New Years Resolution: What Can The Leafs Do To Improve?
As we close in on the half way mark of the NHL Season several things have been established. Teams like Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Boston are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, while the New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs are going to be stuck on the outside looking in when the Cup is handed out this summer. There are reasons why teams sit at certain positions in the standings. The top teams in the league have benefitted from internal player development, and shrewd trades. The teams at the bottom have suffered from various ailments, be it players not developing quickly enough, poor decisions by general management or injuries to key players. The Islanders have been hit hard by the injury bug, and are already trading away talent to improve their future. The Oilers are one of the youngest teams in the NHL and are slowly improving. They are a couple of pieces away from contention. Then we have the miserable Toronto Maple Leafs, who have no first round pick, no impressive rookies, and no chance of winning anything this year. What can Brian Burke do to turn things around in Hogtown? In my opinion, the team is lacking several key pieces. The Leafs went into the season with a solid goaltending tandem of J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson. Giguere has been solid when healthy but unfortunately, he has suffered from recurring groin injuries and is expected to miss several weeks heading into 2011. Jonas Gustavsson has been decent, looking fantastic at times, and mediocre others. His ascent to starting in the NHL will be a slow one, and it is normal for him to suffer from growing pains. If the Leafs hope to contend NEXT year, they need him to step up his game, or Burke needs to secure a true #1 who can stay healthy for the duration of an NHL season. The Leafs also went into the season with what was predicted to be one of the best and deepest blue lines in the league. What a joke that is. Dion Phaneuf, the newly anointed captain, has had a horrible season. He has one goal to date, and has a horrible plus minus rating. For 6.5 million dollars a season, the Leafs would be better off with a team yacht or mansion than a mediocre defenseman. Mike Komisarek, Burke's prized free agent acquisition last off season is clearly earning his 4.5 million a season. The question is, who should be paying that salary? At this rate, Komisarek has more assists on the oppositions goals than he does for the Leaf's goals. He was never brought in for his offensive prowess, but he has been a shadow of his former rugged defensively sound self, and has been plagued by untimely turnovers and horrendous defensive plays. However, it is my opinion that the biggest issue facing the team is its offence, or lack thereof. The Leafs desperately need a top line center. Mikhail Grabovski and Tyler Bozak are decent NHLers, but none of them should be a top line center on ANY NHL team. Burke wanted a 5 year contract in order to give himself enough time to build a contender from literally nothing. So far he has done a decent job rebuilding the club. His biggest error was the Phil Kessel trade. He clearly overestimated the skill of his team that season and ended up giving Boston the #2 overall and #32 overall picks in last years draft. If Burke doesn't want Boston to get another top 5 pick, he needs to address the void of top end talent down the middle. Brad Richards would immediately provide the Leafs with the top end talent they so desperately need to contend on a nightly basis. The Leafs have hung around in games lately and given valiant efforts, but haven't had that game breaker on the roster to fully bury the opposition. Richards would take the defensive focus off Phil Kessel and open him up for some easy goals. That would allow Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur to have an easier job against second pair defensemen. Richards would also lead the powerplay, penalty kill, and likely be the teams ice time leader amongst forwards. The question is, what would the Leafs need to send to Dallas in order to secure Richards' services? The Leafs would not want Richards as a rental. Burke would likely only trade for him if he could get his signature on a long term extension. Many critics argue that the Leafs have nothing of substance to send to Dallas. I beg to differ. Defensemen Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle, and Carl Gunnarsson would all be assets to the Stars. One of Jussi Rynnas or James Reimer could be sent over as trade bait to be the future backup or successor to Kari Lehtonen. If the Stars want immediate forward help, Mikhail Grabovski or Clarke MacArthur could be packaged with any of the aforementioned players in exchange for the services of Richards. It is a new year in Leafland. The Leafs had a great game against the Sens and are already getting offers for the services of Kris Versteeg. After being humiliated at the draft table last year, I think Burke is not in selling mode. He will make a big move soon to acquire some scoring help. Leaf fans should keep their fingers crossed that former conn smythe winner and 90 point guy Brad Richards comes to the rescue of the Blue and White.