June Musings

While there seems like precious little to discuss in Leafland prior to the upcoming rookie draft held in Minnesota later this month (June 24/25th), there are a few noteworthy items that have emerged. Let's have a look...

No word on contract extensions at this point for any of the Leafs' free agents, but we have to assume that players like Luke Schenn, James Reimer, and Tyler Bozak among others, will be dealt with sooner than later, although Burke says there is no rush to get it done. Schenn and Reimer are legitimate building blocks for the franchise, and Bozak, while underwhelming in the one-hole, is an asset with skills needed in the role of a third line centre. He had a challenging year, but developed a knack for winning draws and forechecking, as well as chipping in as a secondary offensive weapon. He's got a good head, plays a determined game, and will likely excel at 3C, a role in which his full skill set is required. I anticipate we'll see a more complete and confident Bozak going forward, capable of 50+ points.Gunnarsson, Lashoff, Boyce, Brent, Rosehill, Crabb and of course MacArthur are also looking for new deals, as is J.S. Giguere, who has expressed recent interest in remaining with the club. The Leafs have anywhere between 21.21 and 23.5 to play with, depending on the anticipated salary cap increase. Seems like a good chunk of change, but it can get chewed up pretty quickly...

While a contract extension for Ron Wilson beyond the upcoming season seems anything but inevitable, Leaf prospect Kenny Ryan recently inked an entry level deal with the team. Ryan is an American '09 draftee, selected in the second round. Word at the draft was that he is a physical, rugged two-way player, with a noticeably developed physique and a knack for scoring goals. While he's not the tallest, but he's man-strong, and a rock-solid 210 pounds. He has second-line upside, and makes for a favourable addition to the Leafs' arsenal of future weapons. A typical hard nosed Burke-style player and a nice pickup by the team...

Wilson earned the right to finish his term with a strong showing during the second half of last season and Burke made as much crystal clear during his season-ending presser (at the expense of former Leaf 'reporter' Howard Berger), but the coach has yet to rectify the atrocity that is special teams. In Wilson's defense, he is in charge of one of the youngest, least experienced rosters in the league, and with some fourteen rookie callups last season, coupled with multiple injuries (Armstrong, Phaneuf, Brown) hampering the cause, the jury remains out on whether he will be able to move the needle with the current group any more than he has. The holding pattern will likely continue well into the season, after Burke has given his coach a tried and true centre for Kessel to bounce off of...

Prospects Barron Smith, Ben Winnet and Jerome Flaake have recently been released by the club. While Flaake showed some promise, he failed to make enough of a case for himself. Neither Winnet nor Smith have shown any real upside, as is often the case with late round picks...

Sorry to say, but no credible source has confirmed that there is any meaningful discussion being held between Philly and Toronto which would yield top centre Jeff Carter. And if there was, you can bet Burke wouldn't be uttering a peep about it, anyway. The only thing that has materialized on the subject is heated internet debates between Leaf fans and Flyers fans, Leaf fans with other Leaf fans, Flyers fans with other Flyers fans, and anyone else who cares to voice an opinion. Here's mine:

Jeff Carter in Toronto is a longshot at the very best. Philly GM Paul Holmgren will not give a conference rival, even one with whom he enjoys decent relations, a potentially elite player without a sizeable, and generous package of prospects and picks, and Burke is too astute a hockey executive to give up the best collection of budding assets that Toronto has seen in many, many years during this prolonged re-engineering project. I can hear the Kessel nay-sayers snickering... and I get it... yes, he paid through the nose for the enigmatic young sniper, but the difference this time is we are not talking about unseen, undetermined picks, as was the case when the Kessel deal was made. We are talking about players the Leafs have invested time, training and resources in. Players the management group has a plan for going forward. Moving the likes of Colborne, Kadri or Gardiner would surely be a step backward, unless the return addresses more than one obvious hole in the Leafs current lineup. Anything less equates to a 'pilfer-Peter-to-pay-Paul' mentality, with repercussions appearing elsewhere in the lineup.

Carter, 26, is a former 11th overall pick with six seasons of NHL experience, playing 461 games in which he has amassed 343 points. That's .744 PPG. Not too shabby...

He has a reasonable cap hit for a potential number one centre of just over five million. But it is the term of eleven years, and that pesky no-trade clause that will dissuade Burke from expending a truckload of young prospects for Carter's help, especially when the likes of Kadri and Colborne may be seriously knocking on the door for top 6 opportunity by season's end. Both have demonstrated sublime puckhandling skills, with the ability to finish. Kadri, while somewhat lacking in stature, has a fair dose of snarl and a fierce competitive streak. He has the drive and determination somewhat reminiscent of the great Doug Gilmour, another diminutive centre that became a dominant NHL'er with his combination of compete level and skill. He'll most certainly top out well short of the Killer's legacy, but the tangibles to play a similar game, relying on skill, courage and competitiveness are all there. In his latest callup, he showed better decision making, and increased confidence.

Colborne at 6'5”, has the rare combination of size, playmaking ability, speed, and craftiness that coaches and GM's routinely petition the hockey gods on bended knee for. His moves in tight are at times downright mesmerizing, and those mittens of his are every bit as nifty as Kadri's. Some call him a poor man's Joe Thornton. For me, he looks more like a Sundin-lite type, in that he protects the puck quite well, he creates holes in coverage with his mobility and puck-patience without being a physically aggressive player. The toughness he'll likely develop is the kind where he takes a ton of abuse to make plays while getting to the net where he can do damage, as opposed to dishing out the big hits. He has the tools to become an NHL regular in the two-hole, no question. If there is more, we'll see soon enough. A year in junior, or at least the better part of it, will have him battle-hardened and ready to make the jump...

Back to Mr. Carter...the rumour circulating recently is that the Flyers are hoping to move Carter prior to July 1 (the opening day of unrestricted free agency), most likely to vigorously pursue one of Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun, or perhaps trade the Islanders for Nabokov's rights, in search of the elusive franchise goalie they have not seen in Philly in well over a decade. Such a move would prevent Burke from being able to even discuss a contract with Brad Richards, the top offensive player available in unrestricted free agency. If I'm Burke, I want to have that conversation with Richards' agent before I commit to a pile of future assets for any single player. Apparently, Joe Nieuwendyk feels a pre free-agency period chat with his soon-to-depart superstar warrants a first round pick. Not sure if he stipulated 'conditional', but either way, the bidding list will be either very small or non-existent. If Burke is prepared to expend a first rounder, even a low first, for a proven playmaking pivot to man the one-hole, it will be on a sure bet, not a crapshoot. If there are no takers, the Dallas GM will have to lower his expectations and settle for a lesser pick. If he finds someone willing to pay the asking price, Burke can transition to plan 'B' and look for a trade instead of playing the waiting game.

A more reasonable scenario would be to seek a trade with another club looking to unload or re-tool, such as San Jose, who have been unable to make the jump past the conference finals with their current crew. Joe Thornton earns 7 million a year for the next three years, a much heavier cap hit, but a far cry from the eleven-year commitment that Carter requires. He does have an NMC, which he may be willing to waive in order to take a shot elsewhere. His rapport with his former coach is excellent, and he understands Wilson's systems better than anyone on the the present Leafs team. His size, his playmaking ability, which would be a perfect fit for Kessel, and the mentoring he could provide for Jumbo Jr. (Colborne) equals a great fit in Toronto. At least 4 million in salary, plus picks and/or prospects would need to go back to San Jose should GM Doug Wilson entertain such a notion. The cap space affords San Jose resources needed to lock up young talent like Devin Setoguchi, who is due for a substantial raise, to say nothing of the three UFA's on the defense core they either re-sign, or replace. Young Logan Couture is due to re-up next year as well, making that stable of centres pretty crowded, and expensive.

With the cap going up to approximately 62 million as anticipated, the Sharks have 14 players locked in with roughly 10 million to play with, meaning that they could be looking for a suitor for one of their big guns. The market will be significantly softer for both Heatley and Marleau, who have underwhelmed at times. Should Doug Wilson be willing to move Jumbo, he'll likely find a willing partner in Toronto. One can expect that such a move would spell the end of the Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur line, as at least two of those assets would be of interest, and frankly, Toronto will need the cap room with deals for several key free agents pending...

Paul Stastny of Colorado could also be a nice fit. His cap hit is 6.6 for the next three seasons, which is less than Thornton, and most likely Brad Richards' expected earnings. Like Carter, he's well under thirty, and he can dish it with the best of them. With a highly skilled winger like Kessel , he could be relied upon for 50-55 assists annually for the next three years. Colorado will need to sign both Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly in a year from now, and they need to shore up both their blueline and the goalie position, potentially making them an ideal trading partner. The question is, at what price? It would stand to reason that a package of high picks, a good young blueliner, and a goodwill gift of Jonas Gustavsson would be the baseline asking price for a team in need of cap space going forward, especially with high-price acquisition Eric Johnson joining the aforementioned Duchene and O'Reilly on the RFA list in just over twelve months from now...

If no top centre is available, there are contingencies, and Burke is known for his penchant for having a plan 'B'. He may do well to entice rugged utility forward Brooks Laich to ply his trade in the T-dot while his best centre prospects fly under the radar and put it together without the career-jeopardizing pressure of having to play hockey messiah before they are ready to bear so heavy a cross. Laich can play centre, he can check, kill penalties, and add some leadership on a very young team. He may be the straw that stirs the drink for the Leafs' ongoing PK struggles...

Heading into the draft in Minnesota later this month, the Leafs have eleven picks, including two first round picks. The Leafs also add Boston's 2012 2nd rounder to their collection, acquired via the Kaberle deal which included a conditional second should the B's go to the final, or if Kaberle re-signs with Boston. While the latter may still remain to be seen, Boston's defeat of Tampa provides Burke and crew yet another piece which can be used to build for the future, either by way of trading up for a higher pick, or by adding another prospect to the mix down the road. Kaberle has not been outwardly impactful on the scoreboard, but he can lug the puck and thus aid in the Bruin's transition game, if he overcomes his apparent fear of physical contact. As a UFA, he'll still be in high demand on the open market, especially with Brian Rafalski's recent retirement announcement in Detroit. Should Lidstrom follow suit, Detroit will be ready and able to offer a secure, lucrative deal. Kaberle would be an excellent fit with Detroit's controlled, disciplined style of play that emphasizes brain over brawn. With that 6 million coming off the books in the Motor City, Kaberle's price potentially goes up if a bidding war of any kind ensues...

The Leafs will not be in the running for 'Kaba's services, as the money tied up in the back end is already exorbitant, with under-producing third pairing rearguard Mike Komisarek sucking up 4.5 million for less than fifteen minutes a night worth of service. While a quality teammate, his overall contribution is certainly lacking, and the fact that Carl Gunnarsson gobbled up major minutes in the absence of Beauchemin and Kaberle over the former first-rounder has to be of grave concern to his employers. While nobody expects him to be an elite puck mover, Komisarek has yet to prove that he has the mental toughness to make the simple, safe play. For the money, he needs to do much more than he has shown thus far. With three years remaining on his deal, he's tough to move at this point, even if he wanted to move on and try to crack the top four elsewhere. My sense is they'll be patient until the end of the '11-12 season, then re-assess...

If you're the type to read hockey blogs like this one, you're probably also inclined to have formulated your own version of what the Leafs' strategy going into both the draft and free agency should entail. I'm a geek like that, as well...let's compare notes. I'll end with my own shopping list for the off-season, and, in true Burke style, I'll include a contingency plan. Feel free to comment...

Key Acquisitions
Priority 1: top 1-2 centre
Priority 2: backup/tandem goaltender
Priority 3: puck-moving defender

Leaf Signings
Schenn (4 yrs @ 3.9)
Reimer (3 yrs @ 1.85)
Bozak (3 yrs @ 1.55)
Boyce (2 yrs @ 1.0)*
Brent ( 2 yrs @ 1.15)
MacArthur (3 yrs @ 2.75)
Hanson ( 2 yrs @ 950K)*
Backup goalie ( 2 yrs @ 1.2)
* 2-way contract

Draft Picks
PHI 1st (25th)
Bos 1st (29th-30th)
TOR 2nd (39th)
PHI 3rd (86th)
TOR 4th (100th)
TOR 5th (130th)
EDM 6th (152nd)
TOR 6th (160th)
ANA 6th (173rd)
Tor 7th (190th)
ANA 7th (203rd)

Scenario “A”:

  1. Trade: to WIN: Kadri, PHI 1st, 2012 1st, Gunnarsson, Blacker. to TOR: Bogosian, 7th overall
  2. Trade: 7th overall to CGY for 13th, NYR 2nd
  3. Draft: (C) MARK MCNEILL 13th (6'1, 204, Prince Albert WHL, 70-32-49-81-53)
  4. Trade: 28th, 39th, NYR 45th for EDM 19th
  5. Draft: (D) JAMIE OLEKSIAK 19th (6'7, 244, Northeastern, USHL, 38-4-9-13-57)
  6. Sign: BROOKS LAICH (3 @ 3.65M)
  7. Sign: ZACH BOGOSIAN ( 3 @ 3.50M)

Kulemin Grabovski MacArthur
Lupul Laich Kessel
Frattin/Boyce Bozak Armstrong
Brown Brent/Hanson Orr

Aulie Phaneuf
Bogosian Schenn
Holzer Komisarek

....No big-time top centre in this scenario. This lineup is built on two lines that can play a high-tempo game without creating a ton of turnovers, while addressing the pressing need for a true PMD. It would not be out of character for Burke to orchestrate a convoluted series of transactions to ultimately arrive at his intended destination. Ask the Sedins, The Blackhawks, Tampa, and the Thrashers about that one. The added firepower on the back end that Bogosian brings could be the perfect tonic for an anemic powerplay. The Leafs struggled all season to get production out of their back end. The former third overall has the goods is spades, despite a tough start in Atlanta. On the top unit, Kulemin is the responsible, two-way workhorse that does the heavy lifting and uses his active stick to create turnovers, and patrols the paint in search of the grimy goals. His linemates excel at both creating chances, and burying them. The second unit relies on a combination of the dependable two-way, 200-foot hockey that has become Laich's calling card, while Joff Lupul wreaks havoc down low, creating time and space for Kessel to wheel. The third line is structured to infuriate, shut down, and exploit an offensively-focused opposition line. Bozak's skills in the dot and his ability to forecheck, combined with the shift-disturbing qualities of Colby Armstrong, along with the speedy, determined game played by both Frattin and Boyce can make for a long, frustrating night for the league's top point producers. The fourth line is designed to wear the opposition down, punish, protect, and add a spark when necessary. The Auile-Phaneuf pairing has proven to work, as demonstrated by Phaneuf's improved production once the big rookie emerged. Bogosian is that puck-lugging offensive blueliner that Toronto desperately needs to acquire, and there are some who feel a ticket out of the organization that drafted him might be a welcome change for both sides. A Bogosian-Schenn second pairing could be as impactful, if not more than the Leafs present top pairing. Korbinian Holzer has been named as the next callup most likely to make the leap to the bigs. The stalwart German export plays a safe, simple game, and with a modest level of exposure, he'll likely be next in a long line of young guys making Dallas Eakins look like the obvious choice should a coaching change become inevitable...

On the draft front, Mark McNeill has the size and the skill to become a bonafide power forward at the NHL level. Like Kenny Ryan, he's a gym rat, and he doesn't cheat in his workout regimen. It is reported that scouts see similarities with Bobby Ryan in McNeill. If he proves to be 80% of Ryan, he's a godsend. Oleksiak is the 'big man' in the draft this year at 6'7 and 244 lbs. Whether he becomes Tyler Myers MKII or Boris Valabik remains to be seen, but the footwork is stable, and quite good for a player of his stature. Considered by many to be a potentially elite shutdown defender, some feel there is two-way upside with the young Toronto native...

Scenario 'B':

  • Trade: to COL: BOS 1st, PHI 1st, Gustavsson, Gunnarsson. To TOR: STASTNY
  • Trade: to LAK: Kadri, McKegg, BOS 2012 2nd, 2012 1st , 2011 39th. To TOR: BRAYDEN SCHENN, 2011 49th.
  • Sign: IAN WHITE (2 @ 3M)
  • Draft: (C) Boone Jenner 49th (6'1, 194, Oshawa OHL, 63-25-41-66-57)
  • Trade: to WIN: 86th, 100th. To TOR:
  • Draft: (D) Stuart Percy, 67th (6'1, 184, Mississauga OHL, 64-4-29-33-50)

Lupul Stastny Kessel
Kulemin Grabovski MacArthur
Frattin/Boyce Bozak Armstrong
Brown Schenn Orr/Hanson

Aulie Phaneuf
White Schenn
Lashoff Komisarek

...With the decision to keep the Grabo line intact, Kadri becomes spare parts. He's too good to keep out, but there's no room for him in the top 6. Like Burke, I don't care as much about the expense, if the return serves it's intended purpose. Acquiring Brayden Schenn, the number one prospect in the game and uniting him with big brother Luke is worth every penny and every pick. Within a season, Schenn the younger moves into a top six role, as will Joe Colborne, in all likelihood. In the meantime, he can get used to the physical demands of NHL hockey on the fourth line, and see spot duty on the PK, with a chance to fill in when injuries hit. The third line is identical to Scenario 'A', and we all know how dynamic the second line is. Stastny between Loops and Kessel instantly makes Phil a 40-goal threat, and Lupul, if healthy all season, can likely manage for 26-28 goals himself. Ian white was a fan favourite in Toronto, and has been pretty effective everywhere he has played. While slightly undersized, he's gutsy, he can lug the puck, and he competes hard. Lashoff earned his keep with a late season stint in the NHL, playing a quiet, mistake-free brand of defense. No issues with his performance...

Boone Jenner is a character-first, Brooks Laich type of two-way forward who works hard in all zones, and puts up very respectable numbers. Like Laich, he can probably make it to the second unit if he continues to push himself, and opportunity arises. Some real leadership qualities thereby all accounts. Stuart Percy is a defender Burke has shown considerable interest in during the OHL playoffs, and will likely make a play for. While he's not the most aggressive defender in the draft, he projects as a solid, low, maintenance prospect who can skate...

And there you have it. Two scenarios which in my humble estimation, make the Leafs a more competitive club in both offensive production and in how tough they are to play against. While much of the above may seem like pipe dreams, who among us ever imagined Phaneuf in Blue and White?

Anyway, that's the sort of strategy I'd like to see Burke roll out in the next phase of the ongoing saga that is the Leafs quest for legitimacy...

3 Comments

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

I have to admit, lot's of interesting stuff here! Except Kaberle...him on Detroit? That's my nightmare. The guy is SO soft. The Wings need a guy like Kevin Bieksa, an all around defenceman. I hate to say it, but get a North American guy. And I don't think Kenny Ryan will have any impact at all. I'm from Windsor and he's been middle of the pack.

Patrick Storto's picture

"Trade: to LAK: Kadri, McKegg, BOS 2012 2nd, 2012 1st , 2011 39th. To TOR: BRAYDEN SCHENN, 2011 49th."

This just boggles my mind. Kadri was taken two spots after Schenn in that draft. Neither has proven anything at the NHL level so I don't understand why people value Schenn like this.

Owen Durkin's picture

Thanks for reading, Patrick...
Historically, our best bet to secure a top centre is to home-grow one. Kadri projects more like a top-6 winger at this point.While they were just two spots apart at the draft, in the grand scheme of things, Brayden Schenn is the uncontested top prospect in the game, and a strong, gritty 2-way centre. Kadri is not even top 10. It's a move that brings us closer to the goal of having a sustainable franchise for the next 8-10 years. I wouldn't get too caught up on the 'sticker price' slapped on these guys at the draft...