With the second round of the playoffs well under way and a relative lull in “other news” relating to the Blue and White, it’s time to break down what I see as the “Summer Playbook” for the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into June’s draft and the July 1 free agency period.
2009/2010 saw Brian Burke make a major push to solidify the defensive end for the Leafs – UFA signings and the trade route were used to bolster this area of the organization and it seems that Burke and Co.’s hard work in this area will allow the brain-trust to focus on beefing up the forward corps – literally and figuratively this offseason.
By building a strong defensive foundation, the thought no doubt was to begin the Leafs’ rebuild by taking care of their own end first, and once that was under control, an effort to remake the guys ‘putting the biscuit in the basket’ could be left to a later date.
Here’s a look at my take on the areas that will be addressed by the Maple Leafs this offseason:
As per Brian Burke’s mantra, the building/rebuilding of any team begins from the net out. It was quite evident that Burke and Ron Wilson were not completely sold on incumbent starter Vesa Toskala and his surgically repaired body from day one and were on the prowl for reinforcements in this key position.
The hiring of goaltender guru Francois Allaire set the table for a number of key acquisitions for the Leafs between the pipes:
In: JS Giguere, Jonas Gustavsson, Jussi Rynnas, Ben Scrivens,
Out: Vesa Toskala
Still Here (for now*): James Reimer, Joey MacDonald*
Moving forward, the goaltending position organizationally now seems to be a major position of strength for the Maple Leafs with a core of big, young, athletic goaltenders competing for their rightful spot on the depth chart. With Giguere and Gustavsson penned in to start the 2010/2011 campaign with the big club, prospects Reimer, Rynnas and Scrivens will be left to battle it out for roles with the Marlies to continue their development in the 416 (Toronto’s area code for those out-of-towners).
Everybody wins when the players are competing for jobs, and from this scenario the Leafs’ front office is no doubt banking that the team’s future starter(s) are amongst this core.
Game Plan: Not an area of focus this offseason with the exception being taking a flyer in the late rounds on 18 year old prospect still 2-3 years away from making the transition to the pros.
In: Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Francoise Beauchemin, Keith Aullie, Karl Gunnarsson,
Out: Ian White
Still Here (for now*): Luke Schenn, Garnett Exelby , Mike Van Ryn, Tomas Kaberle*, Jeff Finger *
Thought to be an area of strength for the Leafs after some key offseason acquisitions, the early season play of the Leafs back-end left a lot to be desired. Big names Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin took some time to acclimatize themselves to their new team, with mistakes being made by “trying too hard” to impress their new mates/coaches/fans. In my opinion, not really an issue as I’d personally rather mistakes being made for that reason than simply not being good enough.
Look to see the same faces back next year as a whole, with notable exceptions being the possible trade of Tomas Kaberle and the salary dump/demotion of Jeff Finger’s 3.5 million dollar salary to make room for incoming forwards. (Look for more on this in Part II of the Leafs Nation Game Plan).
Carl Gunnarsson burst onto the scene playing poised and capable in all situations late in the season – Gunnarsson is a puck-mover capable of playing well in his own zone and has the promise of being an internal back-fill for the potential departure of a certain player filling that role in Toronto the last decade. A strong start to the sophomore campaign is eagerly anticipated by Leafs Nation.
Luke Schenn overcame the sophomore jinx early in the year – which saw his ice time dramatically decreased, and along with it the youngster’s confidence. Hard work (reports of Luke being first on/last off at practice was rampant), dedication to his mates and an undeniable skill-set, Schenn no doubt restored the confidence the fans and coaching staff had in him when he burst on the scene as an 18 year old rear-guard. Of note was the improved offensive output late in the year.
January 31, 2010 (or as I call it – “Christmas II”) may be a watershed moment for the Leafs franchise moving forward. Dion Phaneuf and his considerable talent, confident swagger, booming slapshot and leadership abilities made the move east to Toronto in a seemingly lop-sided 7 player deal. If anyone had told you on January 30th the Leafs would land Dion Phaneuf (not to mention a serviceable forward and prospect D-man) for the package of Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Nik Hagman and Ian White you would have laughed them off as another delusional Leafs’ fan… Well, the legend of Brian Burke continues to grow…
Game Plan: Again, not an area of focus this offseason for Burke & Co. in terms of additions, however it is almost set in stone that the defense corps periphery that finished the 2009/2010 season will be altered next season. Look for Tomas Kaberle to be shopped for top-6 forward talent + and Jeff Finger’s contract being moved somehow to free up valuable salary cap space. (I’m not harping on Finger – I think he is pretty good at his role, just not for 3.5 million. Jeff expressed a willingness to be moved to the Marlies to avoid paying into the NHL’s salary escrow… Here’s to you getting your wish Jeff.)
Check back for Part II of the Leafs Nation Summer Playbook. I will go over the Leafs forwards along with throwing my two cents in on who the Leafs should target through trade and FA signings this offseason.
Enjoy the playoffs…
About the Author
Written by Mike De Petrillo
Leafs fan; former OHL LW; Live in Toronto