2013, Hockey, Sports

2013 Maple Leafs Season Preview

I begin this season for the first time in a few years not having to preface the title with “The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke.” It was interesting to note the number of Leafs players mourning his firing. If he did one thing in his tenure, he created a culture of loyalty.

In organizing my preview for this season, I thought I would take advantage of TSN’s depth chart, until I saw it. (It lists Connolly as a RW, for one thing.) [Link has been removed from TSN’s website.] So I will have to go with CapGeek’s, which looks significantly better, even though it is sorted by salary. I will start with a general overview and then focus on position-specifics.

Overview

The Leafs were again very bad last year – at least by the end of the year – though they saw their offense take off like it hasn’t in some time: they were 10th in the league in Goals For. Unfortunately they were still terrible on the other end, where they finished 29th – i.e. 2nd last – in Goals Against. Their overall rank (regardless of points) is assessed by Hockey Reference as 25th overall; again in the bottom 5th of the league. TSN notes that they had a decent powerplay (10th overall) but their penalty kill was, as we know, abysmal (3rd worst).

TSN makes much of how they were on pace to make the playoffs before, as they put it, “the wheels came off” but I wonder what exactly last year’s team would have done in the playoffs. And I have similar questions about this year’s squad, who seem arguably deeper at forward but somehow weaker on D and in Net. That is to say, the few changes that were made appear to address the wrong part of the team.

Position by Position

I am going to address each segment of the team, using the aforementioned depth charts as a rough guide. I am going to put people in each spot based on where they should be, but also mention why or why not they might not be there at the start of the season (and who might take their place). All salary numbers are in millions. Best seasons for skaters involve playing at least 50 games.

The First Line

LW: Joffrey Lupul, 29

  • Salary: $4.25;
  • Under Contract Until: this summer
  • Last season: 25G, 42A for 67P in 66 games, +1, 18:37 ATOI
  • Career 82-game average: 24G, 27A for 52P, -8, ATOI 16:10
  • Best season: last season

After last season, this spot is Lupul’s to lose, though until he met Phil Kessel, nobody would have mistaken Lupul for a first liner. My hope is that, whatever the Leafs do, Lupul continues his point-per-game pace, and is an easy veteran to move come trade deadline (if there is to be a trade deadline). I would like this to happen so the Leafs aren’t put in the position of deciding whether or not to re-sign an overpaid, often injured, inconsistent player this summer and make the wrong decision. (For those of you in doubt, that would be re-signing him.)

Lupul has never been more than a bet taken to relieve a minor mistake that turned out remarkably well. He is not normally a first line winger, and he will regress sooner rather than later. It’s on the Leafs to move him – or risk losing him for nothing or re-signing him and being stuck with a terrible contract – before that happens.

What I will be happy with from Lupul this season:

10-15 goals, 35 assists, a plus.

C: Tim Connoly, 31

  • Salary: $4.75;
  • Under Contract Until: this summer
  • Last season: 13G, 23A for 46P in 70 games, -14, ATOI 17:00
  • Career 82-game average: 16G, 35A for 51P, -6
  • Best season: 2009-10, 17G, 48A for 65P, +10, ATOI 18:37

Connolly had an absolutely brutal season last year, so there’s little reason to suspect he will actually be slotted into the #1 spot; however he is the closest thing the Leafs have to a genuine playmaking centre. He may be a #2 playmaking centre at best, but he’s still not Bozak.

Bozak, who will likely end up here, has yet to show he is anything beyond a #2 / #3 centre on even a weak team and Grabovski is not a good fit for Kessel. JVR playing here is a bad joke, much like bringing Kessel back into the centre position was, as was the public musings about playing Lupul at centre. Former centres who have failed to make it at centre in the NHL can’t be converted back to NHL centres on a whim.

And given this situation, Tim Connoly is the only player who makes sense in this spot. At the end of the season we can let him go. But until then, why play him on the third line where he will be useless (as he was last year)?

What I will be happy with from Connolly this season:

All depends on which line he plays on. If he plays on the top line, I want close to 10 goals and a least 30 assists (preferably 40) and hopefully he can keep things on the plus side. If he doesn’t get the minutes or the linemates, then I will have to adjust my expectations.

RW: Phil Kessel, 25

  • Salary: $5.4;
  • Under contract until: summer 2014
  • Last season: 37G, 45A for 82P in 82 games, -10, ATOI 20:03
  • Career 82-game average: 30G, 30A for 60P, -6, ATOI 17:35
  • Best season: last season

As the closest the Leafs have to a franchise player, the first line must revolve around who works best with Kessel.

Lupul is on here because he has great chemistry with Kessel.

If Connolly doesn’t work – and I mean really doesn’t, not based on some Wilsonian training camp hypothesis – then he must go.

It’s all about who gets the most out of this player for the Leafs (at least at the coaching level). These are the Phil Kessel-era Leafs and his skill set – and its accompanying faults – must be accommodated until the Leafs can upgrade to a legitimate franchise player. I for one hope that he keeps up his point-per-game pace at least so the Leafs can keep their offense going, if nothing else.

What I will be happy with from Kessel this season:

22 goals, 25-30 assists, a minus less than double digits.

The Second Line

LW: Clarke MacArthur, 27

  • Salary: $3.25; Under contract until: this summer
  • Last season: 20G, 23A for 43P in 73 games, +3, ATOI 15:51
  • Career 82-game average: 19G, 25A for 44P, -3, ATOI 14:59
  • Best season: 2010-11, 21G, 41A for 63P in 82 games, -3, 17:07

Many will argue for JVR here but I think this choice makes more sense. MacArthur has proven that, when given more minutes, he will be more productive. His two best seasons came on the Leafs and though that definitely had something to do with linemates, it no doubt was also due to his drastic increase in ice-time. I want MacArthur to return to the MacArthur of two seasons ago – if he doesn’t, let him walk – and I think the best way to do that is to give him the time and linemates.

What I would be happy with from MacArthur this season:

At least 10 goals and preferably 25 assists, stay a plus.

C: Mikhail Grabovski, 28

  • Salary: $5.5;
  • Under contract until: summer 2017
  • Last season: 23G, 28A for 51P in 74 games, ATOI 17:36
  • Career 82-game average: 22G, 30A for 52P, +1, ATOI 17:30
  • Best season: 2010-11, 29G, 29A for 58P in 81 games, +14, ATOI 19:22

Grabo is the team’s best all-around forward and now he is also their most expensive. He is the most reliable at both ends of the ice – he checks and he scores – but he is a puck hog and so he needs to play with a winger like MacArthur, who is prone to passing. If Grabo’s game were more akin to the traditional centre, he would clearly be the team’s #1 option – though he is obviously a 2nd liner – but he shoots too much to play with Kessel. So here he sits. For a long time to come. That’s okay with me, but I just wish the price were a little lower.

What I would be happy with from Grabo this season:

15 goals, and close to 20 assists, in the plus.

RW: Nikolai Kulemin, 26

  • Salary: $2.8; Under contract until: summer 2014
  • Last season: 7G, 21A for 28P in 70 games, +2, ATOI 15:13
  • Career 82-game average: 18G, 23A for 41P, ATOI 15:45
  • Best season: 2010-11, 30G, 27A for 57P in 82 games, +7, ATOI 17:19

This is another spot where I’m sure people are shaking their head, figuring JVR, Kadri, or even Matt Frattin might do better, but I have my reasons.

  1. First, Kulemin is one of the best defensive forwards on the team.
  2. Second, Kulemin had a terrible year offensively last year and there’s no reason to think he won’t bounce back.
  3. Finally, Kulemin’s best year came with Grabo and MacArthur.

I would love to see this line reunited at least for a 1/4 of the season. If Kulemin is still unable to produce then maybe someone else might be more appropriate.

What I would be happy with from Kulemin this year:

Justifying my faith in him by scoring over 10 goals and over 15 assists, I’m sure he’ll stay in the plus… unless he plays with Connolly.

The Third Line

LW: James Van Riemsdyk, 23

  • Salary: $4.25;
  • Under contract until: summer 2018
  • Last season: 11G, 13A for 24P in 43 games, -1, ATO 15:10
  • Career 82-game average: 20G, 22A for 42P, +5, ATOI 14:03
  • Best season: 2010-11, 21G, 19A for 40P, +15, 14:32 ATOI

This one is a toughy. No doubt there are numerous people who think JVR should be playing on the 2nd or even the first line. I believe those people are basing that on his draft position and not his production to date (in admittedly limited minutes).

The reason the decision to play him so low on the depth chart is actually tough is because JVR is as long-term a Leaf as anyone right now; nobody else is under contract that long. So he is as long-term an asset as anyone, and should be developed right.

On the other hand, the minutes he plaid in Philly were third line minutes. It’s a role he presumably knows well enough to perform. So the dilemma is a very real one: do you

  • force fit him into the top line somehow and break up the Lupul-Kessel chemistry – I refuse to acknowledge any of those three playing centre; the Doughnut Line it would not be
  • breakup a previously productive second line
  • let him play his old Philly role and risk having a $4 million dollar role player for the entirety of his contract or
  • put him on the Marlies playing first line minutes until Lupul and Connolly – and maybe even MacArthur – are out the door?

I don’t know the answer to that question but I am reticent to consider the first two. Certainly trading Lupul in the off-season, when his value was high, would have solved this logjam at left-wing, at least for JVR’s case.

What I would be happy with from JVR this season:

Provided he plays this few minutes: 10 goals and 15 assists, staying on the plus. If he plays more minutes, I want more production to justify it.

C: Tyler Bozak, 26

  • Salary: $1.5;
  • Under contract until: this summer
  • Last season: 18G, 29A for 47P, -7, ATOI 18:51
  • Career 82-game average: 17G, 28A for 45P, -18, 19:06
  • Best season: last season

I think Bozak is a reasonable #3 centre on a weak team such as the Leafs, and I think his minus is inflated by playing with Kessel too much – as are his point totals, likely.

I don’t think he’s shown that he should be re-signed this summer, but in the interim he is certainly a better choice than the other options they have at centre. I am fine with him in this position this year.

What I would be happy with from Bozak this season:

10 goals, 20 assists, a minus not in the double digits

RW: Matt Frattin, 25

  • Salary: $0.925;
  • Under contract until: summer 2014 (restricted)
  • This season (AHL): 9G, 7A for 16P in 20 games, +5
  • Career 82-game average in US College: 34G,29A for 64P

Though Frattin hasn’t exactly demonstrated he belongs on the Leafs’ third line, this is still his spot to lose. Mike Brown is not enough of an offensive force to be an everyday 3rd liner and the remaining guys in the organization at RW haven’t demonstrated they belong in the NHL yet. (I am including Colton Orr in that group…burn!) If Frattin isn’t scoring at all, then maybe it’s worth moving somebody like Ashton into this space instead.

What I would be happy with from Frattin this year:

5-10 goals, 5-10 assists, a plus

The Fourth Line

LW: Matthew Lombardi, 30

  • Salary: $3.5;
  • Under contract until: this summer
  • Last season: 8G, 10A for 18P in 62 games, -19, ATOI 13:34
  • Career 82-game average: 16G, 25A for 41P, +1, ATOI 16:03
  • Beast season: 2009-10, 19G, 34A for 53P, +8, ATOI 17:56

Once Lombardi was healthy last season, he showed that he was no longer a 2nd line / 3rd line player. Unless things have changed, there’s little reason to expect him to play higher up than this, especially with the Leafs’ new-found depth a LW. Fortunately his contract is up at the end of the year.

My only hope is that he excels this season and can be moved for something before it expires. The problem is that he will likely not get the minutes.

What I would be happy with from Lombardi this season:

No double digit minus and even a return to his rookie season productivity – equivalent of 19 points in this shortened season – would be better but it’s unlikely this far down the depth chart.

C: Jay McClement, 29

  • Salary: $1.5; Under contract until: summer 2014
  • Last season: 7G, 17A for 24P in 80 games, -8, ATOI 13:45
  • Career 82-game average: 9G, 17A for 26P, -11, ATOI 15:06
  • Best season: 2006-07, 8G, 28A for 36P, + 3, ATOI 13:53

Why McClement is on the team is another story, but since he is, this spot it is his for sure. Unless the Leafs find someone on the Marlies who can do it better or unless Steckel just shows himself way better at faceoffs.

What I would be happy with from McClement this season:

5 goals, 10 assists, 55%+ on faceoffs

RW: Mike Brown, 27

  • Salary: $0.736;
  • Under contract until: summer 2014
  • Last season: 2G, 2A for 4P in 50 games, -8, ATOI 9:17
  • Career 82-game average: 5G, 3A for 8P, -5, ATOI 8:42
  • Beast season: 2010-11, 3G, 5A for 8P in 50 games, +1, ATOI 10:06

Until someone on the Marlies shows that they can do this job better, Mike Brown is here. He certainly doesn’t belong any higher. But I’d rather have him on the ice than Colton Orr.

What I would be happy with from Brown this season:

A couple goals, a couple assists, lots of hits.

Wait, you forgot about…!

Carter Ashton, RW, 21:

  • Salary: $1.04;
  • Under contract until: this summer (restricted)
  • This season (AHL): 7G, 6A for 13P in 33 games, +9
  • Career 82-game average (AHL): 22G, 18A for 40P

At this point if Ashton projects as anything it’s a 3rd or 4th liner, which is why I think he might challenge for Frattin’s spot. But anyone thinking the Leafs got a legit prospect back for Aulie would appear – at least at this point – to be sorely mistaken.

Joe Colborne, C, 22

  • Salary: $1.1;
  • Under contract until: this summer (restricted)
  • This season (AHL): 4G, 11A for 15P in 31 games, +9
  • Career 82-game average (AHL): 19G, 27A for 46P

The dream of Colborne as an NHL prospect is fading fast, even though he is only 22. His AHL numbers are beyond unspectacular. I’m not saying he will never make it to the NHL, I just think the dreams of him as a top 6 forward have little to substantiate them now – save his draft position.

If he makes the Leafs, it should be as a replacement for Bozak. The stunt of putting him on the top line for a game last year was pitiful. This guy is 8th in scoring on the Marlies this year. 8th. If the Leafs are still seriously thinking about him as an NHL player, it should be as a checker.

Nazem Kadri, LW, 22

  • Salary: $1.72;
  • Under contract until: this summer (restricted)
  • This season (AHL): 8G, 18A for 26P in 27 games, +5
  • Career 82-game average (AHL): 28G, 47A for 75P

Kadri is having a slightly better AHL season this year than the past two. The past two were interrupted by management thinking Kadri could somehow save the Leafs and / or play as a checker.

Personally, I’d like to see him finish the season. Let’s see what he does. I have listed him here as a winger because I honestly don’t see this kid playing centre in the NHL. I think the Leafs and us fans will be lucky if he becomes a top 6 winger – and it sure isn’t looking like it. I would rather see him play big minutes in the A this season than see him play on the 3rd line in the NHL. And honestly, where exactly would he fit?

Greg McKegg, C, 20

  • Salary: $0.87;
  • Under contract until: summer 2015 (restricted)
  • This season (AHL): 5G, 3A for 8P in 24 games, +2
  • Career 82-game average (OHL): 39G, 45A for 84P

McKegg is still a long way from being ready for the NHL, as far as I can see. Personally, I think he should definitely be playing bigger minutes (when healthy) at the minor league level to see what he can do. Bringing him up to the NHL as a checker would be a gigantic mistake.

Colton Orr, RW, 30

  • Salary: $1;
  • Under contract until: this summer
  • Last season (AHL): 1G, 0A for 1P in 26 games, -1; (NHL) 1G, 0A for 1P in 5 games, +1
  • Career 82-game average: 2G, 2A for 4P, -7, ATOI 6:08
  • Beast season: 2009-10, 1G, 4A for 5P, -15, ATOI 6:29

Anyone who thinks this guy is a legitimate NHLer is smoking something.

David Steckel, 30

  • Salary: $1.1;
  • Under contract until: this summer
  • Last season: 8G, 5A for 13P in 76 games, -14, ATOI 12:50
  • Career 82-game average: 7G, 8A for 15P, -3
  • Best season: 2008-09, 8G, 11A for 19P, +2, ATOI 13:49

Steckel is probably the #13 guy at the moment, interchangeable with McClement. It’s just that McClement is far and away a better offensive player so the temptation is to start him and put Steckel in the press box. It’s always good to have an extra centre hanging around anyway.


I did not include prospects who are too young / too raw and I did not include Keith Aucoin. People who think Keith Aucoin – aged 34 and who has played over 6 times as many games in the AHL as the NHL – should contribute to the Leafs this year because he is a star in the minors are totally fucking crazy and would easily fail the “Wendel Clark test” for sanity among Leafs fans.

Forward Summary

  • The Leafs have exactly one legitimate Top 3 NHL forward in Kessel and another three legitimate Top 6 forwards in Grabo, Lupul and MacArthur – based on a 30 team league, mind you.
  • Connolly and Kulemin have been legitimate Top 6 forwards in the past but have not shown that ability last year.
  • Lupul is “Top 6” only based on last year’s performance – previous to that he had bee playing as a third liner for some time.
  • JVR has never played Top 6 minutes, even during the season he scored 20 goals.

All of this is to say that the Leafs are pretty weak at forward even though this team somehow managed to score in the top third of the league last year. The above suggestions about who plays where are if the Leafs want to win. I suggest that maybe they shouldn’t “want to win”; at least at the managerial level.

At the managerial level they should be thinking about player development and about tanking.

  • To that end they should trade Lupul ASAP; it would have been far better had they traded him in the off-season, because now if he gets off to a slow start he will likely be untradeable.
  • Connolly is pretty much untradeable, but if he could be moved, or if Bozak could be moved, or if both of them could be moved, this would also help.

We could then have a better suited lineup for the future, as opposed to making the playoffs. Assuming the Leafs somehow magically moved both Lupul and Connolly, a suitable sink-or-swim / see what the Leafs have in terms of talent lineup would be:

  • JVR-Bozak-Kessel
  • Kadri-Grabovski -Frattin/Kulemin
  • MacArthur-Colborne-Frattin/Kulemin
  • Steckel-McClement-Ashton

I suspect this lineup would do fairly poorly on offense yet it would accomplish a number of things:

  • It would give JVR Top 3 minutes in the NHL so that the Leafs could see what they have in him
  • It would give Kadri Top 6 minutes in the NHL so the Leafs could see whether he can hack it
  • It would either give Kulemin another chance to show he is a valuable piece or give Frattin a chance to break out, if he ever will (unlikely)
  • It would let the Leafs see whether Colborne can play a checking role in the NHL
  • It would give Ashton regular minutes to see if he can play a checking role in the NHL.

This lineup would allow for far greater player evaluation than the lineup I think more likely to win games. I think this is the smarter long term decision. I’d even tolerate a JVR-Colborne-Kessel line for a couple weeks if only to demonstrate to the Leafs brass what they have in him.

I would also like to point out the Leafs’ future is really up in the air right now, as they have exactly two forwards committed for the 2014-15 season (not including restricted free agents). To me, that’s an opportunity. I doubt Nonis will look at it that way.

The Defense

The First Pair

Dion Phaneuf, 27

  • Last season: 12G, 32A for 44P in 82 games, -10, ATOI 25:17
  • Career 82-game average: 15G, 32A for 47P, +1, ATOI 25:01
  • Beast season: 2007-08, 17G, 43A for 60P, +12, ATOI: 26:25

Phaneuf is the second closest the Leafs have to a franchise player. I was a huge fan of his when he first came into the league, thinking he would be become one of the great D of his era. Unfortunately the second half of his career to date has not exactly been as good as the first. He had a rebound year last year after the three worst years of his career. Until Gardiner perhaps shows otherwise, he is the closest thing the Leafs have to a #1 D which is why he is in this spot.

The problem is that he needs a stay-at-home to make him truly effective – someone to be the Smith to his Orr, to use a horrible analogy. And the Leafs traded away their best stay-at-home for JVR. Prior to that, they traded away their best stay-at-home prospect for Ashton.

But I am very reticent to throw Holzer completely to the wolves so the question then becomes, who plays with him?

What I would be happy with from Phaneuf this season:

Most ice time on the team, close to 10 goals and 20 assists, a plus for once would be nice.

Carl Gunnarsson, 26

  • Salary: $1.325;
  • Under contract until: this summer (restricted)
  • Last season: 4G, 15A for 19P in 76 games, -9, ATOI 21:42
  • Career 82-game average: 5G, 19A for 24P, -1, ATOI 20:23
  • Best season: last season

While Gunnarsson is hardly the ideal match for Phaneuf – the Leafs traded away their best stay-at-home defenseman in the off-season and traded away their top stay-at-home D prospect last season – he has been the most consistent Leafs D over the last couple seasons, at least to my eyes. He has never played Top 2 minutes before, the but the alternatives are not exactly amazing: Komisarek or Holzer; personally I don’t want to throw Holzer to the wolves just yet.

I have faith in Gunnarsson and think he is the least bad match for Phaneuf.

What I would be happy with from Gunnarsson this season:

That he doesn’t embarrass himself in big minutes; 3-5 goals, 25 assists hopefully – if he plays with Phaneuf – on the +.

The Second Pair

Jake Gardiner, 22

  • Salary: $1.116;
  • Under contract until: summer 2014 (restricted)
  • This season (AHL): 9G, 8A for 17P in 22 games, -1
  • Career 82-game average (US College): 13G, 40A for 53P
  • Best season: last, 7G, 23A for 30P in 75 games, -2, ATOI 21:35

Gardiner surprised the hell out of some of us (me) last season by being ready to play already but my thoughts about him remain the same: unless he is able to play big time minutes, he should be on the Marlies.  So if he is not the #3 D on the Leafs this year, he belongs as the #1 on the Marlies. (He can’t really play #2 because he and Phaneuf would likely be a +/- disaster.)

But he is hurt currently so at the moment this spot is not his. It should be the moment he is healthy. The question then becomes, who the hell plays with him?

What I would be happy with from Gardiner this season?

Provided he plays at all, 5-10 goals, 20 assists.

Mike Komisarek, 30

  • Salary: $4.5;
  • Under contract until: summer 2014
  • Last season: 1G, 4A for 5P in 45 games, -13, ATOI 16:39
  • Beast season: 2007-08, 4G, 13A for 17P in 75 games, +9, ATOI 21:09

It pains me to put Komisarek and his disaster of a contract here but for the first time since Burke took over – perhaps since before Burke took over – the Leafs have no veteran depth at D. That’s the one thing Burke did: he found veteran bodies to play even if they didn’t perform up to expectations and / or took spaces from prospects who could have used the ice-time.

Komisarek goes here unless the Leafs think Holzer is ready. I would like to believe he is but I don’t know if that’s the smart idea at least to start. I think it’s likely Holzer wins this spot away from Komisarek (like that’s hard) if Holzer indeed makes the team this year – I think he should – but for the moment, we should go with the devil we know.

What I would be happy with from Komisarek this year:

To have him traded for practically anything. But if that doesn’t happen: I just hope he doesn’t continue to embarrass himself.

The Third Pair

John-Michael Liles, 32

  • Salary: $3.875;
  • Under contract until: summer 2016
  • Last season: 7G, 20A for 27P in 66 games, -14, ATOI 21:21
  • Career 82-game average: 11G, 32A for 43P, -4, ATOI 19:26
  • Best season: 2005-06, 14G, 35A for 49P in 82 games, +5, ATOI 18:31

Liles should have lost his top 4 spot after his bad season last year. And frankly he should be moved the moment he plays well. But until that happens, it makes more sense to play him here than Kostka or Rielly because the former is not an NHL player despite what Leafs fans might be thinking because of his Marlies numbers this year, and the latter is too raw at the moment and should stay in the Juniors this season. Liles remains the only other option. Hopefully he plays well and can be moved because that term-length is bad. (Full disclosure: I fully supported the Liles trade when Burke made it.)

What I would be happy with from Liles this season:

Seeing him traded after he plays well.

But if that doesn’t happen: 5 goals, 20 assists if and only if he gets a lot of power play time.

Korbinian Holzer, 24

  • Salary: $0.575;
  • Under contract until: this summer (restricted)
  • This season (AHL): 1G, 7A for 8P in 30 games, +12
  • Career 82-game average (AHL): 2G, 17A for 19P, +14

I am a big fan of Holzer and think he has proven himself over multiple AHL seasons. I hope that he can become a bottom four stay-at-home, though that may or may not be realistic. Certainly, they might as well see what they have in him now that the depth at D has flown out the window. If he does well in this spot he should be able to steal the #4 position from Komisarek rather easily.

What I would be happy with from Holzer this season:

+ play and forcing the coaches to give him more ice-time.

Wait! You forgot about…!

Cody Franson, 25

  • Salary: $1.2;
  • Under contract until: this summer
  • Last season: 5G, 16A for 21P in 57 games, -1, ATOI 16:11
  • Career 82-game average: 8G, 23A for 31P, +10, ATOI 15:10
  • Best season: last season*

All the people in the media talking about how Franson has to “bounce back” this year apparently do not look at statistics. Franson had his best offensive season last year, based on PPG. And his career worse minus could be entirely attributed to the fact that he went from playing on Nashville to playing on Toronto. However, due to a log-jam at D, he didn’t play every night. I did not agree with this and proved to be somewhat wrong as Gardiner exceeded my expectations.

The problem is that Burke acquired Lombardi’s brutal contract to get Franson and then Wilson wouldn’t play Franson – even though when Franson did play, he played more minutes per night than he ever had in his career… Last season Franson was 16th on the team in minutes played and that’s only because Komisarek once again demonstrated he shouldn’t be in the NHL, after prompting Wilson to pretend he should.

The problem now that Nonis has re-signed him is not that Franson isn’t more deserving of ice-time than Komisarek – he is – but rather than Franson’s game doesn’t exactly fit with the others. If Franson plays with Gardiner or Liles, I personally am worried about the that pairing’s ability to stop anything.

Maybe I’m wrong. But until he actually demonstrates otherwise to his coach – as opposed to an armchair GM like me – I don’t see him making the top 6.

Morgan Rielly, 18

  • Salary: $1.775;
  • Under contract until: summer 2015 (restricted)
  • Career 82-game average (WHL): 11G, 41A for 52P

Rielly is the closest thing the Leafs have to a top prospect in their organization right now – Hockey’s future has him at an 8.5C, which is great but certainly a lot lower than Burke’s assessment – which begs the question: why the hell would they play him in the NHL this year? He has not even played in the AHL!

The Leafs did the same thing with Schenn, and I heartily objected to it. I turned out to be wrong – at least until they gave up on him – but Rielly is a different player than Schenn. Rielly is an offensive defenseman who hasn’t exactly been a scoring machine in the Juniors. Wouldn’t the safe bet be to leave him in the W so he can finally play a full season – he hasn’t been healthy enough since his rookie year – and then, provided he has proved himself doing that, put him on the Marlies next year? What exactly is the rush? He isn’t going to catapult the Leafs into the playoffs on his lonesome.

I have left out career AHLer Mike Kostka because he’s a career AHLer.

I have left out Stuart Percy for the same reasons I think we should all forget about Rielly playing in the NHL.

Defense Summary

For the first time in ages the Leafs arguably do not have a log-jam on D. This is an opportunity to do a few things:

  • to give Gardiner and Gunnarsson more ice-time,
  • to give Holzer a proper NHL test – instead of the cup of coffee he got two seasons ago
  • and to showcase Liles for a team making a playoff run.

Ideally, Gardiner will show he is the future of the Leafs on the backend, Gunnarsson will show that he is absolutely a legitimate top 4, Holzer will show that he is a legitimate #5 or #6, Franson will eventually get some real playing time so the Leafs can decide what to do with him, Komisarek will get Fingered or will somehow miraculously be traded, Phaneuf will return to his old form, and Liles will be moved to a contender for a pick or three and a bad-but-expiring contract that nobody wants thereby giving the Leafs a body to fill a spot – so they do not have to bring up an unready prospect – but allowing the Leafs freedom to bring them up next year.

That’s the ideal. That’s not what will happen. I don’t think either Komisarek or Liles will have good enough numbers to get moved. And I doubt Franson will get enough time to let the Leafs make a decent decision on him. And I suspect Holzer will play mostly with the Marlies so the Leafs can fuck with the mind of Rielly or another D prospect, treating him as a saviour one moment and a failure the next. (Kadri anyone?)

I hope I am wrong.

Goaltending

#1: James Reimer, 24

  • Salary: $1.8;
  • Under contract until: summer 2014 (restricted)
  • Last season: 14W, 14L, 4 “other” in 34 games, .900, 2.83
  • Best season: 2010-11, 20W, 10L, 5 “other” in 37 games, .921, 2.60

Unless Nonis goes and does something stupid – that would be trading for Luongo’s ridiculous contract – Reimer is the starter. And he should be. He has earned his chance.

If he fails, then the Leafs know where they stand.

If he succeeds, then the Leafs know where they stand.

But if the Leafs trade for some other goalie – not necessarily Luongo – and make Reimer the backup this year with the plan of making him a starter later, they won’t know anything. This is Reimer’s year. Let him have it.

Back-up: Ben Scrivens, 26

  • Salary: $0.612;
  • Under contract until: summer 2014
  • This season (AHL): 14W, 7L, 3 “other” in 22 games, .917, 2.22

Until Rynnas demonstrates otherwise, this is Scrivens’ spot to lose…or perhaps until Reimer demonstrates otherwise.

Goaltending Summary

The Leafs are possibly scary-weak in goal – which is why the Luongo rumours won’t go away. It all depends on whether Reimer is healthy and whether Reimer can live up to his rookie season.

And if not, then it depends on whether the Leafs can find a legitimate NHL goalie in Scrivens or Rynnas. But this is something the team should do.

They won’t find out which of these goalies is an actual possible #1 or #1A starter in the league unless they give them the games. So why not give them the games? And if Reimer and Scrivens / Rynnas completely shit the bed, then the Leafs will at least get a draft pick out of it and will know they need to develop some more goalies – or if they insist on trading, trade for younger goalies.

Summary

The Leafs are weak in all three areas of the ice but this is as it should be. It almost looks like they are in rebuilding mode. I really, really doubt that Nonis will have the balls to rebuild, and I am waiting for a trade that will prove that to me – i.e. shipping one of the Leafs few above-average prospects for a veteran.

Personally, I think the Leafs should live with what they have, trade away any big contracts that over-perform – Liles first and foremost but even Phaneuf if the right offer was made – and try to move any other veterans of value – Lupul first and foremost – in order to go into the off-season withe most assets – picks, prospects, anything else movable – possible. Because, as I have maintained time and again: the Leafs don’t really have a franchise player and the main way to get one is through the draft. If the Leafs aren’t bad enough to get a top 5 pick – and I’m not sure they will be – then they need lots of assets to move up.

Depending on goaltending, I see this team either sucking really badly until some kind of bailout, kneejerk trade is made or actually just missing or just making the playoffs. It all depends on Reimer it seems. As someone who wants the Leafs to actually contend for the Stanley Cup, I would prefer the former, even if it means yet another year of missing the playoffs.

Enjoy this semi-season, folks.

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