Toronto Maple Leafs: The Positional Challenges They Face for 2012-13
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been trying to improve their club since the lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season. They have gone through a number of GMs and coaches on their way to their current state.
While some fans may not like what current GM Brian Burke has done with the club, he is clearly trying to change the Leafs' fortunes. The acquisitions may not have always worked out in the Leafs' favor over the years, but more recently, they have been. Names such as Kessel, Lupul and Gardiner come to mind as successful trades.
Now that the Leafs have been rebuilding and trying to tweak their roster going into the 2012-13 season, barring a lockout, the club faces a different problem: There are two positions where there is no room for all the players.
The Leafs have more centers than they know what to do with; the number listed on the official website is currently sitting at eight, and that does not include those players ready to move up from the Marlies.
Another position where the Leafs have a number of players is on defense; even after trading Luke Schenn, they are at six. Korbinian Holzer also signed a one-way deal this summer, and though he is not listed on the official roster, few expect him to be playing with the Marlies next season, which makes seven.
While having positional depth is usually a good thing, in Toronto's case, it may just be too much.
The Marlies were hot last season as they made their way to the Calder Cup Finals. That brought a lot of attention to the Toronto AHL affiliate.
Of the players who were integral to the Marlies' success last season, a few are ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Talented players such as Matt Frattin, Nazem Kadri and the aforementioned Holzer are among those ready to make an impact with the Leafs.
The biggest issue is that there currently is nowhere to place these players.
Frattin may be the exception here, as he should be able to find a home on the third- or fourth-line wing this season.
That is unless Toronto tries to get creative.
The top line has one opening at center, that should be filled by Mikhail Grabovski, but could go to the newly acquired James van Riemsdyk or potentially even Kadri.
Should Grabovski get the well-deserved top slot, van Riemsdyk will have to find a place either on the first or second line. That means another player will be bounced, such as Lupul, Clarke MacArthur or Nikolai Kulemin.
It is safe to say that David Steckel will gain a spot centering the third or fourth line, as he still topped the league with his face-off win percentage. This could create a whole new set of problems, as the Leafs need to find a home for players such as Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi and Jay McClement.
Not to mention the youngsters looking to make their mark on the Leafs.
The defensive pairings had the same issue last season—seven players for six spots. It usually meant Mike Komisarek, Cody Franson or Carl Gunnarsson was sitting out.
With Schenn gone this season, it will be down to Komisarek, Franson or Holzer as the odd man out.
There is a possibility that Toronto will allow current restricted free agent Franson walk away, but as one of its young defenders with promise, this would be a step in the wrong direction.
It seems that Toronto needs to make a trade that will send some of its extra bodies elsewhere in exchange for something that Toronto could use, such as a veteran goaltender.
One thing to consider is that all the players whom other teams may have interest in are the same ones Toronto needs to make room for. In order to relieve the roster of players such as Lombardi or Komisarek, who have not been overly productive in their respected positions, the Leafs would have to trade one or more of their young prospects.
The other option, albeit not the best solution, is to buy out the truly bad contracts, such as Komisarek or Lombardi's. Neither is playing to the level of his contract price and would free up some room on the main roster.
There is also an issue here, however; the Leafs already have two buyouts still on the payroll until the end of the 2013-14 season.
The last option that the Leafs organization has is to bury some contract in the minors. An unfortunate aside to this option is, of the players who could be moved down, most have a no-movement clause.
Whichever way Burke goes, he has a lot of decisions to make before the season starts.
The question is, does he let talented players sit in the minors another season, or deal with the bad contracts?
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