And so, the Toronto Maple Leafs total rebuild continued last week with the signing of Mike Babcock, possibly the best head coach in hockey.
It’s no secret, Babcock came into Toronto knowing that he will get a large say in the decisions made by upper management. Decisions like emptying the cupboards in their AHL system last week, when they relieved the entire coaching staff of their duties.
Since Shanahan was hired in April of 2014, the Toronto Maple Leafs entire front office, NHL coaching staff, AHL coaching staff, and most of the development staff has been let go. He certainly has the Leafs in a complete rebuild.
For Shanahan, he has an extremely busy offseason ahead of him. Aside from hiring his head coach, he must now move on to hiring a general manager before the NHL Draft on June 26. Then, as a team, they must come together to decide who they will draft at 4th overall come Draft day. But, most intriguing to fans, is the fact that much of the Leafs roster will be changed before the start of the 2015-16 NHL season.
As of now, the Leafs have 8 pending free agents forwards, including Nazem Kadri. They must decide on a contract for RFA, Jonathan Bernier. Most importantly, they must decide who will be traded away, and who deserves to be kept around. On everyone’s mind is whether or not Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf will be back.
What To Do With Kessel and Phaneuf?
It’s been well documented over the past season that Kessel and Phaneuf may no longer fit into the Toronto Maple Leafs plan once the rebuild was implemented. For fans, that was terrific news, as they were down on them the entire year.
However, with Phaneuf signed for 6 more years at $7 million per year and Kessel signed for 7 more seasons at $8 million per, it may be very difficult to deal them. In any case, do the Leafs really want to trade both of them?
Trade Phil Kessel?
Kessel has been highly criticized since being acquired by Toronto for his inconsistency and lack of defensive and physical play. He’s a very streaky scorer and is often caught out of position in his end. In 6 seasons in Toronto, Kessel has four 30-goal seasons and two 20-goal seasons, with one being in the lockout shortened year.
With Babcock coming into town now, some believe Kessel is even more likely to be dealt, because of the style Babcock is certain to put into the Leafs game. Last year, rumours began to swirl of Kessel’s attitude and impact in the dressing room. In practice, he fought teammate David Booth nearing the end of the year.
Knowing that in Detroit, Mike Babcock and company developed their team from their own roots, it looks like the Maple Leafs will look to follow suit. Both in drafting players, and even developing their management and coaching staff. He’s also known for stressing the importance of two-way players. That’s bad news for Kessel, who is usually only on the TV camera when the puck is in the offensive zone.
Verdict: Trade Phil Kessel!
Phil Kessel just does not fit into the system that Shanahan and Babcock will be implementing for the Leafs future. He’s inconsistent, soft, and a true one-way player. All three are the exact opposite of what Toronto is looking for. The Leafs will look to possibly build their forward core around Van Riemsdyk instead, and possibly William Nylander in the near future.
Destinations: Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames.
Florida is in dire need of some great scoring help. Although they’re also in the midst of a rebuild, they’re much further ahead than Toronto. They have their entire future core in place, and one of the league’s best in net, in Roberto Luongo. They just missed the playoffs last year and are definitely headed in the right direction.
Calgary was a huge surprise this year, going into the second round of the playoffs. Like Florida, they’re a large step ahead of Toronto in their rebuild. They could use the added firepower, as they’re in great need of improved depth up front. They have a lot to offer the Leafs, but putting a deal together would be extremely difficult.
Trade Dion Phaneuf?
Phaneuf has long been scrutinized in Toronto since being acquired from the Calgary Flames. When he came over, he was known for his rocket from the point, and his bone crushing hits. In Calgary, he had 20-goal and 60 point seasons. The Leafs did not get that same player. In six years in Toronto, his high was 12 goals and 44 points.
When Babcock was hired, he was quoted saying he was a “fan” of Phaneuf’s. That may not be surprising considering the Red Wings were trying to acquire him at the Trade Deadline this year. Despite all the negative feelings towards Phaneuf in Toronto, he is not as bad as the fans and media portray him. He could definitely remain a key piece of this team moving forward.
Phaneuf has been captain for 5 seasons now as a Maple Leaf, but perhaps it’s time for a change, as it seems it hasn’t been the best fit for either side. Toronto could go next year without a captain, allowing Phaneuf to get some space and play his game. As well as for the team to find it’s true core and leadership group.
Verdict: Keep Dion Phaneuf!
Dion Phaneuf can still remain a key component of the Leafs defensive core moving forward. At 30 years old, he could be around for a while longer, and definitely enough to be here when the Leafs begin to turn it around. Babcock will likely look for him to play a little more physical and get that cannon shot on net, but he can definitely succeed under their new system.
Looking to the Future
So, if the Toronto Maple Leafs trade Phil Kessel, they will allow a new, more responsible core to come in and begin to blend for the future. Led by Van Riemsdyk offensively, William Nylander will also likely start next year in the NHL. Not to mention what the Leafs will acquire in a possible Kessel trade. Furthermore, they also have the 4th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, where it looks like they will have a bevy of talented forwards to choose from.
With Phaneuf still around, he and Morgan Rielly will be relied upon heavily to be their best defensemen in both ends. Jake Gardiner is a dark horse, and Babcock will certainly work very hard to pull the potential out of him. In the future, the Leafs will likely need just a couple more top 4 defensemen to become a real contender.
All in all, the Leafs are still in full rebuild for the next 5 years or so. But with one of the best management staff in the league already locked up, Toronto is on the right track. The will surely think hard and carefully about who to keep, and who to deal. For me, I see Phil Kessel on his way out, if a team is willing to give up a lot for him. Dion Phaneuf could be important for the Leafs future and will stay.
Who do you think the Leafs will trade? Let us know in the comments below!
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.