Much to the dismay of Toronto Maple Leafs fans, management and players, and to the delight of many rival hockey fans, the Leafs wrapped up their 2011-12 campaign by continuing their disturbing trend of missing the playoffs.
For the seventh straight season, the Leafs found themselves headed for the links early, while also becoming the only NHL team yet to make a post-lockout playoff appearance.
A slump of epic proportions from mid-February to mid-March, which saw the Leafs lose 17 of 21 games, effectively slammed the door shut on the possibility of securing a playoff position.
If any positives can be taken from one of the biggest meltdowns in franchise history, it's that glaring weaknesses were exposed. Additionally, Leafs management now has a better idea of what pieces are needed to effectively address problem areas.
Adding size up front, a veteran goaltender and help on the blueline are all priorities for the Leafs, but it's unlikely they'll be able to pick up everything on their shopping list.
That said, it's not in Brian Burke's nature to sit still, so here are nine players the Leafs' general manager should consider this off-season.
A dependable, veteran rearguard, Jackman would be a calming influence for a young blueline corps that found itself floundering at times last season.
A stay-at-home defenseman who plays with an edge, Jackman's heady play and leadership would enable him to right the ship when things go awry in the defensive zone.
While entertaining the thought of adding Jackman is all but certain, prying him away from St. Louis will prove difficult, especially considering the strides the Blues made this past season.
Brian Burke would be remiss if he didn't at least kick some tires regarding Jackman though if only to see whether or not the Leafs are a contender for his services.
A rough-and-tumble type of player, McLeod would bring much-needed size, toughness and physical play to the Leafs' bottom-six forwards.
A big-bodied player with a willingness to bang and drop the gloves, McLeod would give the Leafs the enforcer they've been lacking since Colton Orr was demoted.
While his pugilistic tendencies are well-noted, McLeod does have the ability to take a regular shift without being a detriment to the team.
With a salary likely to fall between $1 and $1.4 million, McLeod is an affordable fourth-line option that can create space for his teammates and ensure liberties aren't taken with the team's best players.
Winnik is much like McLeod in that he relishes the opportunity to utilize his size to his advantage and play a physical game.
While not an enforcer like McLeod, Winnik is a physical "shift-disturber" and tenacious on the forecheck. His size also allows him to have success cycling the puck down low and along the boards.
With the Leafs' lineup currently devoid of much size and physicality, Winnik and his meager salary represent an attractive way for Brian Burke to add some grit to his squad.
Zanon is an under-appreciated stay-at-home defenseman willing to do yeoman's work. In short, he's the type of defenseman every team could use.
A prodigious shot-blocker, Zanon is an experienced player who can do all the little things, like clog passing lanes on the penalty kill and effectively move the puck out of the defensive zone.
With the regression of Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek's erratic play last season, Zanon is a safety net of sorts. He doesn't wow with flash, but his slow-and-steady approach is effective and efficient, something the Leafs could use.
Originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2000, signing Boyes would be a homecoming of sorts for the Mississauga, Ontario native.
Coming off a season which saw Boyes post underwhelming offensive totals, he won't command the $4 million salary he was paid last season, and he could be a reclamation project a la Joffrey Lupul after a few sub-par seasons.
It's unlikely Boyes will ever repeat the 43-goal season he enjoyed in 2007-08, but he would be a solid addition to a team that needs secondary scoring.
A hometown discount isn't out of the question either, so he could be a relatively cheap gamble.
It's no secret that the Leafs' goal tending was less than stellar, to say the least, last season.
It's also no secret they'll be looking for help between the pipes come July 1st, and Josh Harding is a viable option.
Harding has never carried the load expected of a No. 1 goaltender, and his career stats aren't eye-popping—but his price tag is attractive, and he's proven he can perform in a tandem (something he would likely experience in Toronto alongside James Reimer).
If Leafs brass is yearning for a more experienced veteran to tutor Reimer, they'll have to look elsewhere, but Harding won't be able to command a lengthy or expensive deal since he's still somewhat unproven.
Thus, the risk associated with signing a goaltender with only 117 career games is mitigated.
Whether or not the Luongo-to-Toronto rumors are far-fetched, the fact remains if he is indeed available, the Leafs would be remiss if they don't inquire about him.
Does he carry a hefty contract with a lengthy bit of term remaining? Absolutely.
But no matter how you look at it, Luongo is better than any goaltender in the Leafs organization and would be a significant upgrade in goal.
Leafs management is wont to write off James Reimer just yet, and rightfully so, but Luongo is a goaltender that can help propel a fringe playoff team into the NHL's second season.
The real question for the Leafs is whether or not Luongo is worth the package they would have to give up in return.
As good as Luongo is, and as much as he would improve the Leafs between the pipes, sacrificing a large part of the future for a goaltender that will be past his prime in a few short years certainly wouldn't be prudent.
Penner is as mercurial a talent as there is in the NHL, but he does possess the size and scoring touch that Brian Burke so desperately covets.
After a horrid season, Penner is redeeming himself in the playoffs and will be in line for a sizable contract once he hits the free agent market.
He's not a top-tier player, but players of his ilk are rare. His ability to create space with his massive frame and play effectively in high-traffic areas are traits the current Leafs team could use in spades.
Add to the equation his success with the general manager-coach tandem of Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle during his playing days in Anaheim, and Penner becomes an attainable option for Toronto.
Assessing his true value will be key, however, as overpaying for Penner or inking him to a lengthy contract will come back to haunt the Leafs in the future.
Jones possesses many of the same qualities as Penner, but he can be had for nearly half the price.
He isn't as talented as Penner is offensively, but his combination of size and goal-scoring ability is exactly what the Leafs need.
A rather unheralded player, Jones could be an under-the-radar signing that pays immediate dividends. A 20-goal scorer in back-to-back seasons, Jones is slowly becoming a dependable offensive option.
His much-needed size would be a tremendous asset for the Leafs, as would his ability to play within the team's top-six forwards.
Although the Leafs need size down the middle, as a player who won't possess much leverage in negotiations, Jones represents the most economical solution to the Leafs' issues up front.