Toronto Maple Leafs Off Season Moves
Many critics of the Toronto Maple Leafs would have you believe that the team has not progressed at all since the lockout. The Leafs streak of playoff free seasons is now up to 7 and without significant moves on the horizon, I wouldn’t be shocked to see it reach 8. However, for the first time in a long time, the long term outlook for the Leafs can actually be characterized as positive. Brian Burke has definitely made some questionable moves (the Komisarek signing, the Kessel trade to name a few) but he has also made some positive moves to strengthen the future of the franchise.
Burke flipped Kris Versteeg, and defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Francois Beauchemin for a mixture of roster players, prospects and draft picks. The Leafs now have a top six winger in Joffrey Lupul, and solid prospects Jake Gardiner, Joe Colborne, and recently drafted Tyler Biggs, and Stuart Percy. The future certainly looks bright, but the question remains whether or not the Leafs can win now and end their playoff drought.
I for one feel that the Leafs are in desperate need of a franchise top line center in order to turn things around. Phil Kessel has been a great scorer, but as the sole sniper on the roster, defences really target him. As a result of being the main target of the opposing top pairs of defence, Kessel has gone through long funks where he has been invisible on the ice. Adding a legit top line playmaking center would alleviate the pressure from Kessel and allow him to emerge as a 40 – 50 goal scoring threat. A top line of Kessel, Lupul and Brad Richards would sure look good in the Blue and White next season. Making that happen is easier said than done.
The New York Rangers bought out the contract of Chris Drury today so they now have cap space to make a substantial offer to Richards. Richards is a friend of Rangers coach John Tortorella, and has been rumored to have great interest in joining Torts in NYC. Nothing is set in stone, but the Leafs are likely in an uphill battle to secure Richards’ services. Many people have wondered if he is the answer to the Leafs problems. He is an undeniably talented playmaking center who has a knack for finding the net. He has a Conn Smythe trophy and a Stanley Cup under his belt, and has already eclipsed the ninety point plateau a couple of times in his career.
If that isn’t what the Leafs are missing then I don’t know what is. I don’t see Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri or Tyler Bozak carrying this team on their backs this season (if they are even on the team at all). That leaves Burke with one option. Sign a top line centerman, or make a bold trade for one. It will take a lot of guts, a lot of talent going the other way, but if Burke can massage the right deal, he could just turn the Maple Leafs into a playoff team. Who would have thought?