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Things Are Different This Season

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Not to go all maudlin on a Monday morning but Jack Kevorkian, Dr. Death to his friends, died this year.

You may have read about Moammar Gadhafi, Osama Bin Laden, Randy "Macho Man" Savage and timeless celebrities Elizabeth Taylor, Jack LeLanne and Clarence Clemmons who like all of us, proved not to be timeless at all.

Things change in a year.

On a cheerier note, take the NHL in general and the Maple Leafs, who play in Philly tonight, in particular.

At 5-1-1, the Leafs sit sixth overall. That would be for the whole league. Try not to giggle.
Things will change. Things already have.

Of course it’s ridiculously early. All this will be different in a week and profoundly different by season’s end.

But right now, Phil Kessel leads the league in scoring. Guess how many of last year’s top 10 point earners are in the NHL’s top 10 right now. One, Daniel Sedin. That’s right, Kessel, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, John Tavares, Thomas Vanek, Anze Kopitar, Nicklas Backstrom and James Neal are all new to the party.

Things change in a year.

Only one of the league’s current top goalscorers, Sedin again, finished in the top 10 last year.

The Leafs have 11 points after seven games. Last year they have nine.

Ah, you say, some things don’t change.

But anyone who thinks this year’s Leafs smells like last year’s club isn’t paying attention.

James Reimer was settling in with the Marlies at this time last year. Joffrey Lupul was recovering from near cataclysmic back problems in Anaheim. John-Michael Liles played for Colorado. David Steckel was winning faceoffs in Washington. Jake Gardiner was studying algebra as a junior at Wisconsin and Matt Lombardi was in the earliest stages of a year-long concussion ordeal.

Now look at the stats.

2010-11 After Seven Games 2011-12 After Seven Games
Phil Kessel 3 goals, 8 points, +1 8 goals, 14 points, +6
Dion Phaneuf 1 goal, 3 points, +1 2 goals, nine points, +6
Joffrey Lupul Injured 4 goals, 8 points, +5
John-Michael Liles 0 goals, 9 points, +5 0 goals, 5 points, -2
Luke Schenn 1 goal, 2 points, -5 0 goals, 3 points, +1
Mike Brown 0 goals, 3 points, -3 0 goals, 2 points, +2
Carl Gunnarsson 0 goals, 3 points, -3 0 goals, 2 points, +2

You get the idea. It’s true Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin are barely treading water. The most noticeable downturn is poor Clarke MacArthur who had six points at this time last year and just one now.  A two-game suspension and the after effects of two weeks off are enough to induce a little slack.

The Leafs finished 28th on the power play and 23rd in the penalty kill last season. They have improved eight spots with the man advantage, and bumped their penalty killing by five positions.

The point is, the record might look similar, but this is a profoundly different team than last year’s.

And that’s good news for Leaf fans who fear last year’s season is a blueprint for this one.
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