The Opossum-Palooza

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NHL Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

Welcome to the fifth part of our thirty part series previewing the upcoming NHL season. Today, we look at the last of the five teams in the Northeast Division, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It's hard to believe, but there was a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs were a force to be reckoned with in the NHL. The Leafs' 13 Stanley Cup victories leave them second to only the Montreal Canadiens. But, much like the Canadiens, the current incarnation of the Maple Leafs have not seen much success, having last won the Cup in 1967.

Imagine, for a moment, if the New York Yankees were to go 39 years without winning the World Series, and you'll get a rough idea of the level of frustration among Leafs fans the world over. After missing the playoffs altogether for the first time in eight years, the Maple Leafs fired longtime coach Pat Quinn and replaced him with the coach of their AHL affiliate Paul Maurice.

He will be coaching a far more talented squad than the one that sank Quinn in '06. The Leafs did an excellent job of fixing the holes left by the departures of Ed Belfour and Eric Lindros and the buyout of Tie Domi, starting with the '06 draft, where they traded for Boston goaltender and former Rookie of the Year Andrew Raycroft. They followed that up with a very succesful series of free agent signings, including defencemen Hal Gill, Pavel Kubina (a large part of Tampa Bay's '04 Stanley Cup run) and, perhaps best of all, top notch defensive forward and '06 playoff hero Michael Peca.

They'll need the added defense those three guys bring, because the goaltending situation in Toronto is still somewhat tenuous at best. They are looking at a three way battle royale for the starting job between Raycroft, Turin gold medalist Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin, who had some success at the end of last year after taking over for Belfour. If he can return to the level of play that earned him the 2004 Calder Trophy, the Leafs could make a run deep into the playoffs. If, however, he continues his poor play from last season (a far more likely scenario) it could turn into a long year for the Toronto faithful.

Either way, make sure to check out budBlog for all your Maple Leafs blogging needs.

The O-P Hockey League has four members. Act quickly, as there are only eight slots left.

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