Since the end of the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, all the focus has been placed on restructuring management and the coaching staff. Now with Burke all but cemented as this team's eventual GM (a Burke/Wilson combo is the best possible scenario Leaf fans could have hoped for..imo), Fletcher needs to go into overdrive restructuring this roster.
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We can speculate on who may join the Leafs for next season, but with a weak class of UFA's and some minor potential in second tier class RFA's, most of the needed change will come from trades or promotions from the farm system (yikes).
The key phrase above is needed change. This is a Leafs team that on paper looks decent but for three years now has not demonstrated anything that would lead one to believe this was a good hockey club. They are one of the bigger teams in the NHL, yet may be the softest. They don't defend or stick up for their teammates. They aren't bonded as a unit in any sense. Forget about special teams or the lack of defensive cohesion, as excelling in these areas will not happen until a 'team' is put in place. This collection of players simply doesn't equal an winning formula.
With that in mind, the following is my personal opinion on each Leaf's player and whether they should stay or go. A couple players knocking on the door are included, along with two defencemen that should have been on the NHL roster two years ago. (a key short sighted decision by JFJ which cost us the last few seasons)
Vesa Toskala - top level starting goalie in the NHL. Stay.
Raycroft - something is just not right with Raycroft. Ever watched his interviews? Go.
Clemmenson - potential to be ideal back-up goalie for one season. Stay.
Pogge - whoever made the decision to start Clemmenson in the AHL playoffs should be fired. Unbelievable and so typical of the Leafs. Why is everything so backwards with these guys, year after year after year (on that note, why do I still cheer for them??? ... oh yeah, it's in my blood, I can't stop!) Anyways, Pogge is the future, should play a full season as #1 with the Marlies and then join the Leafs. Stay.
Kaberle - may possess the best transition game in the NHL outside of Nick Lidstrom. Supremely gifted with the puck and knows how create space for himself where none exists. Incredibly soft in front of the net and not physical whatsoever. Lacks the warrior mentality. Stay, but tradeable for the right deal.
McCabe - I go against the grain on this one. I'm a fan of McCabe, regardless of his tendency to be error-prone. He is intensely competitive, makes the first pass very well, and is physical. His offensive skills are above average and he does many small things that typically go unnoticed with defencemen. Happy to have him stay on a reconstituted defence, but the best path is to deal him. Go.
Kubina - torn on this one. Up to the trade deadline, a definite go. Now, I'm not so sure. A great competitor and team player, liked by everyone in the organization. Decent offensive skills, but not as good as McCabe. Plays physically and is good in his own zone. Has to improve his consistency overall and play at a high level game in, game out. Stay, but tradeable.
Strahlman - appears to have good potential, with a talent for rushing the puck up the ice. Great speed and seems to be fairly competitive. Stay.
Colaiacovo - has a very similar game to Bryan McCabe. Love his open ice hits and intense competitiveness. Makes the first pass very well, has decent offensive potential, but most of all is a hard-nosed defencemen. Has a weakness for not being in control and putting himself in dangerous situations which can lead to injury. McCabe's replacement on the defence if he can stay healthy. Stay.
White - always pulled for this guy and he's an average NHL defencemen. However, I don't see much more upside and his development has plateaued. Simply doesn't fit anywhere 1 through 6. Go.
**A few years back JFJ, signed Hal Gill & Kubina as free agents. We already had McCabe, thus didn't need Kubina. Hal Gill while useful as a Maple Leaf, simply wasn't needed. The money spent on these two should have been directed towards augmenting our woefully inept forward ranks. What was needed at the time (and still is) was a physical stay at home defencemen. Why sign Hal Gill when JAY HARRISON has been NHL ready for three years now! Instead of Kubina, Staffan Kronwall should have been promoted. Every stint in the NHL, both players have demonstrated solid upside and a capability to compete at that level. Spending those dollars on defencemen when our own farm system had two players NHL ready, was a misallocation of resources by JFJ. That cap money should have been spent on forwards. Note: as of this morning, it appears Jay Harrison has finally become frustrated enough with the Leafs and signed over in Europe.
Sundin - Great leader, talent is still there. While change & a youth movement are desperately needed, a team needs veterans and leadership. Alex Steen is not a leader. Stay, but I think he'll choose Ottawa or Detroit as a UFA.
Antropov - Love this guy, always have. Big, stronger than he realizes (or is just beginning to realize), great vision and hands. Has the potential to be one of the best #2 centers in the NHL. The key here is slot - don't try & force him to be the #1 center. Slide him in behind a franchise player and surround him with elite wingers. Stay.
Blake - tough year with cancer diagnosis. Should be commended for playing all 82 games, regardless of his goal output. I'm not ready to give up on him yet. He brings extreme speed to the Leafs and stretches other teams out which opens up gaps for his teammates. Needs to be the sniper, not the set-up guy. Blake is competitive, but has to focus on reducing the amount of very low percentage shots. Stay.
Stajan - prior to last year, a definite go as I didn't see much further upside. He seemed to have stalled in his development. Last year, he seemed to grow into an NHL player. Now he has leadership qualities and the potential to be a very good #3 center on a team with two genuine top lines....which the Leafs don't have. Stay.
Steen - Go. Lacks any semblance of internal fire. Has the potential to be a decent offensive third liner at best and is invisble most nights during the season. Again..go. But the Leafs will keep him around evidenced by his recent extension...sigh.
Ponikarovsky - 6'4, 220 lbs, one of the hardest shots in the NHL and a very good skater. Oh yeah, one of the most frustrating players on the roster! With all those qualities for the past six years, he's been a 25-35 point player. Most of those are scored in bunches and then he'll disappear again for 30 games. Go.
Wellwood - great hands and creativity, but doesn't compete in the high traffic areas. Lacks foot speed and is fairly one dimensional. Go.
Tucker - my favourite Leaf for a long, long time. Has given himself to this organization and genuinely loves being a Toronto Maple Leaf. But as Wilson put it at the press conference, he is starting to wear down. Go.
Devereaux - does a lot of little things very well, has good size, is physical with good speed, can contribute offensively and on the penalty kill. Every championship team has players such as this. The Detroit Red Wings have won Stanley Cups because they slot their players correctly. Their third line and fourth lines, are the best in the NHL. The key is to have real top 6 forwards to provide the necessary balance. Stay.
Bell - well past his prime. Love his toughness, but is a light middle weight at best. Go.
Tlusty - obviously he stays. He does have the potential to be a top 6 forward. Hopefully consistency will come with further development, as he tends to be invisible some nights....but again, it's still early. An interesting observation about Tlusty, but not very obvious to this point. He has decent size at 6'0, 200 lbs. However, his center of gravity on his skates appears to be extremely good. There was a stretch last season over about five games, where Tlusty starting leaning into players as they were about to hit him. These opposing players, often much larger were literally bouncing off him and collapsing to the ice. One of them was Pronger and I remember his expression at the time was disbelief, as if he had just hit a brick wall. Hopefully this bodes well for the future.
Moore - like his speed and competitiveness, much like Devereaux. Gets an invite to camp. Stay, but he's not critical.
Kulemin - all reports are he has top 6 potential and will play for the Leafs next year. From what I've read, he likes to mix it up physically quite a bit. The Leafs definitely need more of that. Stop getting walked all over....sigh.
Ondrus - makes my team as the #4 center. Has decent speed and offensive skill, loves to initiate physical play and can swing momentum. Energy guy.
Newbury - also makes my team on the fourth line. Very similar to Ondrus and insert your heavyweight on the other wing. When these two & Belak played together, the makings of a true forth line was evident. The line had a purpose and a defined role which they did well.
Enforcer - the Leafs need a genuine heavyweight enforcer. Say what you will, but they are necessary during the regular season. Far too many nights last year, Sundin was in scrums with multiple opposing players, while Ponikarovsky and Kaberle (to name only a couple) softly grabbed them from behind, careful not to escalate anything. Meanwhile, Sundin had four gloves wrapped across his face. The Leafs simply need far more team toughness throughout the lineup. They need an enforcer and guys sprinkled throughout the lineup who aren't afraid to stick up for their teammates when required.
The remainder of the minor league forwards have some potential, such as Williams, Earl, Boyce, & Mitchell - but I'm not sure about top 6 potential.
The outlook for next year is not good and that's okay. Leaf Nation has zero emotional connection with the current roster. We are more than willing to rebuild if it's done by a competent management team. 41 years & counting.....
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