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Things I didn’t expect this past season with the Leafs and elsewhere- and a non-prediction for the playoffs

When you write a column pretty much every single day, year-around, about hockey, chances are you’ll be wrong—a lot.

With the season now over, I’m thinking back to things I’ve posted here (or simply didn’t think would happen) about the Leafs or other situations around the league where I was just flat out-wrong:

Here are some examples that come to  mind:
  • I barely knew who James Reimer was, so his emergence sure wasn’t one of my “predictions”.
  • I thought Vertseeg would be a significant contributor for the Leafs (I don't think he was as unproductive as some have suggested.  I'm still not completely sure why this wasn’t a “fit”, but he’s now been traded three times, already, so who knows why?)
  • On Komisarek, I posted, dating back to last spring, that this would be a better year for him. It started poorly, but I’m in the camp that believe he was pretty good the last few weeks of the season, albeit in limited minutes.
  • Grabovski, as I’ve long acknowledged here, completely caught me off-guard.  I thought he would be gone, or at best a third-line OK guy.  I think I missed on that one, eh?
  • I thought the Devils were dead in the water, and in the end they were.  But in the meantime, they bobbed to the surface often enough to make me at least re-think my earlier assertions that Lamoriello had finally reached a point where, maybe, he needed to move on.  (I still view the Kovalchuk trade and subsequent free-agent signing as an extravagance the franchise could not afford.  They have won zero playoff rounds with him, and that’s a lot of money to pay one, albeit very talented, guy.)
  • Along those lines, I didn’t not anticipate that Lemaire’s return to the Devils bench would make as much of a difference as it did.  They ended with a whimper last season, and he was there when they lost in the first round.  But to his credit, he did turn the team around this season.  Going forward, it may have been another band-aid for Lou, as Lemaire has "retired" yet again and Lamoriello has to find another in a long line of Devils bench bosses.
  • Credit to the Flames.  I believe Sutter made some horrible trades, and paid a price.  But the team, to its credit, played their tails off and chased a playoff spot to the end.  I figured they had no shot earlier in the season.  (Now, I’m not that confident in their future; there still has to be a re-build of some kind there, I suspect, but the players did just about everything they could, much like the Leafs.)
  • The emergence of Kari Lehtonen in Dallas is a reminder that goalies are often fragile beings in a macho sport and simply, in many cases, take time to develop.  He was supposed to be “the man” years ago in Atlanta but never stayed healthy and rarely looked like a consistent quality goaltender.  But Dallas nonehtless made a deal to get him and I thought it made little sense.  I was wrong.  The guy became a difference-maker for the Stars, though in the end, they missed the playoffs.
  • Surely, I figured, the Oilers would be an improved team with all that young star talent and a healthy goalie in Khabibulin.  They weren’t, finishing last overall again.  Too young, too many mistakes, too many injuries, but they are poised for a better future.
  • The Rangers have surprised me.  I remember writing, early this season, that the Leafs had little to fear in the Rangers.  Wrong.  They are well-coached, tough, and block shots like few teams in hockey.  They have some young talent, and a good enough defense that last year’s rookie gem, Del Zotto, ended up in the minors.  They almost missed the playoffs, but they are a gutsy team.
  • I keep thinking Detroit can’t possibly endure as an elite team.  Yet, they do.
  • I thought that Lebda, with his Detroit background, would be a top-six guy on the Leafs defense. He never really solidified that spot.
  • While I don’t recall writing much, if anything, about these teams, I don’t think I anticipated either Tampa Bay or Los Angeles being as strong as they turned out to be.  I knew both teams had some solid young players, but they took bigger steps than I thought they would.
Opinions are, what they are, of course.  We all have them.  That’s part of the fun of being a fan.  We all get to observe, analyze and present our perspective on the Leafs and the NHL.

That said, looking at the playoffs now underway, I’m not a prediction guy, as in, so and so will beat so and so in six games.  Predictions are fun but mean absolutely nothing.  It’s obviously what teams do on the ice that matters.

But, for what it’s worth, if I had to bet a nickel on what might happen in the playoffs (I love the first round of the playoffs; for me, it’s almost always the best hockey of the entire season—16 teams fighting like hell to keep their season alive, before they are injury-riddled even further and just flat-out exhausted) here’s a thought:  The Rangers could surprise a lot of people.  Depending on the match-ups, I sense the winner of the Caps/Rangers series may well emerge from the East.

Out West, Vancouver, San Jose and Anaheim have my attention.  I will particularly be waiting for Luongo to show if he is what he wants to be known as:  the best goalie in hockey, not just the highest-paid.

It's great hockey at this time of year, and a tremendous time to be a fan of the sport- even when the Leafs (sigh) are not involved.

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