 10-4-0 October proved to be a mirage, and the Leafs lost 12 of their last 14 to miss the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years. Right near the end, NHL discipline sheriff Brendan Shanahan was brought in as president. He elected to keep GM Dave Nonis and coach Randy Carlyle (for now) but gutted the rest of the staff and hired numbers-savvy Kyle Dubas, 28, as an assistant GM who will reportedly oversee the newly created analytics department.
Best-case scenario: The numbers guys can't erase the worst digits (6 years, $31.5 million US left on David Clarkson's contract) but they're able to cap the spending on misvalued players while identifying some bargain moves. Goalie Jonathan Bernier stays healthy; captain Dion Phaneuf plays like a $7-million-a-year defenceman; sniper Phil Kessel scores 40 goals for the first time; flashy young forwards James van Riemsdyk (still only 25 somehow) and Nazem Kadri (23) deliver two-way efforts; and Toronto fans don't have to cling to the Raptors again come springtime.
Worst-case scenario: There's too much baggage for Carlyle to overcome and he's fired as the Leafs get off to a slow start. Nonis clashes with the younger front-office hires, and the infighting prevents anyone from doing an effective job. Bernier gets hurt again, and backup James Reimer (yeah, still here) can't pick up the slack while Kessel suffers through a prolonged scoring slump. The Leafs miss the playoffs again, and Shanahan lets Nonis go as fans howl that the president wasted a year with his half-measure moves in the summer of '14