Barely a week into the real NHL offseason and Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs have already made splash. They began by shocking the league and fans alike by drafting Morgan Rielly and Matt Finn in the first two rounds when it had been widely speculated they would draft a forward. While shocking, they are two excellent picks who have the ability to stabilize the Leafs' blue line for years to come with Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Jesse Blacker and potentially Justin Schultz.
Not long after the draft, Burke shipped Luke Schenn to Philadelphia for James Van Riemsdyk. While this trade had been rumored for several months, it is still hard to determine whether it is beneficial or not. Sure, Van Riemsdyk adds much needed size up front, but he is coming off an injury and carries a large cap hit at $4.25 million per year.
I personally don't mind the deal but am very sad to see Schenn go. While he had been very inconsistent throughout his time with the Leafs, he still has a lot of potential. With more work on his skating and gained confidence, he could be a great defender for years to come. Maybe a reunion with his younger brother Brayden is just what he needs to move in the right direction.
Now that the Leafs have gained more depth in the back end, it opens up more possibilities when it comes to trades, which they used to address a need in the Van Riemsdyk deal. Now the Leafs have a few more holes that need to be filled according sportsnet.ca columnist Mike Brophy. He says the Leafs have other needs, like acquiring a top line center, solidifying their goaltending situation by acquiring a legitimate number one guy and all-around leadership in his column here.
While there are plenty of options available through free agency, the Leafs will likely get most of their changes done through trades. While obvious players to be traded like Tim Connolly, Colby Armstrong, Matthew Lombardi and Mike Komisarek come up, this article will focus on other players who could be traded and which teams would likely target them.
The Leafs are already one of the deepest teams in the NHL whether people want to acknowledge it or not. The following is just a breakdown of how deep the team is and helps give the idea of who may be available in trades:
NHL Ready: Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin, James Van Riemsdyk, Matt Frattin, Nazem Kadri, Colby Armstrong, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Dave Steckel, Joey Crabb, Matt Brown, Leo Komarov
Depth: Joe Colborne, Jerry D'Amigo, Carter Ashton, Tyler Biggs, Greg Mckegg, Spencer Abbot, Brad Ross, Marcel Mueller, Josh Leivo, Nicolas Deschamps, Josh Nicholls
NHL Ready: Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, John-Michael Liles, Jake Gardiner, Mike Komisarek, Korbinian Holzer
Depth: Jesse Blacker, Stuart Percy, Juraj Mikus, Morgan Rielly, Matt Finn
NHL Ready: James Reimer
Depth: Ben Scrivens, Mark Owuya, Jussi Rynnas, Garret Sparks
The Leafs have a great deal of depth in the organization that can be played around with to get what they need right now: a little more size up front, a number one goalie, a top line center and leadership throughout the organization.
With the acquisition of James Van Riemsdyk, the Leafs addressed two needs: much needed size in the lineup and secondary scoring behind Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.
While bringing Van Riemsdyk into the mix is a good thing for the Leafs, it also diminishes Nazem Kadri's chances of sticking with the big club next season. Kadri has been taking longer than anticipated to crack the Toronto Maple Leafs roster. However this can be attributed to the unusually high expectations set upon him by Leafs fans. He is still very young though and has been developing nicely. He showed be a full time NHL player next season.
However, sometimes in order to acquire talent you must give up talent. The Leafs still need to acquire more secondary scoring as well as a top line center. The first name that comes to mind in that regard is Rick Nash. Of course it would take a hefty package to pry Nash out of Columbus, and they would definitely be looking for a talented young player like Kadri in return.
I have also begun hearing rumblings of Joe Thornton potential availability. While he still has one year remaining on his contract, he would definitely fill the void that the Leafs have for a top line center and would look great feeding the puck to Phil Kessel. If he can help Jonathan Cheechoo net 56 goals, why not Kessel?
Like with Nash, Kadri would likely be an attractive trading piece and one that San Jose would likely consider the bare minimum for a player of Thornton's caliber. This is an intriguing proposition, but should only get done if Thornton agrees to sign an extension with the Leafs.
Ever since the Mac-Russian line fizzled this past season it has become a consensus that one of Clarke MacArthur or Nikolai Kulemin will be traded. I think that trading MacArthur would be the Leafs best option.
While Kulemin had a less than spectacular season, he was still one of the Leafs only players who competed hard night in and night out. The seven goals and 28 points he compiled does not reflect the effort, heart and persistence he showed during every game. Also, with his trade value so low right now and the upside he has, it would not be in the Leafs best interests to move him.
This is where MacArthur comes in.
Next to Grabovski, MacArthur was the next best producer on that line this past season. However, he lacked consistency and didn't show as much of a drive to score as Kulemin did, even though he was snake bitten the entire season. MacArthur does possess the grit that Burke and Carlyle like to see in their lineup. That and his decent point totals over the past two years are enough to make him an attractive player for teams to target.
Teams who could use a player like that in my opinion are Columbus, Colorado and Anaheim. Coincidentally each of those teams have a player who could fill another need for the Leafs. MacArthur would be a good gritty second/third line point producing forward and a likely part in any deal for one of Rick Nash, Paul Stastny or Ryan Getzlaf. Possibly even two.
Whether the Leafs trade Bozak depends entirely upon whether or not they acquire a number one center this offseason. If the Leafs are able to acquire one of the rumored centers like the ones mentioned previously, Bozak would certainly need to be included in any deal.
Bozak was signed back in 2009 and, like Kadri, was over hyped from the beginning. Fans began dubbing him the first line center of the future, especially when his annual cap hit was similar to that of a first overall pick. While Bozak flourished during moments while playing with Kessel and Lupul on the first line over the past two seasons, he will likely find his niche as a second or third line center in the NHL.
I have said this before, but there really is no pressing need for the Leafs to acquire a number one center. Bozak has performed admirably with Kessel and even saw his highest totals posted this past season scoring 18 goals and 47 points. He was able to perform the moment there wasn't any pressure on him, so why can't he do it again? I see no reason why Bozak can't fill the void of a top line center again next season.
However, with Burke needing to make major changes, Bozak may become the odd man out in a quest for a top line center. We will just have to see what's in store for him this offseason.
The Leafs most consistent defenseman over the past two years and likely the most viable trading piece the Leafs have left on defense this offseason is Carl Gunnarsson. He may not turn any heads when he plays, but that's also a good thing. You don't see him making any blatant giveaways or bad plays too often.
Right now when looking at the Leafs defense it is judged on the potential that their young players possess. Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson and Korbinian Holzer still have a lot to prove in the NHL. The Leafs could look into trading Franson or Holzer, but their trade value right now does not reflect how good they can become in the future. It would be in the Leafs best interest to hold onto them right now and see how they perform next year.
This would make Gunnarsson the Leafs' best trade piece. He is consistent, he is definitely a top six guy who can play a top four role if need be and he is a sound defender. While he won't fetch a lot on his own, he can be packaged away with other players to fill one of the Leafs' current needs.
Teams who could benefit from acquiring him in my opinion would be Colorado, Calgary and Columbus. I list these teams because I believe a reasonable deal can be reached that would benefit both sides.
When Brian Burke resigned John Michael Liles to a five year contract, I have to admit I was a little puzzled. I thought that the only reason Liles was acquired was to give both Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker more time to develop until they were ready to take over. With Gardiner's emergence this past season, I just assumed that Liles would leave through free agency this offseason.
It took me until the draft to see what Brian Burke was actually trying to do. He doesn't just want one puck moving defenseman, but two. Yes this is pretty obvious, but imagine how lethal the Leafs will be with two outstanding puck moving defenseman leading the breakout? He plans on having Gardiner and Rielly man the points in a few years feeding the puck to Phaneuf and Franson from the point. That would give the Leafs two impressive power play units.
Another advantage to the signing is that Burke locked up a very good offensive defenseman for a mere $3.8 million per season. I would say Liles is very comparable to Dennis Wideman even though he had a bad season. Now with Wideman traded and signed by Calgary for $5.25 million over the next five years, Liles looks like a much more affordable option.
I fully expect to see Burke shop Liles throughout next season when teams begin looking for a puck moving defenseman. Toronto already has an abundance of NHL ready defensemen, so depending on how well Liles plays next season, we will see what Burke has in mind for him.