The Leafs have mercifully made the playoffs for the first time since 2004. There are those out there who are very excited about this – I am more cautious in my enthusiasm – and many are thinking that those of us who often criticized former GM Brian Burke’s “plan” should eat our own words. But I think that’s ridiculous.
Here’s why: Have you actually watched this team?
So in my annual assessment of the Leafs’ season I will hopefully make a case for why the Leafs still are a long, long way from being a contender, and why this playoff appearance shouldn’t be taken as something it’s not: as a sign that the Leafs are somehow “on the way up.”
The Leafs have been the luckiest team this year, which should be no surprise to those of us who think the roster lacks, um, talent. They have also been the most prone to fighting. No team this prone to fighting has won the Cup since Burke and Carlyle’s Ducks in 2007, with a big assist from the refs.
If I am going to sit through season after season of missing the playoffs, I want something for it.
What do I want? I want a Stanley Cup. Nothing less. But unless you believe that the 2013 Leafs are the second coming of the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks – who not coincidentally featured a number of the best players of their generation – you can’t exactly be super optimistic about this team’s – of future Leafs teams’ – prospects of winning the Cup.
Out of such a long playoff drought I want the 1987 Red Wings, I want the 1989 Pittsburgh Penguins, I want the 1990 New Jersey Devils – though I wouldn’t have known it at the time – I want the 1993 Quebec Nordiques, I want the 2007 Penguins, I want the 2008 Boston Bruins, I want the 2009 Chicago Blackhawks. That’s what I want if I’m going to stay a fan through years of terrible teams.
All but two of these teams had clear emerging stars. The other two had established players and goalie luck – and in the case of the Bruins had moved an emerging star. This current version of the Leafs resembles none of these teams, but if we are to hope for a Championship before the next rebuild, we have to hope we get goalie luck.
What I am trying to say is that lucking into a playoff spot is nothing for us fans to be excited about. This version of the Leafs over-performed in a short season. They may not be a playoff team next year; we certainly shouldn’t expect it. This team is only as good as their goalie.
So they are eerily reminiscent – in results if not in style – of an era that only older Leafs fans will remember: the Curtis Joseph era. Joseph would face at least 1800 shots a year, and yet the Leafs would be in games and make the playoffs. Do we want more of that? The Leafs in front of Joseph were never quite good enough to make it out of the Conference Finals. And then their window closed and we got years and years of terrible teams.
Obviously I’m still going to cheer for them in the first Leafs playoffs I’ve been able to see since graduating university, but I for one am not deluded. Unless Reimer is a god, these guys aren’t going anywhere. And unfortunately that will be true next season, and the season after, unless a different plan is adopted. But enough of my ranting, let’s look at the bright and not-so-bright spots of the Leafs’ most successful season in nearly a decade.
The 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs
- 3rd in the Northeast, 5th in the East
- 57 points: 26-17-5
- 6th in Goals For
- 18 in Goals Against
- 10th Overall by the Simple Rating System (SRS)
Being a Top 10 team in the league for the first time in a decade would seem a really positive sign in the Leafs’ development. However, the SRS does not take into account how lucky the Leafs were, it only considers whether or not the points won reflect the GF / GA differential. They do but the alarming thing – once again – about this year’s Leafs is how bad they are defensively: almost in the bottom third of the league. As everyone knows, defense wins championships more often than not. What that really means is that teams with Top 10 defenses and averages offenses win more often than teams with Top 10 offenses and average defenses. (Good luck with that, Pittsburgh.)
Hockey is of course unique because of the goalie, who can – and regularly does – transform a bad or average defense into a great one, simply by going on a hot streak, but that is luck to a great extent. And there is no way of predicting who will be the next, break-out but flash-in-the-pan playoff hockey goalie. So in order to mitigate that, teams should theoretically try to improve their D. The Leafs used to have a very expensive but bad defense; they have managed to change it to a cheap but bad defense. So that’s something. But that differential – +12 – is worrisome. That’s +12 despite an excellent penalty kill and a slightly above-average power-play. It suggests that their 5-on-5 defense would be downright terrible if they didn’t have a goalie. More on that in a second.
Though there is some potential hope for the Leafs on D in the future – in the form of Rielly, for example – all of this is to suggest what I said before: this team is only as good as its goalie. And the future looks like that will be the case for some time. Fortunately, the goalie has been very, very good. And cheap.
(As usual, players are listed in order of total minutes played on the season.)
James Reimer, 25, G, under contract until 2014 (RFA) at $1.8 mil
- 19W (11th), 8L, 5 stupid semi-losses in 33 games;
- 4 shut-outs (6th);
- .924 save %age (8th);
- 2.46 GAA (19th);
- 7.5 Goalie Point Shares (13th)
Reimer had a great season and it’s safe to say that the Leafs wouldn’t be where they are right now without him. Wins and GAA are misleading; the number that really counts is the save percentage.
When was the last time a Leafs’ goalie cracked the Top 10 in save percentage? And we must remember that the Leafs get out-shot all the time, so Reimer’s high percentage is a little more valuable to the Leafs than a team that doesn’t give up so many shots. (Reimer faced more shots than any other goalie to play only 33 games. If I calculated a shots-against per game for goalies playing more than 30 games, he would be one of the league leaders, if not the league leader.) What would the Leafs’ record look like with a league average goalie? Reimer is absolutely the team’s MVP.
The problem is still what do to with him. He only has 104 games in the NHL. It would seem to make sense for the Leafs to lock him up now but it’s impossible to know if his 2010-11 season and this season will be the norm or whether last year will be. Still, the Leafs appear to have the goalie they have so desperately needed since the let go of Cujo – a goalie who can regularly steal games for them – and so the thing do appears to be a long-term extension at as low a salary as conceivably possible. (I.e. something that is not insulting to Reimer but that doesn’t turn Reimer into a player the Leafs are suddenly desperate to trade in three years.)
Dion Phaneuf, 28, D, under contract until 2014 at $6.5 mil
- 25:11 ATOI (5th),
- 9G, 19A for 28P in 48 games, -4,
- 1.9 Defensive Point Shares
Phaneuf nearly regained the offensive form of his earliest years this season but unfortunately it came at yet another year of minus hockey, with an extraordinarily alarming relative Corsi of -18. Of course, that’s in part because Phaneuf plays against opponents’ best players all the time but, from watching him, I am convinced that the Leafs’ defensive woes have much to do with the fact that Phaneuf plays 25 minutes a game.
I am still of the opinion that a Phaneuf-led D corps will not lead the Leafs to the promised land. And at his salary – which we can expect he will want to raise when he is a free agent – he is a little too expensive to pay as a #2 or #3 (at least in my mind). So the thing to do is to trade him, especially if he gets off to a good start this fall. Trade him for a younger Top 4, a prospect, or picks.
I really doubt that it will happen, but I can only hope.
Ben Scrivens, 26, G, under contract until 2014 (RFA) at $0.612 mil
- 7W, 9L in 20 games;
- 2 shut-outs;
- .915 save %age;
- 2.69 GAA,
- 3.5 GPS
Scrivens had a better NHL campaign than last season, though he didn’t hold up his AHL numbers – which shouldn’t be a surprise – and the idea that he was going to steal the job from Reimer now seems kind of laughable.
And that’s a good thing, frankly. Had Scrivens put up numbers like he did in the AHL, the Leafs would have a full-blown goalie controversy on their hands. As it stands, the sane decision seems to extend Reimer and, depending on how next year goes, Scrivens can be extended as the backup, or allowed to walk – or traded for a minor pick.
Given the state of Leafs goaltending even just entering the most recent lockout, I would say this is a much clearer situation now, and that’s for the best.
Phil Kessel, 25, RW, under contract until 2014 at $5.4 mil
- 20G, 32A for 52P (7th, 10th in PPG) in 48 games, -3,
- 6.2 Point Shares
It is time for all us Kessel-haters to stop complaining about him. On the Leafs, Kessel has emerged into one of the top offensive wingers in the league. That is more than I thought he would be when we acquired him. He remains a very below average defensive player – I am still surprised when I catch him successfully back-checking – and because of this he will never be the star that the team paid for. (In this version of the league, you have to do both to elevate your team, or you have to be Malkin.)
This puts the Leafs in a difficult position. We know Kessel’s faults at this point. And many of us know or believe that a team led by Kessel isn’t really going anywhere in the playoffs unless other aspects of that team greatly improve or they get amazing goaltending. With Kessel’s contract set to expire at the end of next season, the Leafs need to ask themselves some major questions:
- Is Kadri ready?
- What would Kessel fetch in a trade?)
- If Kessel is retained, is he worth the raise he will undoubtedly want?
- We will discuss whether or not Kadri is ready to be the star of the team below.
- I am happy to say that I believe Kessel will fetch a lot if he keeps his numbers up and doesn’t have one of his patented slumps to start next season. (The team could obviously avoid that by trading him after these playoffs but that would be the most unpopular move Nonis has likely ever made.) I am not sure the Leafs will get back the equivalent of what they gave up for him in the first place, but at this point, on this low a salary, it would likely be a big haul.
- Unfortunately, I would say it is likely, provided he puts up another point-per-game season next year, that Kessel will want $12 mil or more per year once his contract is up. After all, that’s what Parise gets (including bonuses, of course). And Parise is far less valuable to his team than Kessel is to the Leafs, if you go by Point Shares, for example. (I understand that Parise contributes in ways Kessel doesn’t; I am just playing agent.)
So the Leafs have a choice: overpay for a player whose strengths and weaknesses you know all to well or move him in the hope that what you get back either improves the team overall or allows you to sign someone with more of an all-around game. Frankly, I don’t know what to do exactly. The waters should be tested first. But the idea paying Kessel double his current salary – or even 1.5 times his current salary – makes me sick.
Tyler Bozak, 27, C, UFA
- 12G, 16A for 28P in 26 games, -1
- 2.7 PS
At some point the Bozak experiment needs to end. Letting him walk as a free agent seems like a fine idea to me. I have no idea who the Leafs will make their #1 centre next year but enough already. Bozak is by no stretch a #1 centre in the NHL. The last two seasons he has put up points enough to justify a #2 role but he has not brought the defense along with it – contrary to what some coaches and talking heads may tell you.
It seems clear to me, based on certain personnel traits of the Leafs Top 6 forwards, that as long as Bozak and Kessel are on the same team together, Bozak will find himself slotted in to that #1 slot more often than not. And a team with Tyler Bozak as their #1 centre is not winning the Cup unless 1993 Patrick Roy shows up suddenly in the body of Reimer.
I do not have faith in Leafs management and staff to re-sign Bozak at a reasonable amount and then play him in a role more suited to his talents. They have proven time and again they can’t resist the temptation.
James Van Riemsdyk, 23, LW, under contract until 2018 at $4.25 mil
- 18G, 14A for 32P, -7,
- 3.6 PS
JVR got off to a scorching hot start and ended up with some reasonable Top 6 offensive numbers. He also showed us that the Leafs stupid plan to play him at centre was bunk, of course. Not the first time this has happened. He has been far from the worst defensive player on the Leafs, but he’s hardly been amazing.
And if this season is anything to go by – and it should be as wingers don’t really have much developing to do past this point – he is a 50-55 points per season player, i.e. a Top 6 forward. (Note: this has been his best season to date, but also the first time he received Top 6 minutes.) It’s hardly the production of a first line winger on a great team in the NHL but he was played so much on the first line because of the injury to Lupul (more on that below).
Hopefully he continues to put up Top 6 numbers and improves his defense, as the Leafs are stuck with him and any drop in production would make him hard to move.
Cody Franson, 25, D, RFA
- 18:47 ATOI;
- 4G, 25A for 29P in 45 games, +4;
- 1.9 DPS
Thank science someone – Nonis, Carlyle or someone else – realized Franson should actually play for the Leafs before his contract expired.
Franson playing 900 minutes – the equivalent of about 41 games as a Top 2 D – last year was one of the more bizarre lineup decisions made by the Leafs in some time: taking on Lombardi’s salary in order to acquire Franson, but then deciding he should sit half the season in favour of other players made no sense. Why acquire a young player everyone is keen on and then not let him play?
So they gave him a chance this year and, lo and behold, he is as advertised: a strong, offensively inclined D.
The problem is that now everyone knows it. So we will see what happens this summer. But I think he should be a priority extension for the Leafs.
Nikolai Kulemin, 26, LW/RW, under contract until 2014 at $2.8 mil
- 7G, 16A for 23P in 48 games, -5;
- 1.6 PS
Fortunately for Burke – and for those of us who agreed with his extension at the time – Kulemin regained some of his offensive form this year. It is unlikely that he will ever get back to his 30-goal peak again but under $3 million is not a lot to play for a strong defensive player. I maintain that he is that, even though his shift-based numbers (plus-minus, corsi) indicate the opposite.
The problem is not so much him as the players around him. Or so I continue to tell myself.
But I certainly have changed my mind about his importance going forward. Putting up .5PPG with good defense is important, but I think the Leafs should wait and see how next season is going before they decide what to do with him going forward.
Carl Gunnarsson, 26, D, RFA
- 21:17 ATOI;
- 1G, 14A for 15P in 37 games, +5;
- 1.9 DPS
Gunnarsson remains the Leafs’ best all-round defenseman. Up until Kostka, he was also their cheapest Top 4 by a mile. He will undoubtedly want a raise this summer, and I can only hope that the Leafs value him enough to give it to him (they have shown few signs of that so far).
I am concerned that another team will tender him a fair – or unfair and ridiculous – offer sheet and the Leafs will balk, seriously maintaining that Gunnarsson isn’t all that valuable to the team. Listen, I am not saying Gunnarsson is a Top 2 on a good team; I am saying that he is better than the #3 on this team – even with a substantial pay raise on his $1.3 mil salary, he will still be a valuable piece going forward.
We need to understand that defensemen who aren’t flashy but who are reliable are valuable. If I were the Leafs GM, re-signing Gunnarsson at $3 or so mil for a long-term contract would be a priority the moment the Leafs are knocked out of the playoffs.
Mike Kostka, 27, D, UFA
- 22:05 ATOI,
- 0G, 8A for 8P in 35 games, -7,
- .8 DPS
Count me among those people who thought Carlyle was crazy for making this career AHLer the Leafs’ #2 D at the beginning of the season. And then he played a few games and he looked pretty great.
But in retrospect we can see what should have been obvious to all of us – especially experts such as Carlyle, the assistant coaches and the Leafs’ front office – Kostka looked good because he had been playing for months prior to the abbreviated training camp. He was in better shape and he was in better a better mental space because he’d been playing pro hockey when the Leafs’ other D had been playing video games, or what have you.
We now know why no other team took such a chance on him: Kostka’s offensive numbers this season for the Marlies did not translate into AHL offense. I thought that was predictable. In my season preview, I didn’t even discuss Kostka making the team as a possibility. And now we know that Kostka is not what Carlyle thought he was. Big surprise there. His minutes plummeted as the season went on and he was a healthy scratch multiple times.
There is absolutely no reason to re-sign this guy unless it is to have him on the Marlies, where he belongs. However, despite his poor numbers, he and his agent can point to his gaudy ATOI and insist he is an NHL defenseman and should be paid like one. If that happens, the Leafs should walk away. What are the chances they do?
Nazem Kadri, 22, C, RFA
- 18G, 26A for 44P in 48 games, +15;
- 6.2 PS
Nobody – save Burke and the Leafs’ scouts – could have seen Kadri’s explosion coming. Even in the first half of the AHL season during the lockout, Kadri gave little indication that he had figured out how to succeed at the NHL level. But he sure did: he scored three times as often this year than the season previously and over double of his previous year. If there is any player that appears able to take over the team from Kessel, it is Kadri.
But there’s a problem. (There always is, isn’t there.) Kadri’s shooting percentage was out of this world for this season and, moreover, he was doing this while not really playing a lot in January in particular. It would be silly for us to assume that he will put up near point-per-game numbers next year playing as few minutes or playing with some of the line-mates Carlyle has stuck him with. In order to keep scoring this much, Kadri will need to play Top 6 minutes at least and he will need to play with skilled players all the time.
So, once they extend him – and I worry / wonder how much he will make after this explosion – the Leafs need to think seriously about how Kadri and Kessel fit together – can they play on the same line for extended periods of time? – or don’t fit together, and how their Top 6 should look next season. Because Kadri will not shoot 16% next year, and he won’t produce regularly playing with third or fourth liners around him, even if he did this season.
Kadri himself has erased the bust label but it’s up to management and the coaches to make sure he has the circumstances to succeed going forward. This should be a major priority for the Leafs. It is only with Kadri playing consistently big minutes with other talented players that the Leafs will know whether or not Kadri can conceivably replace or supersede Kessel as the team’s star player. (For the record, I don’t think so. But then I thought Kadri was unlikely to make the Leafs this season.)
Mark Fraser, 26, D, RFA
- 16:57 ATOI;
- 0A, 8A for 8P in 45 games, +18;
- 2.9 DPS
Fraser turned out to be a good pickup for the Leafs last season as he has been steady this year – though hardly as steady as that +18 suggests.
I am happy with his performance but I believe the Leafs have enough competition for D spots going forward that there is no reason to re-sign him unless it is for reasonable price and a two-way contract. He likely won’t want that, so I think the Leafs are safe letting him walk if the price is wrong. He certainly should not be signed at the risk of the Leafs being unable to keep Franson or Gunnarsson, or to properly extend Kadri.
Mikhail Grabovski, 29, C, under contract until 2017 at $5.5 mil
- 9G, 7G for 16P in 48, -10;
- 1 PS
I love Grabo but I was not a fan of Burke’s ludicrous extension for him, which made him the second highest paid player on the team, a distinction he still holds.
But though I disagreed with the amount and length of the extension, nobody – certainly not I – could have predicted he would have fallen this far off a cliff so soon after signing it. Grabo flat out had the worst season of his career this year and does it ever make that contract look terrible. At least Kulemin saw a slight uptick in his scoring while not getting paid anywhere near as much. Grabo could do nothing right this year. And as a result he is pretty much unmovable. (Except in the “Here’s Rielly but you have to take Grabo’s salary” type trade scenario, which the Leafs should never execute, at least until they know what they have in Rielly). So we can only hope that he finds himself again next year.
I for one believe that he is not now an asset that the Leafs should be planning on keeping for the future, due to his salary commitment and age. Ideally, he finds his game next fall and the Leafs can con someone into taking his contract off their hands. Otherwise, if he keeps this up he is likely headed down the Connolly route.
It’s too bad. I was a big fan.
Jay McClement, 30, C, under contract until 2014 at $1.5 mil
- 8G, 9A for 17P in 48 games, 0;
- 1.4 PS
What really puts Grabo’s garbage season into context is that he was outscored by Jay McClement, a career .3PPG player who was acquired for “grit” face-off purposes. (McClement was okay.)
McClement actually had one of the best offensive seasons of his career, but this came about because he was often placed in situations with better players. I feel like guys like McClement are a dime a dozen and so I am not particularly concerned with how he fits into the Leafs’ future. Certainly if he wins more face-offs next year, maybe think about keeping him.
John-Michael Liles, 32, D, under contract until 2016 at $3.875 mil
- 18:46 ATOI; 2G, 9A for 11P in 32 games, -1;
- 1.8 DPS
Liles appears to be slowly losing his offensive touch – which, I believe, is why the Leafs acquired him – which is a shame.
The good news is that he is relatively cheap nowadays, costing only about 1/16th of the cap. At such a low price, he should be easy to move if the opportunity ever comes up. He certainly should not be regarded as part of the core.
Clarke MacArthur, 28, LW, UFA
- 8G, 12A for 20P in 40 games, +3;
- 2.2 PS
It looks like the Leafs might be ready to let go of MacArthur this summer, which may be a reasonable idea, depending on what kind of raise he wants. After he lit it up (relatively) two seasons ago, MacArthur has dropped back towards his normal production levels – though he is still scoring more frequently than he ever did before he joined the Leafs. Certainly his reduced production has at least something to do with his reduced ice-time (and Carlyle’s line combinations).
MacArthur is paid enough that I think the Leafs should let him walk if he demands too much of a raise. But there is a problem now that the Leafs have made the playoffs: replacing MacArthur – and players like him – with someone else in the organization may result in a step-back next season, which fans with raised expectations may not enjoy.
On the other hand, can the Leafs really defend paying MacArthur over $4 per season? That’s probably what he’s looking for.
Leo Komarov, 26, LW/C, RFA
- 4G, 5A for 9P in 42 games, -1;
- .3 PS
Komarov knows his role and accepts it and he’s decent at it. A nice surprise given that I thought he wouldn’t even make the team this year.
But players like him are everywhere and easy to find. He’s overpaid for his production – though not his minutes; Carlyle played him a lot – and it’s likely that he will want more going forward.
If that is the case, the Leafs should look for cheaper options internally, as they did when they called him up in the first place.
Korbinian Holzer, 25, D, under contract until 2015 at $0.787 mil
- 18:50 ATOI;
- 2G, 1A for 3P in 22 games, -12;
- -.2 DPS
So Holzer was a real disappointment when he was up. I for one was a big advocate of him getting a chance but they gave him half the season and he was pretty lost. I was not of the opinion he should be sent down because I didn’t think the Leafs should be chasing a playoff spot, but sent down he was. He may just be a career AHLer but I was hoping to see him get a similar chance to Franson.
Anyway, after this season he will likely not get another look with the Leafs – barring some kind of slew of injuries to the D corps – and he will likely remain on the Marlies until he is moved or goes home.
It’s too bad. He has always looked good to me in the A. He’s just not ready. No idea if he will ever be but 22 games is not really the way to find out. Of course the Leafs don’t want to find out, they want to win.
Matt Frattin, 25, RW, under contract until 2014 at $0.925 mil
- 7G, 6A for 13P in 25 games, +6;
- 1.9 PS
Frattin scored a lot more when he played this year. But it’s such a small sample that it is impossible to know whether he can do it more consistently, especially if given more minutes.
He’s so cheap though that he’s nothing to worry about for the moment.
Colton Orr, 31, RW, UFA
- 1G, 3A for 4P in 44 games, +4;
- .2 PS
Can we please move on into the post-Colton Orr era? Please. Some idiot left a post on my blog ages ago about how Orr is valuable because he is “an agitator and a peace keeper.” Orr played 6 minutes a game this season; that’s 1/10th of each game. And the only reason he played more this season than last is because Carlyle sent him out in situations he shouldn’t have been in.
Joffrey Lupul, 29, LW/RW, under contract until 2018 at $5.25 mil
- 11G, 7A for 18P in 16 games, +8;
- 3.1 PS
Nonis made great decisions when he sent down Connolly and Komisarek to the AHL. He made a terrible decision when he extended Lupul.
Lupul could have been moved before the season, likely for a good haul after his career season last year. Instead, he extended one of the oldest forwards on the team to 2018, at the third-highest salary of anyone on the team. Lupul obliged by immediately getting hurt.
Yes, Lupul was once again a point-per-game player. But the alarming thing is that he didn’t even play half the shortened season. Lupul has played just 531 games in 9 seasons and he is extremely unlikely to become more healthy as he ages.
At the moment the Leafs have exactly two players – two left wingers, no less – signed for 2018 for a cost of $9.5. The Cap will no doubt be higher than it is now, but it seems silly to me to commit to nearly 1/6th of the cap for two players playing the same position, one of whom will likely not be healthy enough to play.
One can only hope that Lupul starts next season hot and healthy. Unfortunately the Leafs will not trade him but will rather use such a start to justify the deal. But they should have traded him before he got hurt, and they should try to trade him next chance he plays long enough to appear like he isn’t an injury waiting to happen.
Jake Gardiner, 22, D, under contract until 2014 (RFA) at $1.116 mil
- 20:29 ATOI;
- 0G, 4A for 4P in 12 games;
- .6 DPS
Who the hell knows what happened here. Carlyle committed to Kostka and then didn’t want to replace him because he might look bad? I have no idea. None. It makes no sense.
Gardiner should have been kept down last season when Franson should have been given his chance. But Gardiner wasn’t, and he proved himself. He should have been automatic in the Leafs’ Top 4, even with his injury. I can’t explain it. It certainly suggests that the criticism of Carlyle’s lineups is justified.
Hopefully he plays a full season at Top 4 minutes next year so they can make a sound decision about him.
Frazer McLaren, 25, LW, RFA
- 3G, 2A for 5P in 35 games, +2;
- .6 PS
McLaren is waiver trash. That’s how they got him. They certainly shouldn’t retain him if they can find a cheaper warm body.
Ryan O’Byrne, 28, D, UFA
- 17:11 ATOI;
- 1G, 1A for 2P in 8 games, +4,
- .6 DPS
Given the log-jam the Leafs potentially have going forward at D, there is no reason whatsoever to re-sign O’Byrne.
Ryan Hamilton, 28, LW, UFA
- 0G, 2A for 2P in 10 games, +1;
- .1 PS
Certainly no reason to sign him.
The remaining players for the Leafs played less than 100 minutes on the season.
- Steckel and Brown are gone.
- Komisarek is somehow signed for yet another season, but hopefully reason prevails and he is either amnestied or kept in the AHL.
- Colborne is not doing enough in the AHL to warrant more than his brief call-ups.
- Rynnas can’t even keep the Marlies starting job.
I for one do not expect the Leafs to be an automatic playoff team next year, nor do I necessarily want them to be. I am still concerned with getting a Cup, not squeaking into the playoffs and hopefully relying on a goalie to get a cup. So when I discuss trading Phaneuf and Kessel, I do it because I don’t think a Kessel- and Phaneuf-led team is particularly likely to challenge for the Cup year after year.
I still lament the fact that the Leafs are not able to build around a Seguin, and that the Leafs don’t have a stable of prospects like the Oilers. (It would not surprise me to see the Oilers and Leafs trade places next season, especially if the Oilers get some saner people in their front office.)
But I understand that starting from scratch now is not politically feasible – and I am resigning myself to another decade of no Cups – so I am instead interested in learning how the Leafs can at least improve this potential nucleus of Gardiner-Kadri-Reimer-Rielly-JVR and others. And in order to do that
- they will have to move Phaneuf,
- they may have to move Kessel,
- they will have move or bury Grabo,
- they will have to move or bury Lupul,
- and they will have to be very smart in free agency, and they will have to be very careful to not over-pay when the extending these players.
And even if they do all that and get substantial returns on the trades the chances are that we are not going to see much of a contender unless some of these players take some major leaps that we can’t see coming.
I can’t say I’m optimistic.