Maple Leafs Panel is a weekly feature that is published every Monday throughout the season here at The Hockey Writers. It’s a feature where THW Editor Lukas Hardonk as well as THW Toronto Maple Leafs correspondents Mark Ascione and Stephen Stoneman answer three questions that concern the Maple Leafs each week. This week, Raihan Hussain fills in while Lukas is away.
Question: The Leafs occupy one of the 8 Eastern Conference playoff spots at the halfway point of the season. Do they have a legitimate chance to end the season in one of those spots?
Raihan Hussain: I think they do. The only team I see that may substantially move up in the standings are the New York Rangers, and they already hold down one of the eight playoff spots. The Philadelphia Flyers have yet to sort things out, so they shouldn’t be a topic of concern at the moment. The only team I see dropping out of the top eight are probably the New Jersey Devils, since they are spiraling the wrong way.
Mark Ascione: I think it will be a close race, but ultimately the Leafs will finally see the postseason. They’ve been able to avoid prolonged losing streaks, and the return of Matt Frattin and Joffrey Lupul should help an already potent offence. That could be enough to offset a dip in what has been very good goaltending and at times spotty defence. I think it will be enough to get the necessary points to qualify for the playoffs.
Stephen Stoneman: The Maple Leafs are looking like a team poised to hold on to one of the top eight playoff spots in the East, as they were at this point last year. Although they lack that top end netminder, they seem to be doing it by committee, both in net and by playing a strong working man’s team defense. This has resulted in the Leafs beating teams that they have struggled against in recent years such as Philadelphia and Washington, both of whom are on the outside looking in. The Leafs also have Matt Frattin back and are anticipating the returns of Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner.
Question: With less than one month remaining before the trade deadline, should the Leafs be acting as buyers or sellers?
Raihan Hussain: They should act as both buyers and sellers. Some of the players in the organization need to be traded without anything significant coming back. Tim Connolly, Mike Komisarek, and maybe John-Michael Liles probably fall into that category. As for the playoffs, the team has battled all season and they deserve a boost to try to clinch a spot. In saying that, the first round draft pick should be kept.
Mark Ascione: Having become general manager just as this shortened season began, Dave Nonis needs to be shrewd as he remodels the team. The best case scenario would be to sell Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles and any of the other pending free agents he does not feel fit his plans, and in return gather draft picks, prospects or a solid, young NHL roster player that upgrades the Leaf roster. By no means should they be looking to rent players, or looking at acquiring the typical ‘veteran for the playoff run’. The Leafs can make the playoffs, but this is still very much a rebuilding scenario.
Stephen Stoneman: Unless they are getting Corey Perry or another top line player of the same ilk, the Leafs should be sellers. Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur have played above their talents this year and are both pending unrestricted free agents this coming off season. Rather than see them walk away for nothing in the off-season, David Nonis should be trying to find them a new home and getting them some return. I’d also be listening for players like Steckel, Liles, Komisarek and Connolly.
Question: Mike Brown was sent to Edmonton for a conditional 3rd or 4th round pick in 2014. If you had been general manager, which of the Leafs’ 3 tough guys (Brown, McLaren or Orr) you would have dealt and why?
Raihan Hussain: Dave Nonis picked the right guy here. Although Mike Brown can play hockey, other than just being an enforcer, Frazer McLaren has played better than him. However, the real Leafs fourth line that I think Nonis’ envisions is Komarov, McClement, and Orr, if the team were to be fully healthy. We may see a fourth line comprised of those players when Joffrey Lupul returns from injury.
Mark Ascione: I like Mike Brown, but I have to say he was the likely candidate to be traded. It’s too much to have 3 of this type of player. Frazer McLaren has filled Brown’s role, and Brown has dealt with some injury issues. Ideally, I’d have preferred to see Colton Orr traded, but I believe Brown held more interest and a higher value. It’s just a conditional pick in 2014, but sometimes have stockpiled draft picks helps you make better deals for pieces you need.
Stephen Stoneman: The Leafs traded the right tough guy. When healthy, they will only have room for one tough guy, and while Brown is likely the most offensively skilled and perhaps the hardest working of the three, he’s the least terrifying. McLaren is emerging as a real threat who can play at least a little and Orr is flat out a heavyweight. Both guys are on a level that Brown just couldn’t emulate and so he had to crash and bash more, a role that has been taken by Leo Komarov thus punching Brown’s ticket to Edmonton.
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A graphic designer and production artist by trade, Mark is a long-time hockey fan. He was a Maple Leafs contributor to TheHockeyWriters.com for over 2 years, and has written for other websites. You can follow him on Twitter @MarkAscione