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Ranking the Toronto Maple Leafs' 5 Biggest Needs Heading into the Trade Deadline

Brad LeClairCorrespondent IMarch 30, 2013

Ranking the Toronto Maple Leafs' 5 Biggest Needs Heading into the Trade Deadline

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    After a commanding 4-0 victory over their Provincial rival Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs are sitting pretty in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs sit nine points clear of the New York Islanders for the eighth place spot in the East.

    That, however, is not the focus right now for the Leafs. The focus is taking one game at a time and trying to get home-ice advantage heading into the playoffs.

    To get home-ice advantage, the Leafs will likely have to be busy at the trade deadline to make home-ice advantage in the playoffs to come true.

    Here is an overview of the Leafs' most pressing needs heading into the April 3 trading deadline in the NHL.

5. Veteran Checking Forward

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    The most underrated addition in the NHL during the free-agency period this offseason could very well be the signing of Jay McClement by then-GM Brian Burke.

    McClement has brought exactly what the Leafs needed in their attempt to get back to defensive respectability.

    The addition of McClement, coupled with more practice time under Randy Carlyle, has vaulted the Leafs once stagnant penalty kill, all the way to one of the best in the NHL. To add, the Leafs own the best penalty kill (93 percent) in the month of March in the NHL.

    What the Leafs could use is another guy like McClement who can play in the defensive zone at critical times. Leaning on McClement this heavily may not be what the Leafs want to do.

    Player to Target: If Philadelphia falls further, I'd look at a guy like Max Talbot. However, the Leafs may have a slightly less veteran version of him in Leo Komarov. A guy like Raffi Torres in Phoenix could also be very useful.

4. Veteran Goaltender

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    The Leafs' need for a veteran No. 1 goaltender has been well documented since the lockout of 2004.

    Ever since Ed Belfour left Toronto and signed as a free agent in Florida, the Leafs have went through goaltenders as much as Kim Kardashian goes through boyfriends.

    Whether it was Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala, Martin Gerber, JS Giguere, Jonas Gustavsson or Justin Pogge, the Leafs never really hit with their goaltenders.

    James Reimer's resurgence this season has vaulted the Leafs back into the playoffs and back into questioning whether the Leafs should really go after that goaltender they have longed for.

    Reimer's play this season has been solid, but unspectacular. He seems to win, even when he fights the puck. That is a credit to the system Randy Carlyle has the Leafs playing right now.

    If the Leafs were to make a trade, I believe it would be for a veteran backup in case Reimer has some trouble.

    Player to Target: Nikolai Khabibulin

3. First-Line Center

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    Here's another need for the Leafs ever since Mats Sundin left the Leafs for the Vancouver Canucks. That big-name, big-bodied first-line center.

    Tyler Bozak has done an admirable job in the role; however, I believe he's better suited for a third-line checking role alongside Jay McClement.

    Question is, should the Leafs really look for a first-line center when they likely already have one in Nazem Kadri?

    Kadri, despite being on the ice for the least minutes amongst the top 30 scorers in the NHL, continues to put points up at an alarming rate.

    No longer a bust, Kadri has proven his doubters wrong so far this season, and his chemistry with Joffrey Lupul has been unmatched. Another pressing question should be, when will it be time to promote him to first-line duties and play him with Lupul and Phil Kessel?

    They can make the second line feature James Van Riemsdyk, Mikhail Grabovski and Matt Frattin, then they have a wonderful third-line checking line that features Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin. In the defensive zone, they can likely play Jay McClement instead of MacArthur.

    If the Leafs were to acquire a first-line center, they would likely be moving Tyler Bozak in the trade to bring him here, or best-case scenario, Mikhail Grabovski.

    Player(s) to Target: Mike Ribeiro, Stephen Weiss and Derek Roy

2. Veteran Top-4 Defenceman

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    When Dion Phaneuf plays less than 25 minutes a night, the results are staggering. In 13 games this season, Phaneuf has played less than 25 minutes. But in those games, he has got 15 points. He has got a plus-seven rating, as opposed to the minus-11 rating he has when he plays greater than 25 minutes. Lastly, the Leafs have a much better winning percentage in those games.

    Needless to say, the less they play Phaneuf, the better the Leafs do. I don't know if that's a bad thing or a good thing though for Phaneuf. It could mean that if the Leafs play him properly and don't overuse him, they are better.

    It could also mean the Leafs are better off without him and his $6.5 million contract.

    I'm on the fence, but personally, I think the Captain sticks around.

    With the recent demotions of Mike Komisarek and Tim Connolly, the Leafs will likely get an extra $9 million to play with this offseason.

    One of their targets should be a veteran top-four defenseman to help Dion Phaneuf out so he isn't overworked like Zdeno Chara against Phil Kessel.

    Player(s) to Target: Jay Bouwmeester, Keith Yandle, Ladislav Smid, Ron Hainsey, Robyn Regehr, and Ryan Whitney. However, the Leafs might be better served waiting on Jake Gardiner, and developing their already deep defensive core that features Morgan Rielly, Jesse Blacker, Korbinian Holzer and Stuart Percy.

1. Secondary Scoring/Size Up Front

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    Before Lupul returned, this was the first, second and third biggest need for the Leafs.

    Now it's just No. 1.

    The Leafs currently sit at 112 goals, good for second in the NHL behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pretty good company you can say.

    However, I believe the Leafs could still use some extra firepower up front for the playoff push.

    All the Leaf centers are small by NHL center standards, and for the most part, the wingers are small for NHL standards as well, with only James Van Riemsdyk standing over 6'3" and tipping the scales at over 200 pounds.

    That lack of size is apparent against bigger teams such as the Boston Bruins, whom the Leafs finally beat 3-2 last Saturday, and lost in a shootout to on the following Monday night.

    Grabovski, for over $5 million a season, has been a bitter disappointment up front, and his linemates haven't really scored at a high pace either. Something has got to give.

    Fact of the matter is, when push comes to shove, the Leafs' elite goal scorers just aren't big enough, just aren't strong enough to take the constant thrashing and constant pressure of playoff-caliber hockey.

    Players to Target: Ryane Clowe, Nik Antropov, Brad Boyes, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy and yes, Jaromir Jagr would be a good addition too.

     

    So there you have it. The Leafs cannot target all of these needs, but look for at least one or two of them to be addressed. Feel free to comment on which ones you'd like to see get addressed Wednesday.

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