How an Entire-Season Lockout Can Benefit the Toronto Maple Leafs

Neil GrewalCorrespondent IIIOctober 6, 2012

How an Entire-Season Lockout Can Benefit the Toronto Maple Leafs

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    I know the last thing most fans want to think about is another full season cancelled but in the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs, there are a lot of benefits.

    The Leafs have noticeably been one of the worst teams in the NHL since the last lockout. Right now, the Leafs are expected to be one of those fringe playoff teams at best.

    They are still in no condition to be considered playoff contenders year in and year out. I always believed that they were still one year away at least and it will likely remain the same way.

    Just before the last lockout, the Leafs were one of the top teams in the league. In a sense, it was kind of like the retiring period of the old-generation Leafs.

    Prior to this current lockout, Toronto was all about restocking the system with new talented young players, which Brian Burke has done an admirable job. Maybe the future after this lockout brings the next-generation Leafs we have been waiting to see for the last seven years....

    That is why I believe that if this entire season is cancelled, the Leafs will  be in much better shape than they are now.

Expiring Contracts

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    Following this season, the Leafs will see a significant amount of cap space open up. This would be a significant plus, especially with the owners asking for a reduction in the cap ceiling.

    Contracts set to expire at the end of the season are Tim Connolly, Joffrey Lupul, Mathew Lombardi, Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak, Dave Steckel and Carl Gunnarsson.

    Without a doubt I can see Toronto Parting ways with Connolly and Lombardi. Gunnarsson and Lupul will more than likely be re-signed, with Bozak, MacArthur and Steckel being toss ups.

    An upside would see anywhere between $10 million-$15 million open up in cap space between expiring trades and whatever trades Burke might look to make.

    No question the Leafs will have a lot more options following this season than they do right now. While this can be accomplished while still being able to play out the entire season, it may help save some of the more dedicated Leafs fan from the agony of watching their team find a way to crash and burn every year. 

Deep 2013 Free Agent Pool

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    Taking a look at the projected 2013 free agent pool, there are number of players who could fill roster needs for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The following are players who Burke should extend all resources trying to acquire if they reach the open market:

    Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jimmy Howard, David Clarkson, Ryane Clowe, Manny Malhotra, Stephen Weiss, Alexander Edler, Rob Scuderi, Travis Zajac, Nathan Horton, Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribeiro, Tim Thomas and Niklas Backstrom (MIN).

    Getzlaf will be the most sought-after player by Toronto if he reaches the open market. He is a big, strong player that would fill the top center need for the Leafs. If he is not signed, however, secondary options could be Weiss, Zajac and Ribeiro. They are all capable top-six centers who have the ability to play on the top line. 

    Along with Getzlaf, Perry will be a sought-after player by the Leafs if he's a free agent. He is a top line winger with size who has great chemistry with Getzlaf. It is likely that both players will sign with the same team, seeing as they are good friends (same as Parise and Suter).

    Secondary options would be Horton, Clowe and Morrow. All are top six forwards with size, a need on the Leafs roster according to Burke. 

    Jimmy Howard is probably the most interesting player of all. He would fill Toronto's need for a true starting netminder in case James Reimer is not ready.

    However, if Howard re-signs with Detroit, which is more than likely what will happen, then Thomas (if he comes out of "retirement") and Backstrom would be great secondary options. They would be that veteran 1B goalie Burke has been looking for to mentor James Reimer.

    Clarkson and Malhotra are solid bottom six players that should be considered but could likely be replaced by players already in the system (Jay McClement, Dave Steckel, Brad Ross, Tyler Bozak, etc.). 

    Alexander Edler is a player I think Toronto should just target based on his talent alone. More than likely he will not come here, but the fans will appreciate knowing that the Leafs put some sort of effort into it.

    A more reasonable player to target would be Rob Scuderi, a veteran shutdown defenseman who has won two Stanley Cups. He would provide tremendous leadership to the young Leafs core.

Brian Burke Will Finally Be Around to See the Team He Created Succeed

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    One of the most controversial GM's in the league, Brian Burke has been criticized time and time again for the "faults" he has done running the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Sure, he has done some questionable moves during his tenure (Phil Kessel trade for all those who just can't let things go) but he has done more good than bad for the Maple Leafs. 

    He's managed to properly restock the Leafs prospect pool with guys like Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly, Joe Colborne, Matt Frattin, Tyler Biggs, Brad Ross, Greg McKegg and Jesse Blacker among others. Guys like Kadri, Gardiner, Frattin and Colborne are ready to contribute to the Leafs in a full-time or call-up capacity right now with others being on the way. 

    Burke has done an admirable job putting together the team and depth that the Leafs have now with what he was given the day he took over. He's managed to instill some form of hope in the future that has been vacant for so long. 

    I have long believed that the young Leafs would be capable of greatness very soon;hey just need to get older. By the end of this season, the Leafs will see a lot of their young players ready to compete for roster spots with the big club.

    This will open up the helm for a lot trade opportunities to benefit the present and the future. There is no other GM I would rather see fine tune this team than Brian Burke, the man with the vision himself.

    The only thing is if this season does play out and the Leafs under perform again (which is a possibility) then Brian Burke will be fired. It won't be because he did a terrible job managing the team, it would be because the team he put together was not ready to play just yet.

    It would be an utter shame if Brian Burke gets dismissed before we can see what he really did give to the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Young Guys Ready to Step in

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    Like I have mentioned before, the Leafs have a lot young talent that will be ready to step in very soon. Young guys who are ready to do that are Jake Gardiner (a given already), Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin and Joe Colborne.

    I feel that Kadri is ready for the next step, regardless of what has been circulating about his body fat percentage. Kadri's mission this off-season was to get stronger and be more explosive in his first step. In my opinion he has done the more important of the two thus far.

    The real knock on Kadri before was that he seemed too soft on the puck and was often out-muscled by the opposition. Getting stronger is exactly what Kadri needed to do.

    Just because he's not as explosive as management wants, that does not mean his development isn't moving forward. Expect big things from Kadri this year, whether it be with the Marlies or with the Leafs if lockout is resolved.

    Frattin and Colborne also should be regular contributors. Frattin showed that he is more than able to play with the Leafs this past season and what he is capable of with the Marlies in the AHL playoffs. A season off will give him chance to properly rehab and be 100 percent for next season.

    Colborne on the othermhand still needs some work with consistency, skating and using his size more. A strong offseason would have seen his chances of making the Leafs out of training camp pretty good. Odds are though he will start out in the AHL, where he will see more time in an increased role. 

    On top of that, the Leafs have a number of other players who could be NHL-ready or at least ready for call-up duties during the 2013-14 season. Tyler Biggs, Brad Ross, Jesse Blacker, Stuart Percy, Greg McKegg, Jerry D'Amigo and Carter Ashton are all players who have shown great strides with the Leafs over the past few years.

    Another year would give all these young players more time to improve and make the Leafs a much better overall team.

    I believe that one of the Leafs' key needs is to free up roster space for a lot of their young players. Teams are starting to give their young players more ice time these days. St. Louis, Nashville, Ottawa and the Rangers have been giving their young players more ice time while experiencing success.

    Toronto needs to start doing the same, and following this season is prime time for that to happen with lots of contracts expiring for the Leafs as well. 

Realistic Shot at a Top Five Pick in a Very Deep Draft

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    Next year is supposed to be one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. I still remember the 2005 draft lottery when Pittsburgh ended up winning the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes. Ironically, if there is another full season lockout, next year's lottery may just become the Nathan MacKinnon sweepstakes: the other Cole Harbour boy.

    Living in Halifax and watching this kid play first hand, I can honestly say I have never seen someone so talented play. There is still a full junior season to go before we can say for sure who is No. 1 and who isn't. As of right now MacKinnon is the consensus No. 1 heading into the draft. 

    Besides MacKinnon, there are a number of very talented players. Sean Monahan is an extremely talented player in the OHL who was the youngest player on the Canadian squad during the Canada-Russia challenge. Hunter Shinkaruk is a talented undersized player who knows how to score.

    Aleksander Barkov is a big, skilled and intelligent center who might appeal to Brian Burke. All are very talented offensive players who are ranked in the top five right now. While this is a deep draft with lots of talent, these players are above the rest and would be very valuable additions to any team. 

    The reason I bring this up is due to how the 2005 NHL draft lottery took place. Because of the lockout, all 30 teams had a shot of landing the first overall pick but the teams odds were based on their records from the past four seasons.

    Before the last lockout, the Leafs were one of the best teams in the league, therefore their odds were low so they got the 21st overall pick which was used to draft Tuukka Rask (Dammit JFJ!). This time, however, the Leafs have been one of the worst teams in the NHL.

    In the last four seasons, the Leafs finished 24th overall, 29th, 23rd and 26th. Not a good stretch by any means. The only teams who have done just as bad were Edmonton, Columbus and the Islanders, however, they finished above the Leafs at least once. 

    This could be the best possible thing for the Leafs getting a high first-round draft pick, possibly even first overall.

    Acquiring any of the highly talented forwards in the top five would be a plus, but if Toronto managed to draft MacKinnon, that would be the best thing ever for this franchise. The only thing is, Toronto would never get a top five pick if there wasn't a lockout.

    Toronto is good enough to finish outside of the bottom 10 teams in the league, but there still is no guarantee that they will make the playoffs. While they could get a good player in that range of the draft, none would be of the caliber of the top five picks.