- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Forgive Toronto Maple Leafs fans if they are thinking championship after hiring three-time Stanley Cup champion and Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan as team president.

But hope is a necessary panacea for a fan base that hasn’t celebrated a Stanley Cup championship since 1967, and watched the Maple Leafs miss the playoffs in a drama-filled 2013-14 season, finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference and sixth in the Atlantic Division.

And Shanahan sold hope in his introductory press conference April 14.

“I do like a lot about this group,” Shanahan said. “From an outsider looking in, there are some pieces that a lot of teams would covet. There are some great aspects to this team.

“I recognize what it could potentially be like (to win the Stanley Cup) in Toronto. This is the time for me to start learning about the organization from top-to-bottom. It’s time for me to listen, to learn and to get to work.”

With the Leafs set to open the season at home against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 8, here are some things to keep in mind:

ANALYTICAL ERA: One of the trends that gained popularity within NHL circles in recent years has been the growth of analytics. Following a 2013-14 season in which they were among the league’s weaker puck possession teams, the Maple Leafs became the latest NHL team to implement analytics into its analysis. Toronto hired Kyle Dubas, the general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, to serve as assistant general manager. The Leafs also hired Cam Charron, Darryl Metcalf and Rob Pettapiece to serve as analysts in the hockey research and development department.

“Analytics is a big part of (Dubas’) skillset,” general manager Dave Nonis told a radio station. “Kyle (is) a hockey guy who understands the analytical side of it.”

DEFENSIVELY DEFICIENT: Another weakness for the Leafs last season was their play in the defensive end. Toronto ranked 26th and 28th, respectively, in goals against average (3.07) and penalty kill success rate (78.4 percent).

So in an attempt to fix what was broken, Randy Carlyle and his coaching staff spent time during training camp and the preseason implementing a modified defensive system, in which opposing point men will be pressured.

“They’ll get it,” Carlyle said. “As a coaching staff, you pick your poison on the things that you’re going to shove at the players and I guarantee every coach is shoving defensive zone coverage.”

WHO’S IN GOAL?: The acquisition of Jonathan Bernier from Los Angeles on June 23, 2013, severed as the precursor to a season-long soap opera over which goalie was and should be the Leafs’ No. 1, the former King or James Remier. Bernier had a 2.68 GAA and .923 save percentage in 55 games, while Reimer finished with a 3.29 GAA and .911 save percentage.

So Bernier is the No. 1 goalie, right?

Not so fast.

“We can’t ignore what (Bernier) did for our hockey club (last season),” Carlyle said. “Simple as that. We can’t ignore what James Reimer’s done for our hockey club (in his career). The question (is) going to be: Who’s No.1 and is he clear cut?

“Right now I’m going to say it’s 1A and 1B.”

BLOOMING GARDINER: Over the course of last season, there was a great deal of speculation regarding Jake Gardiner’s future with the Maple Leafs despite the defenseman ranking second among Toronto blueliners with 31 points. The conjecture was quieted in the offseason as Toronto and Gardiner agreed to a five-year, $20.25 million deal. “I am happy to be a Leaf for a really long time,” Gardiner told a reporter after the contract was signed. “It shows the Leafs have a lot of faith in me.”

BREAKING UP FOR THE BETTER?: Carlyle raised antennas early in training camp when he mused about the possibility of moving left wing James van Riemsdyk off of Phil Kessel’s line. The duo combined for 67 goals, 74 assists and 141 points last season. So what is the benefit in breaking them up?

“We’re going to try to create a different look in our forward group,” Carlyle told reporters. We have nine forwards that can provide us a decent amount of offense. Are we going to be able to create three balanced scoring lines?”

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