Analyzing the Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs had a season full of ups and downs, and as they watch the playoffs wrap up from a golf course somewhere in Florida, it might be worth taking a look at how exactly they faired this past season.
Forwards – B+
The obvious – Phil Kessel is one of the league’s best scorers and developing into a top 10 player, should he continue to improve over his next few seasons in Toronto. James Van Riemsdyk used to be the most coveted asset in the league, and Toronto’s acquisition is paying dividends as he’s coming off of his best season – 61 points (30G, 31A).
Although injury prone, Van Riemsdyk should be in Toronto’s long-term plans as he continues to improve as the Leafs’ go-to left winger. Tyler Bozak, one of the most underrated centers in the East, is a monster at faceoffs and had 49 points in 58 games. Also, even though Nazem Kadri can be seen as pompous, he’s only getting better since his start in Toronto, and was terrific last season with 44 points in 48 games. He has developed his passing game quite well over the past 3 seasons, and he’s also only 23 years old.
The not-so-obvious – Unfortunately, Toronto has a decent amount of problems regarding its future forwards. As far as I’m concerned, David Bolland asking for $5 million is a joke. He’s extremely injury-prone in general and was battling injuries for the majority of this past season. He’s played less than 60 games over the past two seasons, and quite frankly, shouldn’t be commanding a salary that high even if he was playing eight games a year, which unfortunately he isn’t.
A combination of the outrageous David Clarkson contract and the uncertainty that lies in injury-prone players creates a future that has potential to be great, or an absolutely disaster. Overall the Leafs are not in the worst shape in the league up front, but they certainly are not striking fear into their opponents’ hearts.
Defensemen – B
The defense might be on its way up, it’s just not there yet. Tim Gleason and Carl Gunnarsson are the only true stay-at-home defensemen on the team, and they’re pretty good. But Gleason having six points last season is disconcerting. Other than Paul Ranger and Gleason, the team is made up of young, speedy and offensively-minded defensemen that have a lot of potential (Reilly, Franson, Gardiner, etc). These three are worth the cash in the next few years and embody the fast style of pace that Toronto fans love.
Now to address the elephant in the room: Dion Phaneuf. He is arguably the worst captain in the NHL and one of the most overpaid players in the league at $7 million a year. Sorry Phaneuf, 31 points will not get it done on your team with your status with your salary. Don’t get me wrong, he is a skilled player who’s been successful before (he had a 60 point season in Calgary) but if you’re the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, results are expected if not demanded.
Goalies – B
After a history of tossing Vesa Toskala, Andrew Raycroft and a plethora of other Leaf goaltenders aside, this year was James Reimer’s turn. Leafs management, media and the fan base decided to be very harsh and critical of a goalie that was the hero just a season ago. He allowed 3.29 goals a game and having a .911 save percentage. Most fans across the NHL would be happy, as these numbers are not even that bad, and second Toronto gave up more shots of almost any other team in the league this season. Unfortunately, it takes more than common sense to please Toronto fans.
The beacon of light is now Jonathon Bernier. He looked great in stretches this season, but there is still to be seen.
On offense, resign Mason Raymond, Peter Holland and Kulemin for anywhere between $2.5-3.5 million. Secondly, lock up Bodie, Ashton and McClement, in order to have a solid fourth line.
Management could consider trading pieces for someone like Evander Kane, Ryan Kesler or Matt Moulson for an offensive spark.
On defense it’s a long shot, but Gleason and Phaneuf could be bargained for Oliver Ekmann-Larsson. He’s redundant on Phoenix and would complement Toronto’s fast style of player wonderfully.
Resign Franson for $2 millionHe shouldn’t be asking for more considering his last season was less than impressive. Resign Gardiner for the same amount as he hasn’t prove anything yet either.
Behind the pipes, Toronto should resign Reimer at a decently low contract to trade him and then find out if Bernier is that good, and then search the hockey world for a decent backup.
The leafs had a lot of positives this year, but also have an immense amount of work ahead of them before they can call themselves an elite team. It should be a busy offseason for the boys in blue and white.