NHL.com continues its preview of the 201314 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
Dave Nonis liked what he saw from his team last season as it got to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and gave the Boston Bruins a heck of a hard time. It wasn't enough to convince the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager that status quo was the way to go.
"Last season, we wanted to make sure we were making strides, that the other 29 teams look at us a little differently and that our fans feel like we're going in the right direction," Nonis told NHL.com. "It was an important step, but I would say it's just a first step. We're happy with the strides we've made, but we have a long way to go and we understand there's a lot of work ahead for us."
Nonis went to work this summer, adding and subtracting players to come up with the roster he feels gives the Maple Leafs the best chance to take the next step. As they finish up training camp and head into the 2013-14 season, the Maple Leafs still have at least these three questions to answer before anyone can determine how good they're going to be:
1. How will they adjust to David Clarkson missing the first 10 games? -- Clarkson is suspended for the first 10 games of the season for coming off the bench in a preseason game on Sept. 22 to join an altercation. It's an automatic suspension and the Maple Leafs will have to figure out a way to answer for Clarkson's absence.
He was supposed to start the season in the top six, likely on a line with Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul. He's a scoring threat as a net-front guy on the power play.
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle may have to do some experimenting in the last two preseason games to determine what he'll do to replace Clarkson over the short term.
Mason Raymond, who signed a one-year contract on Monday, is an option. Nikolai Kulemin could bump up to play in Clarkson's spot. If Carlyle doesn't want to mess with the rest of the lineup he could try Carter Ashton on the right side of Kadri and Lupul. He may choose to reshuffle the entire deck and essentially start over.
Clarkson is eligible to return Oct. 25 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
2. Who will be the No. 1 goalie? -- If left up to Carlyle, it would be a rotation between Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer before deciding on a No. 1 goalie for a playoff push. If he can do that, it would mean Bernier and Reimer would be pushing each other and winning games in the process.
"That's the way you'd like to plan things, but things don't always go as planned in pro sports," Carlyle told NHL.com.
It's unclear who has the leg up now.
Reimer is the incumbent starter who last season won 19 games and posted a 2.46 goals-against average and .924 save percentage to help the Maple Leafs snap a nine-year playoff drought.
Bernier is the new guy, but he comes to Toronto from Los Angeles with a strong pedigree. He was the Kings first-round pick (No. 11) in the 2006 NHL Draft. He won nine games with a 1.88 GAA and .922 save percentage in 14 appearances last season.
3. Is Ranger for real? -- Paul Ranger hasn't played an NHL game since Oct. 22, 2009 and he hasn't played a full season (at least 70 games) since the 2007-08 season. However, he could prove to be an absolute steal for the Maple Leafs this season with a one-year, $1 million contract.
Ranger is far removed from being a regular-shift NHL defenseman, but he was just that for the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2006-08, when he had 59 points in 144 total games. His 2008-09 season was cut short by injuries and eight games into the 2009-10 season Ranger asked for a release from the Lightning for personal reasons.
He didn't resurface in professional hockey until last season, when he played well enough with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League to earn a one-year contract from the Maple Leafs.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer