For my first crack at blog writing in some time, I thought I would simply put together a list of my thoughts on the Leafs.
1. Nazem Kadri is in no way the bargaining piece Brian Burke would have us believe he is, nor is he the super star the Leafs need. In fact, I would argue that if he does not piece together the defence side of his game soon - and that includes limiting turnovers - he will never succeed in the NHL in any role - grinder or otherwise. Now this is not me trying to break up your fantasy about him breaking in for a 30 goal season 60 points next year, it is simply the fact that he has 19 points in 51 career games in 3 seasons, over which time he is a -2. His value, right now, is at an all time low and, I'm afraid it is going the wrong direction (although a strong third and [hopefully] forth round in the AHL playoffs could turn that around).
2. James Reimer still has the potential to be Optimus Reim or, in layman's terms, a (above average) starting goaltender in the National Hockey League. His problem now is a crisis of confidence. It is my opinion that Ron Wilson misused Reimer at the end of his tenure, and that James did not feel he had the organization's trust as their goalie. A good example of that, you ask? Mike Smith and the Phoenix Coyotes, on whom The Hockey News did an awesome report in their last issue. Mike was brought in to be a starter, regardless of the terrible season he had just had. Don Maloney told him before he was signed that he would be the starter, Dave Tippet kept sending him in, no matter what his performance, and Sean Burke tweaked his game to take advantage of Smith's size, though only slightly. And the result? An other worldly season from a goalie pulled off - to paraphrase THN - the scrap heap in which Mike was shafted for the Hart, the Vezina, the Masterton, and the Ted Lindsay awards all at once. I'm not saying we should expect the same from the one they call Optimus, but should the organization put their confidence behind James Reimer - and replaces Francois Allaire (for good measure) - the young man from Morweena, Maitoba might surprise us.
3. All that being said about James Reimer, Ben Scrivens is lighting up the AHL playoffs, he lit up the AHL regular season, and frankly next year he will light it up again (and not just because I wanted to use three tenses). I realize it would be a (extremely) young pairing, but Reimer-Scrivens has a nice ring to it. Right now I think Reimer and Scrivens are about equal in their probability of success, so the challenge may be finding the right mentor, goalie coach, and AHL allocations which will be most beneficial to the team, and the two (possibly three) goalies.
4. Jonas Gustavsson has played his last game in a Leaf's uniform, but certainly not his last in the NHL. Another team will sign him this summer for probably more than his value on the off chance he can develop some consistency. A team weak with depth in net will sign him, my list of probables being Edmonton (lots of fellow swedes), Tampa (if they can't get someone else. [Luongo]), and Pittsburgh (their AHL goaltending this season [Thiessen] was weak}.
5. More and more it seems to me that Mikhail Grigorenko is going to be this year's Sean Couturier. He's big, he can play mean, he can play skilled, he has put up big points in the third toughest junior league in the world (WHL #1, OHL #2), he has been a highly regarded prospect for most of his career, he plays in Quebec (doesn't speak French though), and for some reason he will be overlooked. Now I know everyone is saying he's good, and his attitude is the only negative thing about him, but attitude is a HUGE part of hockey, and that will not be overlooked on draft day. General Managers and head scouts drafting high up in the draft won't surefire NHLer's who will compete every game and every practice in the pursuit of winning. To an extent, at the top of the draft heart and compete level outweigh pure skill. Alex Semin's don't win cups. Dustin Browns win cups.
WITH THAT BEING SAID:
If he is available at number five (and I whole heartedly think he will be) the Leafs must pick him. After he was picked 8th overall, Couturier went on to play a very, very solid first season in the Show, and frankly he would have been the best rookie in the league if he weren't playing on one of the deepest teams in the East. While Grigorenko doesn't have the shutdown ability of Couturier (which, I might add, he had never really shown in junior) he does, I believe have the ability to step into an NHL line up, he has the speed to keep up, and the size to crush people, although he doesn't.
6. Jake Gardiner is untouchable. Period. Unless it's a legit number one centre coming from a team willing to absorb Tim Connoly's contract for him. Period. Or Crosby. Or Malkin. Or Schneider, straight up. So I guess he's not untouchable, but you see my point.
7. This last point may be the most obvious, most talked about necessity in hockey: a preferably large, durable, playmaking centre who can both skate with Phil Kessel, hit at least as hard as Lupul, win board battles, and play defence to cover for the lapses of the two. Of course, any one or two characteristics can be replaced, but preferably the general idea is that it should be a talented player to play with the Leaf's two best forward talents (right now).