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Goalie Competition Tops Maple Leafs' Five Questions

by Sean Farrell / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs figure to again be battling for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs until the end of the regular season. New president Brendan Shanahan retained general manager Dave Nonis and coach Randy Carlyle, but put his stamp on the franchise by imposing new assistant coaches on Carlyle and an untried wunderkind on Nonis, 28-year-old assistant general manager Kyle Dubas.

Here are five questions the Maple Leafs face as they embark on their quest to return to the playoffs for the second time in 11 years:

1. Who will be the Maple Leafs' No. 1 goalie? -- Odds are it will be Jonathan Bernier, though don't count out James Reimer yet.

It would have seemed Bernier was a lock for that job at the end of last season. He went 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage (eighth in the NHL).

But the Maple Leafs signed Reimer to a two-year, $4.6-million contract and he said he has been promised a fair shot at the starter's job.

That is not out of the realm of possibility if Reimer were to regain the form that saw him help Toronto to its first postseason appearance in nine years in 2012-13.

Nonis acknowledged he did consider trading Reimer, who went 12-16-1 with a 3.29 GAA and .911 save percentage last season.

"He never said: 'Get me out of here,'" Nonis told the Toronto Star. "What he did ask was for us to explore opportunities that would make sense for both sides. We did. I went back to him and said, 'I don't have something that I would feel comfortable doing and we prefer to sign you.' We both felt him coming back was good for us and for him. He wouldn't have signed a two-year deal if he didn't feel comfortable coming back to Toronto."

2. What immediate impact will Dubas have on the Maple Leafs? -- The NHL neophyte brings a statistical analysis approach to Toronto's executive group.

It's fair to surmise Dubas had a significant influence on the decision to sign 24-year-old defenseman Jake Gardiner to a long-term contract. Look for other fresh approaches to follow in personnel decisions going forward.

3. What role will forward David Clarkson play? -- A rebound or not from a disappointing debut season in Toronto will tell the tale.

With the depth that the Maple Leafs have added up front, it may prove difficult for Clarkson to find playing time in the top six. That said, if Clarkson brings the kind of two-way game he is capable of, he would be a formidable third-line presence.

4. Can the Maple Leafs close the gap between shots on goal and shots on goal allowed? -- The Maple Leafs averaged 27.9 shots on goal per game in 2013-14, a differential of minus-8 per game. Even a slight improvement in puck possession will narrow this gap, a significant hole in Toronto's game last season.

5. Are the Maple Leafs a playoff team? -- They were two seasons ago, and only a late-season swoon prevented them from being there last season.

The elements appear to be in a place with solid offensive production expected from the top two lines; a mobile, young defense; and two goaltenders capable of winning games, but the competition in the Atlantic Division is likely to be fierce.

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Author: Sean Farrell | Correspondent

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