The Toronto Maple Leafs ended last season with 12 losses in their final 14 games to settle for a disappointing 12th place finish in the Eastern Conference. But given the plethora of changes on the ice and in the front office, forward Phil Kessel believes the Maple Leafs are now in a better position to make a run at the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I think we had a good team," Kessel told the Canadian Press following Sportsnet's Ball Hockey Challenge at Rexall Centre in Toronto, where he and other NHL players played ball hockey with tennis star Roger Federer. "We were there last year. We had a bad stretch. We don't have that stretch, we're right in it."
Right Wing - TOR
GOALS: 37 | ASST: 43 | PTS: 80
SOG: 305 | +/-: -5
That stretch started with an eight-game losing streak that essentially finished the Maple Leafs' playoff hopes. The team retooled in the offseason with the hiring of Brendan Shanahan as team president. Shanahan in turn hired Kyle Dubas, 28, as an assistant to general manager David Nonis. Peter Horachek and Steve Spott were hired as assistant coaches on Randy Carlyle's staff.
Toronto also added defensemen Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak and forwards David Booth, Petri Kontiola, Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli, and avoided arbitration with defenseman Cody Franson and goalie James Reimer.
"This year we made some good additions and I think we improved as a team, and we're going to be ready to go," Kessel said.
"We've got to be prepared for the long season, and we won't go through one of those [skids] again."
A four-time NHL All-Star, Kessel led the Maple Leafs in scoring last season with 37 goals and 80 points, the fifth straight full season he's had at least 30 goals.