The Maple Leafs Rebuild Off to a Good Start

It’s been just one week since it was reported that Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan was given permission to conduct a full rebuild by the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment board and things look to be going according to plan so far.

In the short time since the announcement was made, the team has already dealt two of their biggest trade chips for what many would deem ‘the essentials’ in any rebuilding process. The Leafs sent the team’s top scoring defenceman Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators in exchange for the Preds’ first round pick in this year’s draft, prospect Brendan Leipsic, and veteran Olli Jokinen.

Leipsic a Valuable Part of Re-Build

On top of the first round pick, which looks to be a very invaluable piece especially given the projected depth in this year’s draft, Leipsic looks to be a real steal for the Maple Leafs going forward. In the 20-year-old, the Leafs get a player who plays with a rugged edge, similar to that of a Brad Marchand, but with a higher skill set.

Brendan Leipsic, the 2012 Jewish Athlete of the Year in Winnipeg
Brendan Leipsic led the CHL in scoring in 2013 with 120 points with the Portland Winterhawks.

The Winnipeg, MB native is in his first season in the American Hockey League where he was second on the Milwaukee Admirals with 35 points in 47 games. His 35 points are the fourth most in the AHL among rookies, just four points behind new Marlies teammates Connor Brown who sits third overall. Leipsic and Brown also sit one in front of the other in terms of former CHL scoring titles.

Last season Brown led the CHL in scoring when he had 45 goals and 128 points for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. Prior to Brown taking home the hardware, Leipsic led the CHL in scoring during the 2013 season. He had 49 goals and 120 points in 68 games with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. Leipsic should be in the lineup for his first game as a Marlie on Friday when the team heads to Utica to take on the Comets.

A Top Pick in Their Sights

In regards to the Maple Leafs own first round pick is summer, the team continues to make it a higher and higher one as they continue to lose. The Maple Leafs currently have the fifth-worst record in the NHL and subsequently have an 8.5% chance of winning the first overall pick in the draft. The team has now lost 22 of their past 26 games and are in the midst of their worst 20-game stretch ( 2-16-2) in franchise history.

Of course for many fans this has been incredibly disheartening, but when considering that the team’s season has been over for over a month now, losses for the team would help the team win in the future. Losing can be hard to swallow for any fan, and if that is the case for Leafs fans, they have been left starving for quite some time now. Connor McDavid coming to Toronto would be a dream to many, including McDavid himself.

Over the past couple weeks the Newmarket, ON native has expressed great desire to play for the team that he has followed growing up. As for the Leafs, the team hasn’t had the luxury of having the first overall pick in a draft since 1985 when they selected Wendel Clark. Not only would it be nice for the team to have a franchise player out of the gate, but one who would like to play in the city, which has become harder and harder to come by.

 

Potential Moves on the Way

The Maple Leafs are far from over too, and more deals are expected not just before the draft, but likely before the trade deadline. The team is expected to move winger Daniel Winnik, who they are reportedly seeking a second round pick for, and thoughts are that the team will look to flip the recently acquired Jokinen. A second round pick for Winnik could be a bit out of most teams’ price range meanwhile with just three goals and six points in 49 games this season, any return for Jokinen is expected to be low unless he is made part of a package deal.

Rumours have begun to swirl around Roman Polak. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
Rumours have begun to swirl around Roman Polak. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

In recent days a lot of speculation has started to swirl around defenceman Roman Polak as he could be a decent shutdown defenceman in a third pairing for a cup contender. Some believe he could be sought after by the Montreal Canadiens, especially after a number of their blueliners have fallen to injury. The team lost veteran Sergei Gonchar after he took a devastating hit from Leafs David Clarkson when the two clubs played each other last Saturday.

The team also lost Alexei Emelin after he took a hard hit from Mark Stone against the Ottawa Senators Wednesday night and the team nearly lost former Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban, after he took a one-timer off the foot from Bobby Ryan. To add to the speculation of a trade between the two is the fact that Habs general manager Marc Bergevin, as well as a couple of the team’s scouts, were in attendance for the Maple Leafs contest Tuesday against the Florida Panthers.

The Leafs’ top stars Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf have headlined all rumours and speculation in Leafs Nation since last week’s rebuild news was made, since neither are apparently part of the team’s long-term plan. However, as TSN’s Darren Dreger has stated numerous times since that news broke, neither is likely to be moved until the off-season at the earliest. Both should be able to bring a lot back for Toronto if they are moved, including first round picks or highly touted prospects, or both.

The Florida Panthers have expressed interest in Kessel, but have made it clear that they aren’t interested in dealing their young stars. This means the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Aaron Ekblad wouldn’t be on the table, which for the Leafs would be the type of players they would be eying. Dale Tallon and Dave Nonis have apparently been having talks with one another, but reportedly the talks have not included Kessel, so another deal may be in the works.

Maple Leafs can improve
Dave Nonis has stated that the Leafs are not having a fire-sale. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

Sportsnet reported this week that the team is not in a fire-sale mode right now, according to Nonis. Meaning the team will not ship out everyone just for the sake of doing so. The team is set on getting draft picks and making deals that will aid in the rebuilding process.

The Leafs in the past failed to completely tear down the team, always believing success was just a few moves away, but it seems as though that conventional wisdom has sailed and the management team seems to realize what state the team is really in. The re-build is just getting underway, but with the moves that have been made so far and the chatter and rumblings of moves that look to be coming, the organization seems to finally have a plan that could bring success, not right away, but down the road.