Kessel Needs a Supporting Cast
Phil Kessel, in his short tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs, has displayed an offensive acumen unparalleled by his teammates. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason the Leafs embody mediocrity.
The prolific 22-year-old sniper has scored five goals in seven games, and his creativity on the ice has silenced his critics, who questioned whether Kessel would find life difficult without Marc Savard delivering tape-to-tape passes.
While the infusion of Kessel to the Leafs' top-six has brought a glimmer of hope to Leafs fans, there still remains a heap of work before this team even comes close to contenting for the Stanley Cup.
However, with the likes of Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson, Victor Stalberg, Nazim Kadri and Jiri Tlusty patrolling the minor leagues, the Leafs' future isn't as bleak as some analysts suggest. But truth be told, the prospect pool could use some upgrading, and with the acquisition of Kessel, that may be a problem.
Many supporters of the Blue and White have shown frustration towards Burke's reluctancy to pull the trigger on a trade or place veteran players (such as Jason Blake) on waivers to rid the team of its dead weight. But, taking a look at this summer's crop of unrestricted free agents, perhaps patience is indeed a virtue. Some of the names include Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Marleau, Marc Savard and Olli Jokinen, among others. While it may be a pipe-dream to expect the Leafs to acquire any of these players, it's encouraging to note that 11 roster players could potentially file for unrestricted free agency, with six for restricted free agency, which gives Burke the luxury of re-structuring the lineup with more freedom.
The list of potential UFA's include:
Mike Van Ryn
Considering White is the only one of those players who will likely command a hefty raise, the Leafs shouldn't have any cap issues heading into the summer, especially considering the team could potentially shed $21.175 million dollars of cap space if they decide not to re-sign any of the UFA's (not including RFA's).
The point is that Burke's top priority needs to be adding another sniper to the Leafs' top-six. An elite playmaker to play alongside Kessel would be fantastic, no doubt, but the Leafs seem to be getting plenty of chances to light the lamp. Whether it's from a lack of skill, or simply because a lack of determination, the forwards can't seem to capitalize on their opportunities. When Kessel is three goals from leading the team with 11 less games, it's quite apparent the team lacks any sort of a supporting cast.
While Stalberg, Bozak and Hanson could provide a short-term boost to the offense, the evidence is conclusive: The Leafs need another sniper. Period.
That, and an actual number one center (who are not named Mikhail Grabovski and Stajan) would be nice as well. But one issue at a time, and right now, it appears that there is a serious lack of finishing skills.
The problem, however, is that Leafs fans will probably have to endure the current team until next season. Burke may attempt to acquire some draft picks at the Trade Deadline, but it's unlikely he adds any sort of top-six talent between now and Mar.3.
For now, all we can do is sit back and watch another season of unmitigated disaster go down the drain.