While goaltender Curtis Joseph spent a quiet off-season riding
horses with his three kids on his new homestead in King City,
Ontario, the Maple Leafs' front office was undergoing a frantic
reshuffling. When the dust finally cleared, president and
general manager Ken Dryden no longer had G.M. responsibility,
and associate G.M. Mike Smith and assistant G.M. Anders Hedberg
had quit in a huff. Coach Pat Quinn, who turned the team around
in his first year with Toronto last season, wound up sitting
comfortably in the general manager's chair.
Quinn may have to juggle two jobs in 1999-2000, but Joseph will
shoulder the heaviest burden. After signing as a free agent in
July 1998, he carried the Maple Leafs to the Eastern Conference
finals last season with his spectacular netminding. (It was the
first time the club had advanced beyond the opening round in
five years.) Stuck behind a poor defensive team, Joseph still
won 35 games, the second most in the league. "I don't know how
to measure his worth," Quinn says of Joseph. "He allowed a young
defense to get away with a lot of mistakes."
Quinn isn't making it any easier on Joseph this season. The coach
is confident that the Leafs can thrive on the same "aggressive
and adventuresome" brand of hockey that saw them score a
league-leading 268 goals last year. The offense had six players
with 20 or more goals, led by Sergei Berezin, who scored a
career-high 37, and captain Mats Sundin, who finished 12th in the
NHL in scoring with 83 points.
But there are some nagging problems besides the porous defense.
For one, the Leafs cannot count on making a serious playoff run
with shoddy performances again from their special teams. Despite
its high-powered offense, Toronto converted only 14.4% of its
power-play opportunities (17th in the NHL), in large part
because the unit lacked a quality quarterback; defenseman Bryan
Berard, who was acquired last season from the Islanders for
goaltender Felix Potvin, was inconsistent running the power
play. Also, the team's penalty killing ranked 24th in the
league. The Leafs were fortunate that only two players, center
Alyn McCauley and forward Igor Korolev, suffered serious injuries.
Quinn understands what the Leafs are up against. "A lot of
things fell our way last season," he says. "We're not
concentrating on a certain number of points, but we want to
improve as a team."
--Luis Fernando Llosa
COLOR PHOTO: J. LEARY/B. BENNETT STUDIOS The fast and loose Leafs are powered by Berezin.
Defenseman Alexander Karpotsev had a league-leading +39 last
season (including +1 in two games he played with the Rangers),
which was +13 more than any of his Toronto teammates.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 1 Skill and wide-open system make Leafs lethal
DEFENSE 21 Unit gives up too many odd-man rushes
GOALTENDING 2 Joseph's brilliance allows team to run and
SPECIAL TEAMS 17 Penalty killing needs to be more reliable
COACHING 9 Quinn gets a lot out of his players