A lot of thrills over the past few weeks as the Leafs played well before running out of gas this last week. Yet... yet in all the exciting hockey, one thing seemed to be overlooked. The Leafs were winning close games, shoot-outs and over-time games. Even when stringing the wins together, it was a team that was NOT dominating any team on the scoreboard. What we saw was a team with a lot of good young players who were finally playing sound hockey and getting some timely goals. They were also giving up points to teams that they were beating by not taking regulation wins.
This squad was taking advantage of some youthful legs, great speed and some opposing teams who had a lot more on the line to lose. The Leafs played great entertaining games, but realistically, they were not showing the ability to run away with a game. It was close play with less talent, in hopes of putting one of the skill guys or goalies in to a chance to win it late in the game. That is not really any better than the likes of the Rangers, Bruins, Habs or Sens this season. In other words, teams that are likely to see first round exits this year.
This team as it stands now, is comparable to the Capitals about 2 seasons before their first serious run. They are comparable with a handful of teams that really never had the benefit of tanking and drafting top-three for a 3 or 4 years. Even if the Leafs add 2 solid forwards up-front. Real leaders who can also score on the powerplay, and the kids mature as well as can be expected, this team lacks a genuine star up front to carry the mail. Much talk about Kadri - but in the best case scenario, he'll do as well as Tavares or Duchesne...and that isn't enough to carry a team for more than a handful of games.
Truth is, even if the Leafs owned picks #1 and #2 overall in this draft, they could ice a team with potential next year, but very short on leadership on the forward lines.
So it will come down to Brian Burke finding a couple of key parts that can do for the forwards what Phaneuf brings to the blueline. Players like that are pretty hard to find, and teams don't often want to move them unless there is a gun to their head.
Maybe a player like Horton (should he ever put it all together) could be traded, but he's still not matured enough to show the player we all expected.
Marleau - a UFA...well maybe he would bring some of that star quality, though he has a reputation for coasting in years when he isn't becoming a free-agent.
Frolov in LA, looked like he might be a star a few years back, and for spurts this year, but he really doesn't fit the Burke mold. A guy who has been benched or threatened with benching in the year before his free-agency.
Kovalchuk? Well really, he could be a great player, but you just get the feeling that he'd be happier on a team where he wasn't the go-to guy all the time. He hasn't exactly set the Devils on fire, but the true test will be big goals in the play-offs.
Bobby Ryan's name has popped up as a possible trade target, but really, I don't see it happening unless he really annoys management in Duckland. They will find a way to afford him.
It is going to be an interesting summer, but even if the Leafs find a trading partner for Kaberle, chances are that they will not get a sniper/playmaker/captain material in return. More likely a decent first round pick or an over-priced veteran forward who can pull a "reverse Stepniak" by coming to Toronto. That is a TALL order!! Especially if you want consistency from the player you get.
When it all boils down, there isn't a lot out there. A team that almost makes it in THIS year's play-offs and feels that they are a PP quarterback away from going to the finals, might have the depth to trade for a Kaberle, but they won't want to take a step back while moving forward.
Perhaps a team where the third line guy is better than the second-line guy...then the economics might make a guy on the verge of being a first-liner available. Again, I doubt it. Many GMs will see if a player can change positions to move up, rather than simply trade a guy held back in a position on the depth chart.
The bottom line - I'm willing to sit back and see what Burke comes up with. He no doubt sees the same situation, and this team isn't going to get where they want to be next year without a little-wheeling and dealing this summer.