Nearly on the Eve of the first day of free agency...
Just some quick thoughts on the Maple Leafs before the real offseason frenzy begins...
News today that Mark Fraser has rejected Toronto's two-way qualifying offer. I am a little disappointed to hear that, because I think that the soon to be 27-year old proved that he deserves to be a solid part of the Leafs' top-six defensive corp. Fraser, who led the team with plus 18 rating, is a big, strong stay-at-home defenseman on a team that is chock full of speedy, puck moving and play-making defensemen.
Furthermore, the big kid also chipped in with 8 points from the blue line alongside playing his position much better than the likes of Carl Gunnarsson, Korbinian Holzer, Mike Kostka and even Jake Gardiner.
I have to totally disagree with Maple Leaf Buzz reporter Mike Augello from his statement earlier;
"Fraser is looking for a one way contract, but with the organizational depth on the blue line, he may be booking a one way ticket out of town."
If Toronto cannot find a reasonable defensive pairing for captain Dion Phaneuf, then I do not think that anyone can say that the organization has enough depth on the blue line. Gunnarsson and Holzer were both disasters playing with Phaneuf on the back end. Perhaps someone like Fraser would be better off playing next to Phaneuf than anyone else on the team?
If Toronto lets him go, then I too think that would be a big mistake.
In my opinion, these are the current Leafs' top defensemen, in order of play and being most valuable to the team: Cody Franson, Dion Phaneuf, Mark Fraser, Jake Gardiner, JM Liles, Ryan O'Byrne, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer.
So, to let your arguably third best blue liner to walk would be stupid. I still think that the sky is the limit for guys like Gardiner and Holzer, but that remains to be seen. These other trade rumors surrounding Jake Gardiner are also garbage, or should considered to be hogwash. Trading Gardiner, or even Phaneuf at this point makes no sense. For a team that is this close to being a respectable Stanley Cup threat, subtracting key young pieces only hurts chances to win.
However, if the organization could add a veteran defensive leader such as Andrew Ference, as reported by multiple sources this week, then Ference could also add some punch to the top-six, but still does not make Fraser expendable, nor should it.
Other Free Agency Rumors...
Vincent Lecavalier: Toronto has spoken to his agent according to reports...I see him as a pretty decent fit for the Maple Leafs, who would be in need of a center if Bozak walks. Lecavalier, 33, still is a solid player and also brings some Stanley Cup experience to a team on the verge of being a serious contender.
David Clarkson: It looks as if the New Jersey Devils are not going to be able to retain the 29-year old winger. I also think the Toronto native fits in well with what the Maple Leafs are trying to do. The only downside to him is that he is a career minus 32 player on a Devils team that prides itself with defensive-minded play. Furthermore, I would not seriously overpay for him. Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk are better players in my opinion. It seems that while studying his career numbers, if the team he plays on is not that good, then he will sort of check out on them. In 2010-11, the Devils had a miserable season, and Clarkson only chipped in with 12 goals and was a minus 20 while playing in all 82 games. Sort of a red flag there.
Kris Letang: The 26-year old Penguin blue liner has rejected Pittsburgh's eight-year offer. Not sure why. All of a sudden there is a swirl of unreported rumors of him heading to Toronto. Letang is a true Eastern Conference defenseman. He has a lot of skill to go along with his speed and puck-moving abilities. His performance against the Bruins in the Eastern Finals should be an indicator of how he fares against bigger, stronger teams. This is why I do not think he would fit in well with teams like LA, San Jose, Chicago, Detroit or Vancouver to name a few. I am a little skeptical of the Leafs offering someone like Gardiner in a deal for Letang, but the two may actually be pretty similar types of offensive-minded defensemen. I would rather hang onto Gardiner for the time being. But for someone like Gunnarsson and Toronto's 21st overall pick, sure! I doubt Pittsburgh is as stupid as their fellow state of Pennsylvania team...
Dave Bolland: Word out of Chicago is that the 27-year old Stanley Cup hero is on the block. I see Toronto as an excellent fit for the solid two-way center. The only downside to his game is that he is very injury prone. However, dealing with his nagging injuries aside, he is an upgrade over Jay McClement, as he can kill penalties and is a good shot blocker. That is probably one reason why he will miss a game from time to time. He would fit in very well in the absence of Leo Komarov who decided to bolt back to Russia without giving the Leafs a chance to resign him. Bolland fits in with the direction of the Maple Leafs and is a Randy Carlyle type of player. I'd gladly part with the 21st overall pick and a prospect or, here I go again, Gunnarsson for Bolland. It just depends on who Toronto can get at #21 and if that player makes sense right now.
Clarke MacArthur: Toronto's 28-year old forward has not garnered much interest talk thus far. I still think he makes the Maple Leafs better, but I could see a team like Los Angeles going after his services. Losing MacArthur hurts a little of the productivity and scoring depth, but if Toronto replaced him with someone like Clarkson then I am fine with that. I'd like to see Toronto hang onto him if possible. With the possible additions of Lecavalier, Bolland, and Clarkson would make both Bozak and MacArthur somewhat expendable.
The bottom line for the Maple Leafs in 2013-14 is to get a little more productivity out of guys like Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. Kulemin can fill in well on a line with guys like McClement, Colton Orr, and Frazer McLaren and provide some scoring depth on the third and fourth line. Grabovski is better served as a top-six forward, and the Leafs are going to pay him $6 million a season, then they should see him as such.
Also, if the Leafs are going to be a successful playoff team, Joffrey Lupul needs to be healthy. Toronto is also investing $5.25 million over five years in him to be an impact top-six forward, and having him sit in the press box more than being on the ice is nothing but a possible detriment to the team.
I am just hoping that whatever GM Dave Nonis and company do over the next few weeks or so does not hurt a team that is ever so close at becoming legit Stanley Cup threat.