After showing promise after the Olympic break and a couple of high-profile trades the Maple Leafs have little right to take anything for granted and need to make continued changes in the off-season if they want to guarantee themselves a playoff spot and not a tee time in April.
1) The Ponikarovsky Deal
While I was disappointed to see Poni shipped to the Pens he is a pending UFA who will almost certainly be packing his bags once again on July 1st. He has publicly stated that he would like to return to Toronto and I would be equally happy to see Burke sign him. While not an A-list player in the NHL, the Leafs need a bigger team that is harder to knock off the puck and will go into the corners and Ponikarovsky did this rather well. Toronto has one out of the three pieces they need for an effective, top-tier offensive trio in Phil Kessel who is a natural scorer. What they lack is someone (a centre?) on the first line who will withstand the punishment of standing in front of the net. Enter Nazem Kadri. While small, this gritty forward will go to the net, get into the corners, take hits, give hits and score goals. When he is ready to play on the top-line in the big league, I would love to see a Ponikarovsky - Kadri - Kessel line.
2) Hit The Gym
Brian Burke said that the most important member of the team this summer will be the strength and conditioning coach and he couldn't be more correct. Bozak, Stalberg and Hanson have very conspicuously run out of gas; understandably so. Not being able to withstand the rigours of an 82-game schedule and being mediocre at best in the physical department these former collegiate athletes have some work to do in the off-season. With some added muscle, they will provide terrific secondary scoring however with Kadri's arrival one of these centres will need to be dealt.
3) Phaneuf's Game
With little doubt about his leadership abilities, Dion Phaneuf needs to check his scope as that booming rifle from the point hasn't been lined up quite right for some time. If Kaberle is to be dealt for a high pick and a top-six forward then the punishing point-man will have to fill an offensive void that will undoubtedly appear on the blue-line.
4) Stabilize The Defense
Toronto has an outstanding group of defensemen but they are taking far too long to gel. The lack of chemistry was quite apparent at the outset of this past season and due partly to injuries it never fully developed. With an abundance of skilled blue-liners the Leafs will need to establish a stable defensive corps and stick with it.
The goaltending this season was awful. In the 2009-10 season, the Leafs were a minus 53 which is disgraceful - to say the least. If the Monster's post-Olympic and post-Giguerian success was not a short-lived, Raycroft-like apparition, then Toronto is in good hands going forward. Giguere is not and will not be the tender of the future but will combine with the Monster to form a great tandem and then make room for a younger, skilled backup.
While the acquisitions of key role-players such as Exelby and Orr have helped greatly, Toronto still needs to toughen up. Partly through further additions and partly through existing player finding their offensive game. Luke Schenn and Dion Phaneuf have been shaking the boards as of late and Komisarek's return will also help.
7) Second Line
While I have already discussed what I think could be a successful trio of Ponikarovsky, Kadri and Kessel, it should be noted that someone needs to be planning out a second line and it remains to be seen whether or not Toronto will have the skill available to form one. While many of their younger acquisitions show promise, too many disappointments could this team with a first line and three fourth lines and a tee time booked for the second week of April.
I'm not a professional within the hockey world of any sort, but these are a few of my observations and I'd welcome anyone's feedback.