So three days in a row, I've written a blog. Three days in a row I've mentioned Jake Gardiner. But how can I not? By my estimate he is the sixth best defence man from the 2008 draft class thus far, and he's only played professional hockey for one year, as opposed to three or four. He's well liked, he's well educated, and, perhaps his most tantalizing prospect, he has connections which could get the Leafs in the door on the best defensive prospect outside the NHL, Justin Schultz. Oh, did I mention that wherever he goes, he's going to be quarterbacking their power play for the next decade? See, it's hard not to write about him.
Anyway, the blog.
The Maple Leafs, despite just about everyone's opinions, are in an enviable situation for this coming season. Draft pick, and all the players it could be dealt for - Nash, cough, aside, they have possibly the best depth of defensive prospects in the league. Phaneuf, Liles, and Gunnarson aside, every other Leafs defence man is either a prospect still, or old and washed up (komisarek).
Starting with Gardiner, we can add to that list Luke Schenn who, despite a negative year, is still poised to become a vicious defensive defence man. Once he can get back to the things that made him successful in junior and his first two year in the Show, namely hard hitting, dumping the puck or passing it off rather than carrying it himself, and perfects his one on one angles and gaining a smarter more active stick, he will be an effective player. Cody Franson has all the tools to be an above average NHLer, it's just a matter of him gaining experience (it is my opinion he was rushed to the NHL this year. He would have benefitted from being a work horse in the AHL, and the team wouldn't have had to many defence men all year. His large frame and heavy shot are reminiscent of Ryan Sutter, but the Leaf's must be much more humble in their hopes. Koriban Holzer is NHL ready, and is the prototypical shut down defence man a team needs. Blacker, Granberg, Mikus, Percy and Gyspers make up the rest of the Leaf's depth, and other than Granberg and Percy, most teams would be comfortable skating all those guys, if not as a line up, then as bottom pairing guys.
Now, that's settled and the question becomes: what to do with our defence men to build up other faucets of the team? Here's my list.
1. Before you do anything else (hypothetically), have Jake Gardiner call or Facebook or text Justin Schultz and tell him how great the city is and how nice the team is. If he won't do it, create a mix tape of him talking on camera and use it to trick Schultz.
2. Sign Justin Schultz.
3. Now, that makes the NHL roster packed with 8 NHL defence men, and Komisarek (that being said, I love the guy, and, like Horcoff, he would be amazing for 2.5 million, but sucks at 4.5). Phaneuf isn't going anywhere. Gardiner and Schultz are untouchable and NHL ready. Which leaves three spots for six guys: Komisarek, Gunnarson, Liles, Holzer, Schenn, and Franson. Let's assume, for now, that Brian Burke won't ever admit he's wrong (in real life he definitely would, right?) so Komisarek stays in on the bottom pairing. Gunnarson looked really good with Phaneuf, and, frankly, is a severely under rated defence man so he's in. Which leaves Schenn, Holzer, and Franson fighting for the last spot. Looking at the roster, we can see that four of the guys listed are offence first guys, one is a two way guy, and the other is Komisarek (who I love, but is bad). So we need a defensive defence man in the line up, which brings it down to Schenn and Holzer, and in that fight I think Holzer wins. Schenn was to bad last season, and Holzer was to go in the AHL not to warrant the swap. Schenn plays 25 minutes a night for the Marlies and is the first call up in case of injury, Holzer has his shot, what could go wrong? Franson also plays 25 minutes a night for the Marlies.
4. Because the Leafs are now paying 3.5 million for Schenn to defend against the Mike Zigomanises of the world, space has to be made for him to step into the NHL. Offer the 5th overall pick, Kadri, Greg Mckegg, and our second in 2013 to Columbus for Nash, with the astrix attached that they must also take Komisarek. Move Lupul to centre, and bring Schenn up or let him play all night every night for the Marlies and bring up Franson.