The Toronto Maple Leafs offense was certainly a bright spot for the team after finishing with six players with more than 60 points and the fifth most goals for a team in the NHL. Now that is a great achievement for a team that was expected to finish at the bottom of the league again, but now the focus is on next season and on improving even more.
General manager Lou Lamoriello brought up that sentiment during the Leafs locker clean out press conference.
That need to improve is expected every year, regardless of how well the team did before. So what can the Leafs do to improve? Defense is the first and most obvious choice. I already covered the expected offseason changes to the Leafs defense and the Leafs options for backing up Frederik Andersen next season.
All that’s left is looking at the Leafs offense. So what can we expect to happen to the Leafs forwards over the offseason?
Competition Within the Leafs
With the way that the Leafs have drafted the last couple years, they’ve set themselves up to have players fighting to break into the NHL every year. The only problem for them is finding a spot to take.
Unless a trade opens a spot on the roster, the only forward spot open is right wing on the fourth line, assuming Brian Boyle is re-signed. The Leafs rotated a couple of players through that position this season with Nikita Soshnikov, Josh Leivo and Kasperi Kapanen. Although Soshnikov was great on the Leafs penalty kill, it would be hard to keep Kapanen out of the NHL with how he played at the end of the season and during the playoffs.
Kapanen has shown through his time in the AHL that he is a top end skilled player, so playing him on the fourth line almost seems like a waste of his potential. The same could even be said of Leivo, who had 10 points in just 13 games this season, but the problem is whose spot would they take higher in the lineup?
Too Many Wingers
The Leafs have a logjam on the wing, that much has become clear in the organizational depth.
Right now the Leafs have four Toronto Marlies players that have a realistic chance of making the NHL next season. Kapanen has already gotten a small taste of the NHL, but what about Brendan Leipsic, Kerby Rychel and Carl Grundström? Both Kapanen and Leipsic were point-per-game players despite missing part of the season to injury and Rychel finished with an impressive 52 points in 73 games.
Then there’s Grundström who had 20 points in 45 games over in the SHL and then had four points in six playoff games with the Marlies. It’s not a matter of being good enough to make the NHL, but being better than an established NHLer to take their spot on the Leafs.
An overabundance of wingers is great for the organization as it forces everyone to continually strive to be better to take a spot or to make sure that it’s kept.
Trading for a Defenseman
Everyone has been eagerly awaiting the inevitable Leafs and Anaheim Ducks trade that has been expected to happen for the last two years. These rumors came back again when Lamoriello and Mike Babcock were spotted at Game 3 and 4 of the Anaheim and Nashville Predators series.
It’s presumed that they were there to scout out the Anaheim defense since the Leafs are in need of a top defender and Anaheim is likely to lose a good defenseman in the expansion draft. So the thought is that Anaheim would be better to trade a defenseman instead of losing him for nothing. There are a couple defensemen from Anaheim that the Leafs would be interested in, but the return is where things get tricky.
James van Riemsdyk is often brought up in trade rumors, especially when it comes to trading for a defenseman. Any other time he would be a good fit for Anaheim, but not during the expansion draft. Anaheim’s problem is that they have too many defensemen to protect as well as their forward core, so subtracting a defenseman while adding van Riemsdyk doesn’t help them. Trading a player exempt from the expansion draft would make the most sense for Anaheim.
The other possibility is that the Leafs make use of their overabundance of wingers and trade a player like Kapanen or Leipsic in a package for that elusive defenseman. Either way, the Leafs are likely to move on from van Riemsdyk this summer. His contract of $4.25 million is in its last year and he will want a big raise in his next contract which the Leafs might not be able to afford since their young stars will need to be signed over the next few years.
With van Riemsdyk likely on his way out it comes down to Leipsic, Rychel and Grundström competing for that elusive roster spot.
Toronto Maple Leafs contributor for The Hockey Writers.
I’ve been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs since I was a kid and have always had an interest in writing. At The Hockey Writers, I get to enjoy both of my passions as well as writing about small convoluted details in player contracts and stats.