Much to be done in Toronto
The Maple Leafs have a lot of fine-tuning to do this off-season.
TORONTO, ON -- With the Stanley Cup Final set to begin in a couple of
days (Kings vs. Devils - who knew?), the rest of the NHL will
be bunkering down to officially begin their off-season planning.
Several teams are looking to some seriously impactful moves this
summer, and the flag drops this week. The Toronto Maple Leafs,
Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks, Montreal Canadiens, Boston
Bruins, Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars are just a
handful of teams itching to retool this summer -- and that leads to
plenty of excitement beyond the Cup.
In Toronto, where I call home most of the year, the Leafs are in a
fairly intriguing state. After imploding and missing the playoffs this
season, GM Brian Burke and his staff (sans Rick Dudley) are going to
have to make some interesting tweaks to the lineup.
And these tweaks aren't as easy as going out and pulling the trigger
on a trade for Rick Nash.
First of all, who would Nash play with? Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul
command the first line, without a legit No. 1 center, and having Nash
on Mikhail Grabovski's wing just seems odd.
But more on Nash later.
As rough as goalie James Reimer looked in the second half of the season,
he'll be able to regroup and reenergize for the 2012-13 campaign
(whenever it starts). But he might have some serious competition for
the No. 1 job... or, he might not.
Goaltender is one of Burke's biggest dilemmas this off-season. Yes, he
still thinks Reimer can be a good starter in the NHL, but is he good
enough for the Leafs?
Burke will loosely explore the possibility of adding Roberto Luongo,
if he hasn't already, and the Leafs might be the only team that wants to can
afford to eat up his contract. If a deal were to see someone like Mike
Komisarek and his hefty salary head to Vancouver, Burke will seriously
consider it -- even if that means 10 years of Loouuuuu!
It's not like Luongo's game went in the shitter. He's still a very
capable and solid starter; he just needs a change of scenery. Sure,
Toronto fans aren't very forgiving -- though Canucks fans seem to be
borderline insane at times -- but the last goalie from Quebec that
suited up for them did a pretty good job (Felix Potvin, people).
If the Leafs find the asking price to be ludicrous, which is entirely
possible, Burke will turn to his next option, Nashville's Anders
All signs point to Lindback being dealt this summer, and the Maple
Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning will be hot on his trail. But the
Predators and GM David Poile will want a quality return for Lindback,
and that means giving up a solid up-and-comer, something the Leafs
have been reluctant to do in the past.
Toronto (and Burke) cannot afford to miss the playoffs next season.
Not with two All-Star forwards expected to repeat their offensive
production next year. The Leafs have a solid amount of depth, but they
need a chunk of their players to step up.
Tim Connolly, Nikolai Kulemin and Colby Armstrong (injuries aside)
were big disappointments. Matthew Lombardi (aka Luis Mendoza -
seriously, the guy is fast) gets a bye simply because nobody knew if
he would play this season.
Tyler Bozak and Joey Crabb impressed, Clarke MacArthur did as
expected, and Matt Frattin looked solid as a rookie. But none of these
guys are second line players.
With Kessel, Lupul and Grabovski up front, the Leafs need some help on
their first two lines.
Sure, they can get off without a legit No. 1 center (though they might
have the opportunity of drafting Alex Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko
this June), but the Leafs could really use a solid second-line scorer
to help spread the offense around.
Maybe Alexander Semin is a target? He'd look good with Grabovski, the
Leafs can afford to pay him, and he has plenty of skill when he decides to use it,
but he might not be a Randy Carlyle type of player (but if he's the
only option, Randy might not have much of a choice).
With regards to Nash... while he's got the size, strength and
offensive prowess that would fit well on a Carlyle team, he really
doesn't have many guys to play with in Toronto. This is purely my
opinion, but I don't believe he'd be the right fit for the Buds. The
price tag is still too high (Toronto could have acquired him at the
deadline, had the given in to Columbus' demands), though I suspect
Burke will have a chat or two with Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson in the
coming weeks, if not days.
The Leafs have plenty of work to do this off-season. They need to fill
three spots in their top six, fine-tune their defensive corps (Jake
Gardiner will be a regular next season,
Komisarek and Cody Franson could be moved, and Luke Schenn's name will
continue to swirl around the rumor mill), add one solid
defensive-minded forward for their bottom-six, and stabilize their
Nobody said it would be easy, but Burke understands the task at hand.
How the task is achieved will be fascinating to watch.