“Leafs are finally on the road to recovery.” by Tony Rose
I’ve read on some sports forums and web sites that the “premium” draft picks given up in the trade for Phil Kessel were too much. But if we stop and think for a moment and look at his 21 goals and 20 assist for 41 points in 51 games the trade is justified. If we extend this further, knowing that he plays against the top defensive pair of each team on most nights without a true 1st line center or grinder to get the puck into his hands, we can appreciate how well he’s done. I look forward to an immediate increase in production once he gets line mates that are on his level of play and talent. He is an established 22 year old sniper that has already produced 36 goals and 24 assist in 70 games with the Boston Bruins the previous year. I personally don’t think a first round pick (if the draft history is correct) would produce that much even if they did make it to the big club.
Brian Burke has done what I believe is a marvelous job in regaining draft pick equivalents through the acquisitions of college players and landing the “Monster” Jonas Gustavsson. These moves that are beyond the scope of the draft more or less justify what he gave up for Phil. Yes it would have been great to still have the first and second picks considering their 2nd to last overall position in the standings. What makes it easier to digest is the play of Viktor Stalberg, Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, Rickard Wallin, and especially Carl Gunnarsson and Jonas Gustavsson who has shown at times flashes of brilliance that allow us to think that he will be among the cream of the goal tending crop one day.
Another remarkable move was the landing of Dion Phaneuf. If you would have told me that Dion Phaneuf would be skating in our end of the ice wearing the blue and white at the beginning of the year I would have answered that I could refer you my psychiatrist and that I would chip in to pay for the first session.
Looking at the defensive core made up of Francois Beauchemin, Garnet Exelby, Carl Gunnarsson, Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and Mike Van Ryn, I’d say the Leafs are comparable to any in the NHL and pretty well set for the future also.
Every team that dwells in mediocrity or that is a bottom feeder for many years does not suddenly overnight become a contender. The Toronto Maple Leafs needed to rebuild and rebuild badly. The road to recovery started with the hiring of Brian Burke, maybe the only managerial move this organization got right in the last 15 years.
When Brian took over Toronto had a very porous defence and an even worse goal tending situation where goalies allowed soft goals on a regular basis that just sucked the lifeblood right out of the team. Thankfully this has been addressed with maybe a need for tweaking in net until Jonas shows he is truly ready for the big stage. I’m still not fully convinced that Jean-Sebastien Giguere will hold the fort until Jonas is ready but time will tell.
Where the Leafs really hurt right now is their forwards but looking at the roster we can see that this will be taken care of also. Many of the so called “unproductive” forwards that did not pan out or never lived up to the hype that followed them are gone. I’m still in shock that Jason Blake’s contract was done away with and that someone actually took Vessa Toskala off our hands. There will be other UFA’s that will not be resigned also, just look at the roster below.
|Francois Beauchemin||D||$4,200,000||UFA 2012/13|
|Tyler Bozak||C||$875,000||RFA 2011/12|
|Luca Caputi||LW||$585,000||RFA 2011/12|
|Garnet Exelby||D||$1,725,000||UFA 2010/11|
|Jeff Finger||D||$3,500,000||UFA 2012/13|
|Jean-Sebastien Giguere||G||$6,000,000||UFA 2011/12|
|Mikhail Grabovski||C||$2,750,000||UFA 2012/13|
|Carl Gunnarsson||D||$630,000||RFA 2011/12|
|Jonas Gustavsson||G||$900,000||RFA 2010/11|
|Christian Hanson||RW||$875,000||RFA 2010/11|
|Tomas Kaberle||D||$4,250,000||UFA 2011/12|
|Phil Kessel||C||$4,500,000||UFA 2013-14|
|Michael Komisarek||D||$4,500,000||UFA 2014/15|
|Nikolai Kulemin||RW||$850,000||RFA 2010/11|
|Jamie Lundmark||C||$600,000||UFA 2010/11|
|John Mitchell||C||$500,000||RFA 2010/11|
|Colton Orr||RW||$1,000,000||UFA 2013/14|
|Dion Phaneuf||D||$6,500,000||UFA 2014/15|
|Wayne Primeau||C||$1,400,000||UFA 2010/11|
|Luke Schenn||D||$875,000||RFA 2011/12|
|Fredrik Sjostrom||RW||$750,000||UFA 2011/12|
|Viktor Stalberg||LW||$715,000||RFA 2011/12|
|Mike Van Ryn||D||$3,350,000||UFA 2010/11|
|Rickard Wallin||C||$800,000||UFA 2010/11|
Salary Figures from NHLPA.com.
Player Status from NHLNumbers.com
All teams that are in a true rebuild mode go through the pangs of having to grow a bond between the players and find the chemistry needed amongst them. This takes the right combination of management, coaches, players, and time, sometimes a lot of time. Toronto has lost many a game this year as this rebuilding process moves forward, I firmly believe that if Brian Burke maintains his course of getting rid of unproductive players and allows the youth to mature as NHL capable players they will recover and do it in record time. The Toronto Maple Leafs may be on a downward spiral that is reminiscent of the scene from “Journey to the Center of the Earth” but it seems that Brian Burke has opened some sort of lava valve beneath the Leafs and it looks like they are on the way out of that downward spiral and finally on the road to recovery.
They’ll have the cap space to get a true #1 center and #1 winger to fit along side of Kessel this summer. I firmly believe that within 2 years the Leafs will be a competitive team that will have to be reckoned with in the NHL.