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),
|SEASON||SALARY||CAP HIT||BUYOUT||SAVINGS||BUYOUT CAP HIT|
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.