A mere five months ago the Toronto Maple Leafs were in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The youngest team in the league was playing well and despite some issues in net, things in Leaf land were looking up for the first time in almost a decade.
Five months have passed and Leaf Nation is in a state of disarray. Following one of the most meteoric collapses in recent memory, Toronto missed the playoffs for the 8th straight season and are now the only NHL team that has failed to make the postseason since the lockout. Head coach Ron Wilson was relieved of his duties after a franchise record home losing streak. Randy Carlyle, whom Burke worked with in Anaheim, was brought in to right the ship. His coaching style fits better with Burke’s ‘truculence’ model, but it remains to be seen how this group of players responds.
We have broken down the roster into six categories: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, Prospects, Free Agents and Goalies. Players that made it into a Tier are in order of objective value based on ability, age and contract. When looking at this list, it becomes very clear that the Leafs have more than enough guys capable of filling lines 2, 3 and 4, but when it comes to blue chip players, the cupboard is thin. After this we have put together a list of potential roster moves that would make sense heading into the 2012-2013 season.
Tier 1 (Blue Chip Players/Elite Prospects)
Phil Kessel – Pure goal scorer with world class speed. Needs to mature, but is a 40 goal player with the right line mates.
Jake Gardiner – 21 year old puck moving defensemen. Still learning, but Norris-type upside.
Tier 2 (Solid Roster Players/Good Prospects)
Nikolai Kulemin – RFA this offseason but should be back after a down year. Best two-way player on the team and an NHL 2nd line player. Contract will be good value if under $4 million per.
Luke Schenn – Hasn’t lived up to the promise he showed early on. Still very young in the scheme of things. Current path has him as a 3rd/4th D-man.
Mikhail Grabovski – Expensive contract. Hard working guy who will never be a top line player but is a solid 2nd line centre.
Carl Gunnarsson – 7th round pick in 2007. Smooth skating 25 year old with size. Attractive contract at $1.325M.
Joe Colborne – Big centre with great hands. Top line potential. 2 years away from providing significant contribution to the big club.
Nazem Kadri – Top 10 talent, development has been rocky. Showed flashes this year in limited time as a call up.
Tyler Bozak – Has produced more than Colborne and Kadri, but doesn’t appear to have the upside. Has been a top line centre, but more of a 3rd line guy on a competitive team.
John-Michael Liles – Contract is on the high-end. Powerplay QB and tremendous skater. 4 years left on deal is interesting as Gardiner looks to fill this role.
Tier 3 (Overpaid Players/Valuable Depth Players)
Joffrey Lupul – Consumate professional. 2nd line winger when healthy, but plagued by injuries. One year remains at $4.25M. If resigns for less than $4M would jump to Tier 2.
Clark MacArthur – Stats from this year are misleading. Didn’t produce as expected, but is a 3rd liner on a competitive club.
Dion Phaneuf – Paid $6.5M. Worth more like $4M. Needs to shed Captaincy as he shied away from confrontation and is better suited to be Robin, not Batman.
David Steckel – Best faceoff man in the league. Big presence perfect for 4th line and gets time on special teams.
Matt Frattin (RFA) – Depending on pricetag could be a good resigning. Young w/ world class speed.
Mike Brown – 4th liner who is built for the playoffs. Deceptive speed. Tough as nails.
Mike Komisarek – Is an NHL defensemen on every team even if it’s the 5th or 6th. Price tag is astronomical at $4.5M.
Tim Connolly – Showed promise as a penalty killer at end of season but very little contribution offensively for a $4.75M contract. Taking up roster spot for younger guys.
Colby Armstrong – Injury issues, but at best a 3rd line guy who can agitate. Overpaid at $3.5M.
Matthew Lombardi – Tremendous speed, too many guys that have same ability in organization. Overpaid.
Top Developing Prospects (Unclear)
Carter Ashton – Power forward who has 2nd line upside. Former 1st round pick.
Jesse Blacker – Has been talked about a bunch on the Marlies, but yet to crack the big club. Has shown promise but won’t know until he gets called up on a consistent basis.
Tyler Biggs – A few years away. Epitome of ‘truculence’. 1st round pick.
Stuart Percy – Developmental defensemen. 1st round pick.
Greg McKegg – 2nd Round pick. Developmental centre.
Restricted Free Agents
Cody Franson – Grew up as a huge Leaf fan. Under $2.5M per year – bring him back. Over? Send him packing.
Joey Crabb – Preferred Daryl Boyce and Tim Brent, can’t see him being in the lineup much.
Jay Rosehill – Should resign him for occasional toughness.
James Reimer – Slated to be the game 1 starter next year. Started red hot and then never the same after concussion. Could still develop into a quality tender.
Jonas Gustavsson – Free agent. Will likely leave as Burke will make moves to bring in a veteran.
Ben Scrivens – Has played well for the Marlies but should not be relied upon for anything.
Jussi Rynnas – Similar to Scrivens. Developmental guy with upside.
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