A list of things that MLSE needs to do differently, top to bottom, to make this franchise a proud one once again.
- Successfully instill the mentality that playing in Toronto isn't a right, it is a privilege. Brian Burke insisted he would send non-performers through waivers. I have regrouped and am not quite ready to hit the panic button quite yet, but one cannot argue the fact that an 0-6-1 start and being the last team to get that seemingly impossible first win is not what could be considered performing well.
- Make it known that losing, while many say it is expected, is NOT OK. Ron Wilson has done the job of benching players who have produced lack luster numbers, or played a few bad games, but it doesn't seem to get through the way it should. Sitting 2 or 3 top players for extended periods, and allowing some hungry young prospects some ice time would be great in getting that message across as well as for the development of the prospects. Basically, what I'm saying is veterans need to sit, as do the young guys, when they aren't playing well, but for multiple games, and every player should be susceptible to this punishment, regardless of age or position!
- Make it known that it is the coach's way or the door. Any player on that roster who refuses to buy into Ron Wilson's plan should either be demoted or traded. In that sense, there are no untouchables. There are plenty of players in the league that respect what Ron Wilson brings to the table, as they should. He has a great track record, and has shown he can work with young, rebuilding teams.
- Burke needs to realize that the Eastern Conference is a different environment than the Western Conference. If he does realize this already, then he needs to implement this knowledge and reformat the line structure of the current roster. This team should have one bruising line, and three talent lines. I realize the coach makes the final decision on the lineup, but Burke provides Wilson with the players for the lineup, so there is only so many combinations you can implement with players already set into specific styles of play.
This is where some will argue it gets dicey.
Demotions / Waivers
1) Toskala - takes 4 million off the cap. I would tend to think that he would clear waivers with no problem based on the last season and the start to this season. If he rights his game in the AHL, he would be a valuable piece of trading material come the deadline. The fact of the matter is, Jonas Gustavsson appears to have what it takes to be a legitimate starting goaltender in this league. It is too early to tell how well he will perform long term, but I would be hard pressed into believing his numbers would be as poor as Toskala's have been. It is a hard move to hope for, because I had very high hopes for VETO when he arrived, but he simply has not proven he can compete at this level, in the Toronto environment.
2) Primeau - however valuable he is viewed in a penalty killing nature, is forgotten with how terrible this team has been penalty killing. If someone picks up his contract or not is irrelevant because his removal frees up cap space regardless and a roster spot for either Bozak or Hanson. Another 1.4 million saved.
3) Mayers - the big league club has no use for his grit when it could tout a equally effective line nightly with Orr and Rosehill. Waive him and save the 1.3 million that is his contract this year.
With those waiver moves the club would chop 6.7 off the cap from this year. All are irrelevant next season as they are in contract years and with the showings to this point are not strong candidates to return for 2010-2011. The relevance lies in potential trades. The Leafs are closer to the cap than most realize at this point and could use some breathing room again for trade negotiations. The pieces for trade are sparse, as is the interest, but if a big namer became available and Burke had interest, it would be easier to get a deal done with that space.
The team should sign a reliable UFA goaltender to serve as a backup to Gustavsson as MacDonald is not the person who should be between the pipes when Jonas is not. He served as the goaltender to the worst team in the NHL last season. His numbers were not the worst, but they were far from good in my opinion. Until that time, let prospect Reimer get some action as backup and then have him start in the AHL to boost ice time and confidence.
Players to trade for draft picks
I would take any draft picks possible for Mayers or Primeau above, but Toskala I would like to see go through waivers in hopes of a rebound for his career. In that sense I would not trade him unless the return was an anticipated high 2nd rounder and a late draft pick as well.
Stempniak - despite his lackluster numbers, I feel there is some value for a right handed shooter who has a fairly good shot. Being conservatively realistic (if there is such a saying), he could be a 50-60 point guy in the right environment. There are quite a few teams that could use his right handed shot on their power play. I realize the Leafs are one of those teams, but it isn't working out for either party in Leaf Land for Stempniak. A 2nd rounder and a late pick for him as well would get it done I'm sure.
Finger - with the injury to Van Ryn, it could be argued to keep him, and with his contract, would likely have to be packaged with a prospect perhaps Mitchell and/or Stefanovich, but it would be good to get his 3.5 off the books and call up Frogren or a prospect defender to fill that gap in case of injury. Any package of picks that included a 2nd or two 3rd rounders should be strongly considered.
So with some line juggling and the roster moves I suggest, the lineup would end up like this, until Kessel's return, and assuming that Gustavsson is ready to play:
Line 1: Ponikarovski Stajan Blake
Line 2: Hagman Grabovski Kulemin
Line 3: Stalberg Bozak Tlusty
Line 4: Rosehill Wallin Orr
Pairing 1: White Schenn
Pairing 2: Kaberle Beauchemin
Pairing 3: Komisarek Exelby
Goalie 1: Gustavsson
Goalie 2: TBD/Reimer
This lineup would:
- possess the truculence that Burke loves
- have a top 2 lines set that once clicking would pose a reasonable (not overwhelming) threat offensively
- have a young and exciting 3rd line that would give the opposition fits on a lot of nights having used their top tiered defenders against the established veterans on lines 1 and 2
- have 2 great D pairings and one that would hold nothing back when the opponent needed a not-so-gentle reminder of the team they were playing against
- the "best goaltender who (wasn't) playing in the NHL"
There is no reason that this team should be worse than last year. A few minor tweaks, and this roster could be faster and more competitive. A few moves would look bad on the franchise in a way, but the success that followed would obliterate that look and would reinstall a sense of pride when you pull on the Maple Leaf jersey.
I would think that this team should be battling for 7th or 8th in the conference with these changes.