Everybody knows how the Leafs managed to ruin their 2012 campaign by losing 17 out of 21 games in March. Since then, many people have been coming out and saying different things about what's wrong with the current team.
The purpose of this article is to evaluate the Leafs at every position and then figure out the best possible way to accomplish their goals and make the team ready for the upcoming season.
Leave comments and I hope you enjoy, but keep in mind that this is an article based solely on my opinion.
NHL and NHL-Ready Centers
Mikhail Grabovski, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Tyler Bozak, David Steckel, Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne
When it comes to centers to fill out the roster for the upcoming season, the Leafs have players who can fill all voids except for the top-line guy.
Grabovski is well suited for the second line and has been performing admirably over the last two years.
Bozak has been showing more and more that he is defensively responsible and may be better suited for the third line. He is defensively responsible and would also be a good guy to make a fast and talented third line.
Steckel also is a good fit for the team as the fourth-line guy/faceoff specialist center like he was this year.
The Leafs also have Kadri and Colborne, two young centers who could be the team's top two centers in a few years. However, for now they will be looking to break into the NHL as wingers. All in all, when it comes to NHL-ready centers, all but Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi would be welcome, in my opinion.
Young centers in the Leafs' organization to look at in a few years would be Greg Mckegg and Spencer Abbott.
If Kadri and Colborne manage to make the jump to the NHL this season, Mckegg and Abbott will be the organization`s top two center prospects.
Mckegg was considered a steal by many the year after he was drafted and could like start seeing spot time in the NHL as early as this season. Abbott, who was a Hobey Baker finalist this past season, is another great signing of Brian Burke`s. He will spend at least a year in the AHL and, like Mckegg, could see spot time in the NHL.
Other center prospects in the organization are Cameranesi, Crescenzi and Carrick. Cameranesi is a very skilled but small center. He is a long-term project, but he could be as good as David Deharnais one day.
Crescenzi is another long-term project, likely two or three years away, but he has the tools to be an effective third-line center one day. He moves very well for a guy his size and has a decent set of skills.
Carrick is another player who knows how to throw his weight around, another prototypical Burke player. He has great scoring and playmaking abilities and is able to throw his weight around. He is at least two years away and has the potential to be a solid second/third-line player.
On an added note, with the Leafs in a good position to draft one of Galchenyuk, Grigorenko or Faksa, they will likely add another top center prospect.
Ideally, the Leafs would find a way to acquire a top-line center with some pieces that they currently have.
If they can't find their top-line guy for the right price, I say the Leafs officially try Mikhail Grabovski as their top guy.
He just got a big pay raise and fans and management will be expecting so much more out of him. People are expecting him to put up between 60 and 70 points next season. If Grabovski can put up those numbers, that would be great as the top-line guy.
That would also give one of the young guys, Kadri or Colborne, the chance to vie for the No. 2 position. Bozak and Steckel will be better suited for the bottom two positions, with Bozak also being another candidate for the second line.
NHL and NHL-Ready Wingers
Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Nikolai Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur, Colby Armstrong, Mike Brown, Joey Crabb, Matt Frattin, Jay Rosehill, Leo Komarov, Marcel Mueller and Carter Ashton
The first line is already set with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. If only the second line played as well as they did in 2010-2011, the Leafs would have been set.
The second line has a lot of players who could work well on the second line in Kulemin, MacArthur and Frattin. Colborne and Kadri are also candidates for second-line wingers if they can get a top-line talent.
The third line would be better off with players like Joey Crabb and potentially Leo Komarov, depending on how well he adjusts to the North American game. If not, one of Kulemin, MacArthur, Frattin, Kadri or Colborne could step in.
The fourth line would be better suited with guys like Mike Brown, Marcel Mueller and Leo Komarov. Jay Rosehill would be the team's 13th forward. Carter Ashton is another option for the second or third line but will likely spend the year in the AHL and see spot time in the NHL.
This would leave Colby Armstrong as the odd man out on the Leafs' roster.
The Leafs have a lot depth when it comes to wingers, with young talented players like Sondre Olden, Tyler Biggs, Brad Ross, Josh Nicholls, Kenny Ryan, Josh Leivo and Jerry D'Amigo. All of these players have talent and could start seeing spot duty in the NHL as early as this season.
Ross and D'Amigo could be NHL-ready within one year while Olden, Biggs, Nicholls, Ryan and Leivo are still at least two years way.
The Leafs have a good mix of players for every line and have talent to spare when it comes to making deals. They would be better off trading MacArthur, in my opinion, because Kulemin has a better overall game even though he had an off-year.
That would also give one of Frattin, Kadri or Colborne a shot on the second line, potentially put one on the third line and explore trade options with the other. The other four winger spots would most likely go to Crabb (hopefully re-signed), Brown, Komarov and Mueller.
NHL and NHL-Ready Defensemen
Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Carl Gunnarsson, Luke Schenn, Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson, John-Michael Liles, Juraj Mikus, Korbinian Holzer and Matt Lashoff
It's a little harder to predict how the Leafs' defense will look come the start of the season. The players guaranteed to make the team would be Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Schenn, Liles and Gardiner.
Guys like Komisarek, Franson, Mikus, Holzer and Lashoff are more uncertain when it comes to making the roster. In my mind, the Leafs can afford to trade, at most, two of these guys to shore up some other positions. I would like to see Komisarek and Mikus/Holzer be the guys traded, but if one of Gunnarsson/Franson/Schenn gets traded, that would be acceptable, too.
Looking at the Leafs' current prospect pool, they still have some good young, up-and-coming defensemen in Jesse Blacker, Stuart Percy and, if all rumors are true, Justin Schultz.
Blacker has a lot of potential and is already a great two-way defenseman who could be another Gardiner in the waiting.
Percy is another good young two-way defenseman who will be a top-four guy in the next two to three years.
Lastly, the Leafs are rumored to be one of the front-runners when it comes to signing top defensive prospect Justin Schultz. Schultz was drafted by Anaheim in 2008, their next pick after selecting Jake Gardiner. Gardiner and Schultz were teammates at the University of Wisconsin as well as really good friends. It has also been said that he is really fond of Burke and Carlyle so if everything pans out, he would be a great signing for Toronto this offseason.
The Leafs have a great group of defensemen right now, but they could afford to acquire a veteran presence, and there is no better position for veterans than on the blue line. Liles and Komisarek are veterans, but neither of them have a lot of playoff experience to help mentor the younger defensemen.
Like I said before, they can afford to trade, at most, two of these guys, and I think they would be better off looking to move Komisarek and Franson/Gunnarsson. This would open up room on the roster for at least one other player: a veteran mentor or a young up-and-comer like Schultz.
NHL and NHL-Ready Goaltenders
James Reimer, Ben Scrivens and Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer broke onto the scene back during the 2010-2011 season when he single-handedly almost got the Leafs into the playoffs, going 20-10-5 with a 2.60 GAA and a .921 save percentage. Not too shabby for a young goaltender playing in the NHL for the first time.
This past season wasn't as spectacular for the youngster, being marred by an early concussion.
Ben Scrivens was the one who stepped into the limelight last season. While his NHL numbers are not that great, what he's done in the AHL has been truly remarkable. Scrivens went 22-15-1 with a 2.04 GAA and a .926 save percentage during the regular season and followed that up with even more impressive numbers, going 11-5-0 with a 1.73 GAA and .941 save percentage in the AHL playoffs.
Gustavsson, on the other hand, has been a disappointment during his three-year tenure with the Leafs. He has shown flashes of brilliance from time to time, but his Toronto career has been constantly marred by injuries and inconsistency.
Going forward, it would be smart for the Leafs to stick with Reimer and Scrivens.
Both have shown they are capable of winning games and have the potential to be solid netminders in the future. It's very unlikely that both will start in the NHL. The Leafs will likely look for a veteran goalie capable of playing 30-40 games at least and use him to mentor James Reimer in the NHL and let Scrivens dominate another season in the AHL under the tutelage of Dallas Eakins. While there are not as many available veteran goalies as I would like, the Leafs still have plenty of options available going forward.
When it comes to goaltending prospects outside of Reimer and Scrivens, the Leafs are still in very decent condition. Jussi Rynnas was signed just before the 2010-2011 season. He has a lot of raw potential but still has a lot of work to do before he is ready. He is a very low-risk project with very high rewards. Depending on what the Leafs decide to do with Reimer and Scrivens, Rynnas will either be the No. 2 guy behind Scrivens in the AHL or battle with another goaltending prospect in Mark Owuya if one of the aforementioned goalies are dealt.
Mark Owuya is another low-risk, potentially high-reward signing made by Burke back in April 2011. Thought to be a low-risk depth signing, Owuya performed better than anyone would have expected this season. Owuya put up decent numbers in the ECHL, but he really upped his game in the small shot he was given with the Marlies, going 11-5-1 with a 1.94 GAA and a .929 save percentage. While Owuya will have to wait a while before seeing any time in the NHL, he could develop enough to be packaged away in deals with other teams.
Other prospects in the Leafs' system are Grant Rollheiser and Garret Sparks. Rollheiser has spent the last four years as a backup for Boston University and will likely not make the jump to the NHL during his career. Sparks was drafted 190th overall in 2011 and, while he still has a lot of time before getting a real shot at the NHL, could be another steal depending on how he develops. However, it's still too soon to tell.
Right now the top two goaltenders in the Leafs' system are Reimer and Scrivens. If the Leafs hope to have any shot at the playoffs next season, they will need to look for an upgrade in net.
Like always, the Leafs were at the bottom of the league defensively and the first place that should be improved is in net. I would like to see both Reimer and Scrivens stay with the Leafs for at least another season, but if one of them is needed in a trade for a real upgrade, that would be acceptable as well.
Hopefully, another year for both of them will do nothing but improve their trade value.
Holes in the Roster
1. Lack of a top-line center. Would be beneficial but not an immediate concern, as most fans believe.
2. Need more secondary scoring.
3. More veteran presence needed in the bottom-six forwards and on defense (aka lots of NHL and playoff experience).
4. Upgrade in net needed.
1. Everyone keeps talking about the Leafs' need for a true No. 1 center, but the fact of the matter is Toronto did very well offensively without one. A top-line center would be ideal, but it is not worth overpaying for and depleting the depth that the Leafs have in all other positions.
This hole will likely be filled through trades, seeing as the free-agent crop this year does not possess any viable candidates. As mentioned throughout the article, the Leafs have a lot of pieces that can be used in order to acquire a first-line center. Among those available are Connolly, Lombardi, Armstrong, Kulemin, MacArthur, Kadri, Colborne, Frattin, Bozak, Schenn, Franson, Gunnarsson, Komisarek, as well as their draft picks and other prospects. The Leafs definitely have enough pieces to offer an attractive package.
This is not an immediate need for Toronto and can be handled internally. Grabovski has been improving steadily over the last few years and may be worth a look at the No. 1 slot. The Leafs also have Kadri and Colborne, as well as whomever they may draft with the fifth overall pick—so long as its Grigorenko, Galchenyuk or Faksa—all potential options to be their top-line guy in the future.
2. Unlike with a No. 1 center, more secondary scoring can be added within the Leafs' system.
Toronto has young, talented guys like Kadri, Colborne and Frattin who can provided more scoring for the Leafs in the upcoming season.
There are also plenty of veteran free agents who could help as well like Zach Parise, Alexander Semin, Jaromir Jagr, P.A Parenteau and Shane Doan.
There are also plenty of restricted free-agent options that I believe would be better suited in Toronto's top six like Jakub Voracek, David Perron, Chris Stewart and Alexander Radulov, to name a few. However, trades would be necessary to acquire any one of these players. Secondary scoring is not as hard for Toronto to acquire seeing as there are lots of different routes they can explore.
3. I may have listed veteran presence as a hole in their roster, but it's only a hole that needs to be filled if they hope to be contenders anytime soon. Since Toronto is in no condition to be a contender anytime soon, so they can put off acquiring veteran players for another year, but they would help the development of the younger players on the team.
Players who can be acquired through free agency include Jason Arnott, Chris Kelly, Andrew Brunette, Tomas Holmstrom, Ray Whitney, Travis Moen, Shane Doan, Jamie Langenbrunner and David Jones.
I would prefer to see the Leafs acquire a veteran presence through free agency. There are always options available through free agency, and it doesn't make sense to trade young players and prospects for these pieces.
4. Goaltending, in my opinion, is the first position that needs to be upgraded before next season. While James Reimer and Ben Scrivens have some good upside, neither looks like they will be ready to carry this team in the playoffs any time soon.
Toronto needs a true No. 1 guy to take the reins if they want to be a playoff team next season.
They have two options in how they can go about this: 1) acquire a stopgap for the next few seasons to mentor Reimer and Scrivens or 2) look for a true No. 1 goalie who can lead the team from here on out. Trades seem to be the best option in general, seeing how weak the goaltending free-agency pool is this offseason.
Ideally, this offseason will see Toronto acquire a true first-line center, a veteran No. 1 goaltender to mentor Reimer/Scrivens and give younger players like Kadri, Colborne and Frattin the chance to shine.
Toronto will have to do a lot of retooling this offseason, but they have pieces to get something done. Players I wouldn't mind seeing moved in order to fill the holes would be one of Kulemin/MacArthur, one of Colborne/Frattin/Kadri, one of Gunnarsson/Franson/Schenn and any of their large contracts. Of course, some prospects and draft picks will need to be added, but nothing too extreme.
Toronto is still in good position for the future as bad as it may look now with such a young nucleus of players. Fans have to understand that just because a player may not be performing as well as they would like right now, they still have plenty of time to develop. Who knows? Maybe one day they will be better than anyone thought they would be.
Look forward to reading your comments and hearing your thoughts!