Post-Draft and Free Agency Preview: Concern brewing within Leafs Nation

photo courtesy of the Toronto Star

photo courtesy of the Toronto Star

When the JVR rumours were circulating Friday afternoon Leafs Nation hoped that GM Dave Nonis was not about to trade a top line player and the 8th overall pick for the 1st overall selection.

It is understandable that the Nonis wants to upgrade on the blueline but JVR has a great contract and excellent chemistry with Phil Kessel. Unless the Leafs are getting a similar return, it would not be wise to get trade a proven player for a player that has potential to be great.

Nick Kypreos and Don Cherry were not too thrilled with the Leafs decision to draft William Nylander

Of course Don Cherry was upset with the Leafs not drafting a Canadian like Nick Ritchie. His frustration is understandable because the Leafs have been incapable of taking the next step and it is killing Grapes. In the Leafs defence they did try to move up to select that standout Canadian but it did not make sense for the organization.

The Leafs were not able to swing a deal for the 1st overall pick and seemed to be content in choosing William Nylander, son of Michael Nylander with the 8th pick overall. Many were excited to hear that the Leafs picked up one of the more creative and skilled forwards in the draft. Now the Leafs had already gone down that route with the Nazem Kadri, a dynamic scorer who has a lot of talent and potential. Now Kadri still has time to prove that he is that dynamic offensive player but the Leafs have to take the mistakes with Kadri and avoid doing it with Nylander.

The Leafs were right in giving Kadri another year to develop in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL. However Kadri was called out by Ron Wilson on his defensive play and Dallas Eakins spent time with Kadri to fix those defensive problems. However the Leafs did not draft Kadri to become a dynamic two way center, they wanted a gifted offensive player and now they hope Nylander will be that player. The Leafs have to be careful in their approach to Nylander, let him play to his strengths and make him conscience of playing a two way game. The plays who dominate the possession stats have the puck and keep it in the offensive zone, one of the strengths that Nylander possesses.

The next move that the Leafs made was trading Carl Gunnarsson along with a draft pick to St. Louis for Roman Polak. Now I think the Leafs should have received a 5th-7th round pick with the deal but it was obvious that the Leafs wanted to move out Gunnarsson. Polak is an upgrade on what they hoped Mark Fraser would provide because of his size and skating ability but Gunnarsson was also a capable 3/4 defenceman that had chronic injury issues. Shanahan discussed the trade and said that he talked with people who have seen Polak play, so that he can understand the type of player the Leafs were getting. It sounds like Shanahan finds the players and asks Dave Nonis to get the deal done.

So how does this affect the Leafs moving forward? The Leafs expressed interest in signing Martin Brodeur to back up Jonathan Bernier. Now the first question Leafs fans should ask themselves is whether Brodeur will take a back up role with the Leafs while he can still get jobs with teams like Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Boston provide Brodeur with the better chance of going deep in the playoffs. Shanahan has said that he is interested in bringing in Brodeur but I would guess that it would have to make sense financially for the Leafs especially with other holes to fill on the roster.

Then there is James Reimer who has been treated like a wounded dog ever since Jonathan Bernier was acquired last summer. Obviously the Leafs are comfortable with Bernier being the number one and this Brodeur rumour basically confirms that Reimer will not remain with the Leafs. It is sad given that Reimer basically gave his heart to the Leafs and now he knows that it is time to move on. This was apparent after the Leafs lost the season finale 1-0 and Reimer was visibly emotional knowing that he probably played his last game as a Leaf. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBlF-Z6ykJ8). It has been reported that Reimer wants to be traded out of Toronto and Dave Nonis should do the decent thing and give Reimer a good situation to move on to.

It is very unlikely that Dave Bolland will re-sign with the Leafs he is most likely heading to Florida because they seem to have the money to overpay him with. Leafs fans will be upset to see Bolland leave but a 3rd line center should not make $5 million especially with the criticism that David Clarkson is receiving. So the Leafs should look at a player like Dominic Moore who for the advanced stats people had much better stats then Jay McClemment and he can slide into a 3rd or 4th line center role. With Peter Holland it would make more sense then paying $5 million for Dave Bolland for 8 years.

The concern brewing in Leafs Nation is the uncertainty of what is in store for the Leafs. There has been no drastic changes made, management remained untouched, Carlyle stood tall as the lone survivor of Shanahan’s demolition derby, and the only changes came with the departures of Gunnarsson and Gleason.

It did not get any better as the Leafs attempted to pursue rival defencemen Josh Gorges from Montreal who refused to waive his no trade clause to come to the Leafs but Shanahan for some stupid reason continued to pursue him relentlessly. Leafs Nation hoped for more of a change and many have voiced their frustrations on Twitter.

@Hope_Smoke (https://twitter.com/Hope_Smoke) a respected blogger on twitter who tweets out daily updates from TSN radio and the Fan590 had a rant of all rants. The tweets below argues that Leafs management blame for lack of leadership was not the undoing for the Leafs and he had enough of it.

Then there is Steve Dangle who is the managing editor of  who has some pretty hilarious video rants about the Leafs. Here are some examples of tweets and videos.

Leafs Nation will have to sit back and wait for the Leafs to get out of the war zone and hopefully the Leafs learned from their mistakes and will actually start to use the younger players in the system that have earned their chance to play with the Leafs. The LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have done that and they have 4 Stanley Cups over the last few years. Draft the players and give them the chance to prove themselves because they will be the driving force to a Stanley Cup. Look at how close the Marlies have come to a championship, let these younger players play.

This will be a true test in how Shanahan wants the Leafs to operate and hopefully he can show Leafs Nation that he has a plan set in motion because right now things are tense in Leaf land.

 

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Draft, Trades and Free Agency an offseason starring the Toronto Maple Leafs

Like the American comedy “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” starring Steve Martin and John Candy, the Toronto Maple Leafs may not fully understand the challenge that lies ahead of them.

For those who have not watched the film, Steve Martin plays a business man who wants to get home to his family for Thanksgiving after a business trip. He meets John Candy, a salesman who wants to help Steve Martin after he messes up Martin’s plans to get home. The two agree to help each other get home and after a wild adventure.

Why do I make the reference? Well the Toronto Maple Leafs have one goal in common with every team in the NHL, that is to compete for the Stanley Cup, and like Steve Martin they will do anything in order to accomplish that goal. Looking at the teams that completed in this years playoffs it looks like the blueprint is available for the Leafs to follow. But if the movie teaches us anything it is that there is always something that disrupts something that looks simple.

The Leafs thought that they were on the right path to becoming a contender in 2012-2013 but in 2013-2014 all that was undone and it feels like the Leafs are back to square one. So the question is what do the Leafs have to do to get back on track?

The first will be to decide on whether they trade Dion Phaneuf or keep him and move other pieces. The rumours all started when Nick Kypreos tweeted out that the Leafs were shopping their captain. The Leafs have also shown interest in Joe Thornton from San Jose and on Hockey Central the panel discussed how a possible deal to swap captains would make sense for both teams.

Joe Thornton would give the Leafs the No.1 center that the team has missed since Mats Sundin and San Jose would get some help for Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns. The problem that Dave Nonis will have is finding a replacement for Phaneuf. He averaged 23:33 TOI this season in 80 games and missed 2 games to suspension so he is not a injury risk but it looked like he was dealing with some bumps and bruises in the final stretch of the season.

The only defencemen that averaged more than 20+ minutes this season were Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson. Franson was a team worse -20 followed by Tim Gleason at -14 and Morgan Rielly at -13 but I Rielly was a victim of being on the ice with Franson and Gleason this season.

So what the Leafs will try to do first is gut out their defence. James Mirtle wrote in his latest article that the Leafs will have some tough decisions to make and a possible option could be to buyout Tim Gleason.

The Leafs would have to use a ordinary buyout on Gleason which would count against the cap but if you go to capgeek.com and calculate his buyout it looks pretty reasonable. Here is the link to the details but I posted the table below as well (http://capgeek.com/buyout-calculator/?player_id=532&buyout_y=2014&buyout_m=06&buyout_d=17),

BUYOUT DETAILS

SEASON SALARY CAP HIT BUYOUT SAVINGS BUYOUT CAP HIT
2014-15 $4,500,000 $4,000,000 $1,333,333 $3,166,667 $833,333
2015-16 $3,500,000 $4,000,000 $1,333,333 $2,166,667 $1,833,333
2016-17 $0 $0 $1,333,333 -$1,333,333 $1,333,333
2017-18 $0 $0 $1,333,333 -$1,333,333 $1,333,333

It would be beneficial for the team to consider a buyout on Gleason especially if the Leafs are interested in signing Dan Boyle. I loved the style of play that Gleason brought to the Leafs, but he did not make the team better and at $4 million it does not make sense for the Leafs to keep him around unless Randy Carlyle can make better in a top 4 role.

Let us shift our focus to Dan Boyle. There is an argument that he should not be on the Leafs radar because he is a UFA and the Leafs have had bad luck when it comes to top rated UFA players. Dan Boyle in my opinion is different then some of the mediocre moves that the Leafs made in the past. He is a proven winner; won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04 and was a member of the 2010 Gold Medal Canadian Team. He played an average of 21:16 TOI in the regular season, and 21:51 TOI in the playoffs which led the San Jose Sharks. I am not sure how the Leafs would use Boyle whether as the number 2 or 3 defencemen it all depends on what they do with Phaneuf, Franson and Gleason. It also depends on if Boyle was interested in Detroit who needs help on the back end and what other teams would overpay for him i.e. Florida.

The rumours surrounding Joe Thornton should excite Toronto Maple Leafs fans for many reasons. He is a legitimate top line center that would make Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk even better. Thornton also has a say on where he ends up and that could mean a great deal if the Leafs can bring him in and sign Boyle. Shift Bozak the the 2nd line with Clarkson and Lupul then put Holland at the 3rd line and find a 4th line centre to compliment and the Leafs would be a stronger team up the middle.

Now a deal for Thornton could prove to be costly as well, I do not see the Leafs being able to keep Kadri and Phaneuf because San Jose will need pieces back for Thornton. There has also been rumours that Thornton may want to go to the New York Rangers especially after their recent playoff run and there may be a position if Brad Richards is bought out.

Now this is the part that will scare a Leafs fan, imagine if the Leafs let go of Kadri and he becomes a dynamic center that the Leafs wanted all along. What if the Leafs trade Gardiner and he continually gets better and becomes a top pairing defencemen. What if James Reimer becomes a more successful goalie than Jothan Bernier. These are risks that the Leafs might have to take and live with if it means that they become better as well. We have heard already that only 4 players have been given the untradeable label (Kessel, Rielly, Bernier and Bozak). so there could be a surprise deal including Lupul or JVR. The one change I want the Leafs to make is either put Carl Gunnarsson in the 2nd or 3rd pairing, buy him out or trade him because he is not a number 2 defencemen and it is not fair to put him a role that he will not succeed in.

I cannot give you a list of players that are likely to leave this offseason because there has not been much talk on who teams have interest in on the Toronto Maple Leafs. I can say that I would not be surprised if Nazem Kadri, Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Cody Franson, James Reimer, Tim Gleason, Nikolai Kulemin and Mason Raymond did not return given the amount of talk surrounding their future with the Leafs

This could be a great time to be in that market and if I’m Dave Nonis I’m trying to avoid the higher prices of free agency and try to do the best job possible through trades and drafting because that is how LA, and Chicago have gotten it done. Well except for Marian Hossa but other than that these teams do not rely on the UFA market to get better.

All I can say to Leafs fans is buckle up and hope that this bumpy ride will cause less pain than past years.

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Be Prepared for a busy NHL Draft

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The NHL Draft is always an intriguing event, unlike the NFL draft their is usually a high volume of trades between NHL teams which include more than just draft picks. This year’s draft will be no different especially with a number of teams that want to make significant upgrades without paying a higher price in free agency.

Let me give you an example; the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Dave Bolland from Chicago for a 2nd round pick and two 4th round picks. The Detroit Red Wings signed Stephen Weiss for 5 years at $24.5 million. Weiss suffered from an injury plagued season only recording 4 points in 26 games while Bolland was able to score 12 points in 23 games missing a majority of the season with an injury. Bolland was traded out of Chicago because the Hawks wanted cap space and Toronto needed more depth down the middle, Bolland commanded a $3.375 million cap hit. Toronto was rumoured to be one of the teams interested in Weiss but could not sign him and that appeared to be a lucky break. Even if Bolland wanted $4.5 million next season it would still be a better deal for the Leafs then what Detroit is getting for Weiss.

If Bolland does leave Toronto for free agency Dave Nonis will probably go down the same route to replace him or let Peter Holland take his spot. Now the Leafs may want to try and sign some players in Free Agency but they may not be in a position to make a major splash. Instead the Leafs will try to benefit from making a trade with a team that wants to part with a particular player or try to make cap space.

A team like the Philadelphia Flyers who has depth upfront may look to acquire a defencemen, the Nashville Predators may want to acquire a forward, Vancouver and Calgary are looking for a goalie. Teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, Vancouver, and Carolina may look for a shakeup and Toronto could try to cash in on what these teams have to offer.

Nick Kypreos reported that only 4 players have not been included in trade talks (Kessel, Rielly, Bozak & Bernier). Interesting that JVR is being included in trade talks but maybe Nonis believes that JVR can fetch them that top defenceman.

The NHL draft has become very important in the salary cap era because more teams have to use younger players that cost less on the cap. Look at the LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, they rely on the younger players that they draft and develop. The Toronto Maple Leafs have finally decided that it was time to invest more in drafting and developing players. Players like Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly have been key parts to the Leafs core and the organization has many younger players that have the potential to do the same.

Connor Brown (picked in the 6th round in 2012) was the OHL’s best forward this season and management is hopeful that they a hidden treasure in the draft. Jerry D’Amigo (picked in the 6th round in 2009) looks like he is ready for a full tine NHL gig after an impressive AHL campagin. Petter Granberg (picked in the 4th round in 2010) had a memorable NHL debut in the season finale against Ottawa. Mat Finn (drafted in the 2nd round in 2012 was the driving force to Guelph’s Memorial Cup tournament.

The future looks bright for the Leafs but they still need that one player that can bring similar qualities to what Mats Sundin provided. That player could be in the draft or acquired in a trade (Sundin was acquired in a trade don’t forget).

The Leafs have the 8th pick in the draft but there is also the possibility of trading up as well. The Leafs would like to acquire a defencemen to compliment their top 4 but only Aaron Ekblad is projected in the top 10. That means that the Leafs will likely pick a forward with their pick and these are players that could be available with that pick.

According to mynhldraft.com the Toronto Maple Leafs would pick Nikolaj Ehlers with the 8th pick in their mock draft (http://www.mynhldraft.com/NHL-Mock-Draft/).

Here are possibilities for the Leafs; (scouting reports provided by the Hockey News)

William Nylander C/LW (Sweden): versatile player who has the skating and play making ability to be a dynamic player. His weaknesses include his small frame and defensive deficiencies. (http://forecaster.thehockeynews.com/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?10756)

Kasperi Kapanen RW (Finland): Sniper who likes to find openings in coverage. He will have to adjust to the North American game because of his size and defensive deficiencies. (http://www.forecaster.ca/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?9616).

Nikolaj Ehlers LW (Denmark): dynamic goal scorer in his first season with Halifax in the QMJHL scoring 104 points in 63 games. His ability to create plays makes him and his linemates lethal in the offensive zone. Does not have a big frame which makes it hard to showoff his offensive upside. (http://forecaster.thehockeynews.com/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?10692)

Brendan Perlini LW (Ontario): Has the size and scoring ability but lacks the consistency and defensive play to break the NHL right away. Once he fixes that he can be a nice addition to any team. (http://www.forecaster.ca/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?9638)

Kevin Fiala RW (Sweden): competes for the puck and once he has the puck he has plenty of raw playmaking ability that makes him a threat especially one on one. Not very strong and needs to add more size for the NHL.

Haydn Fleury D (Saskatchewan): Great skating ability and excels in a shut down role against the most skilled players. Great size and potential to put up points.. Needs to work on physical play and lacks natural offensive talent. 2nd ranked defencemen on the draft board after Ekblad. (http://www.forecaster.ca/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?10851)

Nick Ritchie LW (Ontario): Can be a great top 6 forward with his size and aggressive play. His type of play raises question marks on whether he can contribute in an everyday role on an NHL. Power forwards are rare in the NHL today so he will have to make use of his strengths. (http://forecaster.thehockeynews.com/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?8836)

Jake Virtanen LW (Alberta): Natural scorer that has the size and skating to be an effective winger. Needs to find consistency in his game for the NHL level. (http://www.forecaster.ca/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?10878).

Will any of these players be top franchise players in the future for the Leafs? Anything is possible but the Leafs will definitely look for a player with more size and offensive ability which is a hard quality to find in every player. Also the Leafs cannot put all their stock in first round picks, they need to rely on their late round drafting in order to continue building a dominant prospect pool.

Of course the Leafs will try to build for the future but also make significant improvements to get back into the playoffs. Judging by the way that teams in the Western Conference played in the playoffs the Leafs have a lot of work to do.

 

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The Big “What If” For the Toronto Maple Leafs

People always tend to wonder how different things would be if a different decision was made whether a life decision or if their sports team made the right call. The highly debatable topic in Toronto for years has been the Phil Kessel trade which ended being the Kessel for Seguin/Hamilton trade. Leafs fans will never get over the trade and there will always be the question in the minds of all Leafs fans, what if the trade never happened.

Why did the trade occur in the first place?

The Leafs needed a dynamic goal scorer which the team lost when Mats Sundin left. The leading goal scorer for the Leafs in 2008-09? Jason Blake, 25 goals and 63 points. Blake was considered a disappointing free agent in Toronto because he scored 40 goals for the Islanders in one season, but he never did that for the Leafs. Not the first time a free agent did not meet the team’s expectations (cough cough David Clarkson). When Brian Burke was brought in as GM he knew that he had an impatient fanbase who wanted a winner. So he made a move that most would believe was the impatient move, traded for a young goal scorer in Phil Kessel who scored 30 goals in his 2nd NHL season and became the new franchise player for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

How different could the trade have been?

Part of the reason why Kessel became the new face of the Leas was because of the steep price that the Leafs paid to acquire Kessel. It was rumoured that the Leafs wanted to acquire Kessel at the 2009 NHL draft (http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=282967) where a  miscommunication between Boston and Toronto ended a potential trade that would have had Kessel and Kaberle switching teams. The Leafs thought that the Bruins would trade Kessel and it’s first round pick and another pick for Kaberle and I am assuming a lower pick, but the Bruins wanted the Leafs to include their 7th overall pick (which was used to select Kadri). How much different would the Leafs have been if that trade would have taken place.

The Leafs would not have Kadri or Kaberle, who the Leafs traded for a 1st round pick and Joe Colborne to Boston anyways, but they could have had both Seguin and Kessel. Imagine the possibilities, they would have Seguin and Hamilton along with the other moves that Brian Burke made. Toronto Star writer Kevin McGran wrote an article last year which explained how the quick flip decisions have haunted the Leafs because of everything the Leafs could have had (Rask, Seguin, Hamilton, Couture). Couture however, was drafted by the Sharks because they traded up for Couture so the Leafs may not have had the opportunity to get Couture with the 13th pick (he was picked 9th overall). (http://www.thestar.com/sports/leafs/2013/01/29/maple_leafs_trades_with_bruins_sharks_opportunities_lost.html) Now there is no way in saying that it would have worked out that way, maybe there were other reasons why the original trade did not work but the Bruins knew that the Leafs wanted Kessel and Burke believed that he was a big piece of the puzzle missing.

The 2009-2010 season was an eventful season for the Leafs they went without a win in 8 games to start the season. Kessel missed the first 12 with a shoulder injury and Burke began to clean house. However there was a glaring need for a replacement for Mats Sundin which Burke could not accomplish. Why is that? It’s because teams draft a number one center and the Leafs refused to do what was necessary to find that top center in the draft, the Leafs never put themselves in a position to do so. Then again it would take a really high calibre player to succeed in Toronto. Look at the list of elite centermen that the Leafs had in their history; Mats Sundin, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, George Armstrong, Doug Gilmour, Syl Apps.

Is an elite centermen the thing that the Leafs are missing?

Let us look at the most recent elite centermen that the Leafs have had; Gilmour, Sittler and Sundin. These three centermen were great players but failed to achieve the ultimate goal of capturing the Stanley Cup with Toronto. So is it really an elite center that the Leafs need? Is it one player or do they need to have a more complete team? I would lean more towards the latter. In 1992-93 and 2001-02 the Leafs made it to the conference finals and honestly those teams were capable of winning a Stanley Cup. If you look at both rosters they had a complete team, good coaching (Pat Burns and Pat Quinn), high calibre goaltending but they lost in heart breaking fashion both times (especially in 1993). After that the Leafs have not been close to repeating the success that those teams had.

Back to my elite centermen discussion, I am not saying that a team does not need an elite center to win a Stanley Cup, I just think that so much more of an emphasis needs to be placed on creating a team that will do what it takes to win. That is what Brian Burke was trying to accomplish, he wanted to assemble a team that had motivated players that would be difference makers. His trades were great but every team in the salary cap era has to rely on the draft to get that over the top player that will be the leader of a Stanley Cup run. Jonathon Toews/Patrick Kane, Drew Doughty/Anze Kopitar, Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk/Henrik Zetterberg, Patrice Bergeron/Zdeno Chara(free agent but only because Ottawa let him go), Correy Perry/Ryan Getzlaf. They were all drafted (except for Chara) and surrounded by good players to carry them through the tough grind for the Stanley Cup. The Leafs do not have players like that because they never sat back drafted and developed players that can lead this team and they have had opportunities to do so.

How has impatience and refusal to rebuild the Leafs kryptonite?

In the 2008/09 season,  the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to qualify for the playoffs and instead of losing it’s final game and having a chance to pick in the top 5, the Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators in the season finale and ended up selecting Nazem Kadri with the 7th overall pick. They picked Luke Schenn the year before 5th overall but failed to be patient and stock up on elite level talent after that or prior to that. If the Leafs lost that game and had a lottery pick they could have had a player like Matt Duchene who went below Tavares 2nd overall, Brayden Schenn went 5th overall (who I think will be a good player). These players could have been a possibility if the Leafs decided that it was more important to build for the future. Instead the Leafs spent up to the maximum salary cap on mediocre free agents and they end up missing the playoffs coming in 10th and end up with a mid first round pick.

Over the last few years they have finally put more of an emphasis on the draft with players like Morgan Rielly, Frederick Gauthier,  and now it finds itself in that same position this summer with the 8th overall pick. In 2012/13 there were questions on whether Morgan Rielly should have made the team, but luckily the Leafs decided that it was better for Rielly if he had another season in the WHL. The Leafs found out the hard way what happens when they rush a player like Luke Schenn, if he had more time to develop for the NHL level he could have been an elite shutdown defencemen for the Leafs. Luckily Brian Burke was able to salvage value for Schenn by trading him for James van Riemsdyk. Whoever the Leafs with the 8th overall pick should be the best player available. Teams have made the mistake in drafting for what the needed but sometimes you cannot pass up on a sure thing. There were questions on Colorado taking Nathan MacKinnon with the 1st pick with Seth Jones available but I don’t think they regret their choice. So for the Leafs when they pick 8th overall and they choose a defencemen great, if it is a winger that is fine, this player will not be expected to break the NHL unless he is phenomenal at training camp and should have no pressure on them to do anymore.

Rethink Free Agency Approach

The Leafs have to stop handing out long term contracts to free agents that do not have a consistent track record for success. Look at the list of free agents that did not work out in Toronto;  Pavel Kubina 4 years $20 million, Jason Blake 5 years $20 million, Jeff Finger 4 years $14 million, Mike Komisarek 5 years $22.5 million, Coloby Armstrong 3 years $9 million, Tim Connolly 2 years $9.5 million. I will not include the David Clarkson contract yet because it was one season and I think that he is capable of rebounding.

This offseason for Brendan Shanahan has many twists and turns involved. It is not like the Leafs can go into a full rebuild unless they start selling off players like; Lupul, Clarkson, Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Gleason who down the road are not going to be able to provide much to the team. Is Shanahan willing to start his tenure by attempting to blow up the roster? Does he think that he can salvage the core of this team by selling off on parts of it. I have no doubt that the Leafs would be willing to make bold moves, they just need to stay away from over paying on a UFA that might not fit the mold of the team.

Offseason work will be crucial

The Leafs decided that Randy Carlyle will return to the team and this seems like a more patient approach for Nonis and Shanahan. Although the team played terribly they still believe that Carlyle can get the most out of this group and hopefully that is still true. However if Carlyle is coming back things will have to change, younger players should not be thrown under the bus if they are not the problem (i.e. Gardiner and Reimer) and players should be utilized properly. No more Colton Orr taking up a spot on the roster if he has nothing to contribute, realize that the team is struggling and adjustments have to be made. So really the Leafs have to make changes to the roster that will prevent another collapse.

Dave Nonis’ will have a hard time this summer because he has to make some bold decisions similar to the situation from last season. They have a group of UFA and RFA to resign or let go and he will probably think twice on giving out long term contracts unless it is for a proven player that will be a difference maker for this team.

This is the UFA list for the Leafs

Player Pos Team Age Cap Hit
Bolland, Dave » C TOR 27 $3,375,000
Kulemin, Nikolai » R TOR 27 $2,800,000
McClement, Jay » C TOR 31 $1,500,000
Raymond, Mason » L TOR 28 $1,000,000
Ranger, Paul » D TOR 29 $1,000,000
Staubitz, Brad » R TOR 29 $637,500
Lasch, Ryan » R TOR 27 $625,000
Bodie, Troy » L TOR 29 $600,000
Brennan, T.J. » D TOR 25 $600,000
MacIntyre, Drew » G TOR 30 $600,000
Smith, Trevor » C TOR 29 $550,000
Smithson, Jerred » C TOR 35 $550,000

This is the RFA list for the Leafs

Player Pos Team Age Cap Hit
Franson, Cody » D TOR 26 $2,000,000
Reimer, James » G TOR 26 $1,800,000
Holland, Peter » C TOR 23 $1,295,000
Gardiner, Jake » D TOR 23 $1,116,667
D’Amigo, Jerry » L TOR 23 $1,082,500
Ashton, Carter » R TOR 23 $1,040,000
Ryan, Kenny » R TOR 22 $900,000
Devane, Jamie » L TOR 23 $701,111
Abbott, Spencer » L TOR 26 $650,000
Abney, Cameron » R TOR 22 $588,333
Kozun, Brandon » R TOR 24 $550,000

My next post will discuss which players should be back, will be let go and which players could possibly be involved in trades with other teams.

 

 

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Leafs owed James Reimer more

If there is one player who deserved to be treated better by the Toronto Maple Leafs it would definitely be James Reimer.

During the years of J-S GIgurre and Jonas Gustavsson, there was never a shred of hope for the Leafs to make the playoffs, but on January 11 2011 that would all change. After relieving Gustavsson in the 3rd period of the previous game, Reimer was given his first start against Ottawa in a 5-1 Toronto win. The Leafs actually made a run for the playoffs which came up just short but for once James Reimer provided the hope that had been lost for many years. The Leafs had a legitimate number one goalie and for the last 3 years there was optimism in Leafs Nation.

His first year as the starter was a rough year because of a concussion that he sustained from a collision with Brian Gionta. Last season he carried the Leafs to the playoffs and kept them in a tough series against the Bruins. Then Dave Nonis makes a trade with the LA Kings to acquire Jonathan Bernier. At the time when Bernier was acquired Nonis was quoted in the Toronto Star saying (http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/nhl/maple-leafs-trade-for-goalie-jonathan-bernier-1.1376534)

“We feel we’ve got two of the top young goaltenders in the league right now. . . I’m looking forward to getting them both together. I think it’s going to be a good fit.”

[“We feel we’ve got two of the top young goaltenders in the league right now. . . I’m looking forward to getting them both together. I think it’s going to be a good fit.”Nonis said he had not spoken yet with Reimer but had left a message for him and expected they would talk soon. Nonis confirmed the Leafs were a contender for Bernier’s services right from the start of the regular season.]

It seemed like Reimer and Bernier would operate under a 1A,1B model but Bernier would be given the starters job and Reimer’s future as a Toronto Maple Leafs was coming to an end. When Reimer did receive playing time the team would play atrocious defence in front of him and his confidence began to dwindle. Even Don Cherry said that Reimer lost confidence which is sad to think considering that Reimer got the Leafs to the playoffs last season.

IN this year’s season finale against Ottawa, James Reimer and the Leafs had a chance to make Reimer’s (most likely) last game as a Leafs memorable but again his team didn’t care. Breakaways, odd man rushes and a 4 ON 1! Not exactly letting your goalie know that you are rooting for him. The worst part came after the game when reporters asked Reimer about the game and what his future holds.

Here is the link to the article and video of Reimer’s interview (http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/collapse-complete-leafs-let-reimer-down-in-the-end/).

One part of the interview that I wanted to point out was that Reimer thought that he wanted to be the Leafs goalie for the foreseeable future and that the thought of that coming to an end is sad. I hope management realizes that the way they treated Reimer is not sitting well with Leafs fans.

Instead of trading for a defencemen or a number one center the Leafs went after a goalie which they already had. I like Bernier as a goalie but I am concerned about his recent groin injury and whether he will stay after his contract is up this year. The Leafs better think long and hard about the Reimer situation and decide whether Bernier will resign with the Leafs.

Also this isn’t the first time that Bernier beat out Reimer for a starters job. Bernier beat out Reimer for the Team Canada starters job at the 2011 World Championships which Canada lost to Russia in the semifinals.

Here are Reimer’s stats as a Toronto Maple Leafs to remind Leafs fans that he was not just an average goalie, he just had an average team play for him. For you advanced stats guys here are some numbers that show the support that Reimer got this year from his teammates. I couldn’t get the advanced stats to fit on the page but here are the links for the stats and what these stats mean, but I’ll put it in simpler terms, Bernier got better support than Reimer. (http://www.extraskater.com/players/on-ice?team=tor&pos=G&min_gp=25 http://www.extraskater.com/players/goalies?team=tor&min_gp=25)

Season GP SO GAA W L T Pct
2010-11 37 3 2.60 20 10 5 0.921
2011-12 34 3 3.10 14 14 4 0.900
2012-13 33 4 2.46 19 8 5 0.924
2013-14 36 1 3.26 12 16 1 0.911

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Time for the Leafs to regroup

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If you ask me what was worse; the Game 7 collapse, the 18-wheeler going off the cliff or this recent skid, I would say this seasons collapse.

Why? It has been a 3 week soap opera that had no chance of a resurrection, I knew that the Leafs were in trouble when they lost to Tampa Bay (when Stamkos got the hat trick) and like many Leafs fans I do want changes, but you have to realize that it is not going to be easy. 

The NHL is different from the NBA and MLS, so do not expect Tim Leiweke to magically turn this team around like he did the Raptors and TFC. Lest we forget that the Raptors were supposed to take a step back this year, but somehow they were able to rally together as a team and clinch a division title. It’s funny to see a team succeed when they have no pressure to do so. The Leafs made their first postseason appearance in 9 years after a 48 game season, lost in Game 7 to the team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals, and the expectation this season was postseason or bust. 

Like many I expected this team to make the playoffs but I also knew that it was going to be difficult to do so, especially with Detroit coming to the East. The Leafs made it to 2nd in the Atlantic and believed that they could stay in 2nd place, and with 15 games left in the season that did not seem impossible. Somehow the pressure got to this team and as a result they crumbled in a dramatic fashion.

Bernier sustains a groin injury and Leafs Nation expected James Reimer (who lost the starters job) to save the day. Good! let the guy who the team could not get more than 2-3 goals a game for come in and miraculously get the team into the playoffs! 

The team had a difficult time finding consistency in their game. Yet Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly  stepped up on the blueline (which is apparently lead by Dion Phaneuf) to provide a spark but that appeared to be for nothing.

The top line was getting their chances but they had a hard time getting the puck in the net. But that is why this team has 3 oth…..oh wait 2 oth…..nope the Leafs really had only 1 other scoring line which was Kadri, Lupul and Ray….Kule….Clarks…..not even sure who the other winger was. At least when Ron Wilson was coach you knew what the 4 lines were. Randy Carlyle never had a consistent lineup, yes injuries and suspensions played a role but keeping 2 enforcers also hurt this team. This team refused to give younger players from the Marlies an opportunity (D’Amigo, Ashton and Holland) to play consistent minutes, 10-15 minutes a night. Greg McKegg played 3 minutes in his NHL debut, how do you expect to show confidence in your younger players if you play them less then 10 minutes, the more opportunities you give them the more they can surprise you. 

When Steven Stamkos went down with his leg injury Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat stepped up and kept Tampa Bay in the playoffs. When the Leafs lost Tyler Bozak during the season they gave Peter Holland a decent opportunity, but he still played behind Jay McClement at times. Frankly the Leafs played better with Peter Holland in the lineup, so why didn’t he stay in the NHL? Well the Leafs did not have the cap space when Bolland came back, and Holland did not have to clear waivers so Nonis thought that having him play consistent minutes in the AHL would be better.

However a team that had problems with secondary scoring and breakouts out their zone could have benefited from a player like Holland but they chose to leave him in the minors. Steve Spott, the Marlies coach, even said that he was an NHL center so Carlyle should have found a way to play him but I guess he couldn’t fathom the idea of two young center in Kadri and Holland in the lineup over Bolland or McClement.

The Leafs had a reputation for being a tough team to play against last season but other teams figured them out. Don’t let Colton Orr or Frazer McLaren fight, and keep the Leafs in the defensive zone. So the Leafs should go into the offseason figure out how to make this a competitive team again. They will have to look at each player and determine who does that and who does not.

Dion Phaneuf should not be the captain next season mainly because he was the captain during all three collapses and a change should be made in order to shake things up. You can see that there are times where Phaneuf does not play with an edge, the Leafs will have to find a partner for Phaneuf that will play with a chip on his shoulder and make the Leafs a tougher team to play against.

Maybe with Brendan Shanahan they can determine what tough choices need to be made. I think Nonis should stay as GM but he can benefit from another person that can have an input on what direction this team should pursue especially after another disappointing finish. Shanahan has tremendous experience in the NHL, he was a captain in St. Louis, a heart and soul guy on every team he played with and his time with the NHL front office makes him a logical candidate for the Leafs plus he would have the respect of the players as well. 

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Leafs playoff hopes hanging by a thread

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Look the likelihood of the Toronto Maple Leafs making to the playoffs is very unlikely but this team believes that they are still in the hunt unless it becomes mathematically impossible  that they are not going to make it. They will need a lot of help and hope that either Columbus or Washington go on a bad streak.

Saturday night’s game had some promise until the Red Wings took a 3-1 lead in the second period. Too many things have been going wrong for this team lately and the concern is that it will not be an easy fix for management. Too many people have speculated that it is the coach, and a lot have put the blame on the players.

The defensive breakdowns have been a problem for the last two years not just this year. Reimer and Scrivens kept the Leafs afloat during the 48 game season but even Nonis knew that it could not last forever. He realized that at any point the inexperience in net could have imploded and the Leafs would have missed the playoffs. That is why Nonis attempted to acquire Kiprusoff and Luongo because he knew that the defence wasn’t good enough and having Luongo or Kiprusoff would provide more stability. However Nonis realizes that the price was unreasonable and the Leafs were better off but what he failed to realize was that he was trying to hide the actual problem for this team.

The only significant change the Leafs made on defence was adding Tim Gleason. However what the Leafs failed to realize was that this defence lacks proper hockey IQ. What do I mean by that? The defence fails to make the smart play and they fail to recognize the situation. Morgan Rielly had two fantastic plays on Saturday bight, the first was the pass to Joffrey Lupul on his second goal, the second was when he took away a breakaway chance with the Leafs down by one goal with 13 minutes left in the game. The Leafs need more players like this on their roster, a player that will make the smart play.

I’m not going to argue who on the Leafs has great hockey IQ looking at the players on this team it is clear that there compete and awareness of the situation is not good enough. Lupul had a chance to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead but Howard stops the puck. What happens? The Leafs fall back when Detroit started a counter attack instead of trying to stop the rush in the neutral zone after gaining momentum. When a shark smells blood it attacks and does not stop, this is what other teams have done to the Leafs. When the Leafs let in a goal, the other team does everything it can to get another quick one because they know the Leafs are wounded. This is where the team needs a go to line to get some momentum back by taking away the opposing teams momentum.

There really is no excuse for the Leafs meltdown especially with the way they played before the Olympic break. Other teams have had harder obstacles to overcome especially a team like Detroit who lost Datsyuk and Zetterberg in a critical stretch but young players like Nyquist, Tatar and veterans like Alfredsson and Franzen who have filled the void and kept the Red Wings in the playoff hunt.

The Leafs have not had a balance of consistent play from their young players and veterans. Kessel and JVR have been great this season but players like Clarkson and Lupul have been off and on (not fair to put Lupul & Clarkson in the same boat).

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered this summer and hopefully most of these problems can be resolved but there is no guarantee that they will.

Below are all the players on the Leafs roster and whether they will be back with the team next season.

Forwards

1st line

Phil Kessel- the Leafs just invested the next 8 years in Phil Kessel and he took his game to the next level to the point where he became a top 5 point scorer in the NHL. He will have to step up now if the Leafs want any chance to get into the playoffs but I expect him to pick it up again next season.

Tyler Bozak- when he returned from his injury he provided a major boost for this team. It took away the criticism of whether he was a number one center but again like Kessel he has disappeared a bit during this losing streak. If he wants to convince everyone that he is a number one center, he has to provide stability on the first line like he did before the Olympics.

James van Riemsdyk- a career year for JVR who was a major surprise last year because of the chemistry that he had with Phil Kessel. His size and ability to elude defenders made him a steal when the Flyers traded him for Luke Schenn. He is only going to get better and hopefully he can get better down the final stretch.

2nd line

Joffrey Lupul- another 20 goal season for Lupul who is seen as one of the vocal leaders for the Leafs. Him and Kadri have been inconsistent this season but during this losing streak he has been able to score when the Leafs needed a goal. He works hard with the puck and puts himself in a good position to score in the offensive zone. He may be a player that could be traded if the Leafs need to get something significant in return. However Lupul is a great player that should remain with this team because he is a go to player that can provide a consistent effort every night.

Nazem Kadri- there are times when he is great and time when he is still making rookie mistakes. This is more apparent with his defensive play, he has the ability to lay the body to create a spark but he has not done it enough this season. His puck handling skills are one of the best on the team but his offence is off and on and his lack of consistency was not a problem last year. It could be a lack of chemistry or it could be that he is trying to do too much and it has affected his play. These last 6 games will be an audition for Kadri because if he is unable to play on the 2nd line the Leafs may be forced to go out and find a player that can be a 2nd line player. I think Nonis may reconsider what they have with Kadri and if he receives a good offer for Kadri he may pull the trigger, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t.

Mason Raymond- He has exceeded expectations this year. $1million for a player that was supposed to play a 4th line role. I don’t see him returning next season because another team will pay him more money and the Leafs cannot have too many one dimensional players on this team.

3rd line

Nikolai Kulemin- He had a 30 goal season, now he is only known as a great defensive forward with some offensive potential. No offence but his play has been in a decline for years and the Leafs need a change and $3-4 million is too much for a player that has been a 2nd line player for a period of time and now a 3rd line player at best. Leafs should just let him go if he wants more than $2 million.

Dave Bolland- if there is any player that the Leafs needed the most this season it may have been Dave Bolland. His leadership and gritty 2 way play is one that the Leafs needed this season and lost for 60 games. The Flyers game on Friday was the perfect example of a play where hard work will be rewarded. If he is looking for $4.5-5+ million than the Leafs will have to let him go but he may take a pay cut given his injury but he should be the most important UFA this summer. If the price is right he should be back.

David Clarkson- a terrible season that he may not recover from. Not too sure the Leafs can risk buying him out so maybe the Leafs will have to see if he can turn things around, but management may want to cut their loses. I can see him turning his game around but his problem is that he is trying to do too much and if he can simplify his game he may improve.

4th line

Jay McClement- he is not the same player from last season. He was supposed to be the back bone of the penalty kill but he’s been the opposite of that. The penalty kill has been worse and part of the reason why is because Carlyle has misused McClement. If he plays more than 15 minutes a game he will not be effective. So the Leafs have to decide whether he is worth bringing back but if the wants a pay raise I would forget it.

Frazer McClaren/Colton Orr- they did not instill toughness or any desire to compete. They will be back but they probably won’t play as much as they should.

Troy Bodie- his work ethic has been a boost and for 7 minutes a night you know that he is going to play his but off every shift. I would take him over Orr/McClaren and hopefully management agrees.

Peter Holland- if he didn’t have that infection, I believe that Holland would still be playing for the Leafs right now. He deserves to be in the NHL and if he Leafs decide to trade Kadri or let Bolland leave then he will be with the Leafs next season as the 3rd/4th line centre.

Players to consider bringing in from the Marlies next season: Jerry D’Amigo, Spencer Abbott, and Carter Ashton

Defence

Dion Phaneuf- During this 8 game losing streak his play has been declining and now everyone is questioning whether he should be the captain of this team. It’s not like he has a rock solid defensive partner to help him play against the opposing top line. He has to play with Carl Gunnarsson! I highly doubt that any team could win with Gunnarsson as their number 2 defencemen. So let’s give Phaneuf a break because every top defencemen in the NHL has a partner that can be counted on every night. Chara has Seidenberg Keith has Seabrook, Pietrangelo has Bouwmeester, McDonagh has Girardi, Larsson has Yandle, Letang has Orpik, Vlasic has Boyle. So if the Leafs ever want to become a serious contender get Phaneuf a reliable defensive partner that can help him.

Carl Gunnarsson- not a top 2 on any NHL team, maybe management sees that and tries to unload him in a package deal this summer. He would be better off playing a lesser role because he is not capable of playing against the elite players in the league. The worst part is that he has 2 years left on a deal that carries a $3.15 million salary cap hit. If the Leafs do want to trade Gunnarsson they may want to take some salary as part of the deal.

Tim Gleason- he is your typical warrior on the blueline if he can be a stable 2nd pairing defencemen then paying him $4 million is not a bad thing. He has been average for this team but he is willing to block shots and take the body which is what this team is lacking at the moment. He will probably stay especially because teams won’t want his contract.

Morgan Rielly- an impressive rookie year that got off to a slow start but along with Jake Gardiner you can see that Rielly has the potential to be a great defencemen in this league. His speed and hockey sense are a incredible and hopefully he will be able to take a step up next season.

Jake Gardiner- he has played pretty good during this losing streak demonstrating his offensive capabilities and his speed as a useful skill. The Leafs would be wise to keep him unless they get blown away with an offer He can be better defensively but he needs to avoid holding onto the puck too long or playing out of position. That’s where he needs a mentor on the blueline to help him with that.

Cody Franson- last season was a great season for Franson but that was because of his offensive numbers. He did not have to be as reliable defensively because Mark Fraser was playing decently on defence. He has the size but his skating is not that great and too many times he tries to force a shot that gets blocked and he gets beat too easily in a one on one situation. Not sure if the Leafs will want to keep him unless he takes a pay cut but even then they have too many offensive minded defencemen. So unless Franson can tighten up his defensive game he will probably be traded/not re-signed.

Paul Ranger- he got off to a rough start to the season but he has proved that he can be the 7th defencemen for this team. Does he have the capability to play in a regular role, possibly but not for the Leafs. Maybe he moves on to another team like Edmonton with Dallas Eakins who needs to find some stability on their blueline.

Who should the Leafs look for in the summer to improve their blueline?

Some have mentioned names like Alex Edler or Kevin Bieksa from Vancouver. Bieksa would be the better option especially because he is reliable defensively. Now both players have a NTC but they may want a change of scenery and Toronto would love to have one of them. James Reimer would be an option for Vancouver when they go looking for a goalie this summer but it will probably take more than that possibly throwing in Gunnarsson and a forward prospect but again this is my opinion.

If the Flames want Reimer the Leafs may go after a defencemen from Calgary, maybe Mark Giordano who has been a reliable defencemen for the Flames for years and the Leafs could use a veteran like him on the blueline.

The Jets are another team that want Reimer but I am not sure who the Leafs would want form the Jets but at the same time Reimer would probably welcome a trade to his home province.

The Islanders have a lot of good prospects that the Leafs may be interested in. However when you want something good, you have to give up something good. clearly the Islanders will not trade Tavares but how about a Ryan Strome, Griffin Reinhart? It would be interesting to see what the Islanders would pay for a starter.

I am the last person that wants to see Reimer gone from this team but if this team is ready to move on then he should move on to a better situation because I am not sure if he could ever come back and play in Toronto especially if Carlyle is the coach.

If the Leafs want to make improvements this offseason this is the shopping list that I have prepared for them to consider.

A top 2 defencemen via trade (Bieksa, Giordano, Edler)

A top six forward if possible through UFA (Matt Moulson, Mike Cammalleri, Paul Stastny)

Find a dependable back up goalie if McIntyre is not an option (Scott Clemmenson, Chad Johnson, Justin Peters)

Pursue a defencemen through UFA (Brooks Orpik)

This is not going to be an easy task for Dave Nonis but you cannot go into next season without making any changes especially on defence. A coaching may be something to consider as well. The clock will be ticking for Nonis when the offseason comes.

 

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