Predicting How Each Toronto Maple Leaf Line Will Look in 2013-14
Many positives can be drawn from the playoff appearance such as coming back from a 3-1 series deficit, leading 4-1 with 10 minutes to go in the game, and the emergence of James Reimer into a legit number one goalie.
But unfortunately, the negatives might outweigh the positives from this playoff appearance.
The very shaky play of the Captain Dion Phaneuf when he was forced to play major minutes could be a warning sign. His leadership ability has always been a major question mark, and it reared its ugly head in that game.
The Leafs inability to win faceoffs against the Bruins was another major issue facing the team. When you never start out with the puck, whether its penalty killing, or on the power play, it doesn't bode well for anyone.
The Leafs also showed their youth in that game and could really use some more veteran stability on the roster.
With that said, here's what I believe the Leaf lines might shake out by the time early October arrives.
Goaltenders: Starter James Reimer, Back-Up Ben Scrivens
James Reimer's stellar play in the 2012-13 playoffs earned him the chance to start again next season. It's really his job to lose.
With relatively no free agent goalies available other than veteran back-ups, I feel the Leafs will use their cap space and try to bring in more veterans instead.
Reimer on average against the Bruins, saw around 38 shots a game, and had a 2.88 GAA and a .924 SV% in the playoffs.
Had the Leafs had more faceoff wins, you can bet that they would've allowed less shots and Reimer would have even better numbers than he had.
Ben Scrivens returns as the primary back-up for Reimer. Scrivens provides decent back-up goaltending on the back-to-back nights that Reimer can't play.
Defensive Pairing One: Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson
The Leafs will likely not buyout Dion Phaneuf, but I feel like they will be dangling his $6.5 million expiring contract in hopes they can land a couple of serviceable pieces or try to move up in the draft.
If a deal doesn't happen, Phaneuf will return as the teams' top defenceman and will play alongside Carl Gunnarsson.
Gunnarsson, who suffered from a hip injury pretty well all season, hopefully will return next year pain-free and can get back to his usual steady play on the back end.
Defensive Pairing Two: Cody Franson and Mark Fraser
Cody Franson was arguably the Leafs best defenseman this past season, and he proved his worth in the playoffs leading the Leafs in playoff scoring by a defenceman. He scored clutch goals and he limited his mistakes and evolved into a near all-star level defender.
Mark Fraser will likely return as a restricted free agent and remain as his defensive partner.
Defensive Pairing Three: Jake Gardiner and Andrew Ference
The Leafs will likely add a veteran defenseman to help Jake Gardiner along in his development. The perfect fit I feel is Andrew Ference. He may only be 5'11" and 190 pounds, but Ference gives it his all and sacrifices himself on a nightly basis.
When he was injured this past playoff run versus the Leafs, his loss was immediately felt on the Bruins back end. With only $6.65 million in cap space, the Bruins will be hard-pressed to keep Ference as both Tuukka Rask and Nathan Horton will likely see an increase in pay.
With that said, you can likely say good-bye to Mike Komisarek and John Michael Liles as I feel both will be bought out by Dave Nonis and company. The extra defenseman will likely be Mike Kostka or Korbinian Holzer.
Forward Line Four: Leo Komarov, Paul Gaustad, Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren
Leo Komarov may bolt for the KHL as he is mulling a return to his former club Dynamo Moscow, however, I feel the Leafs will try and retain his services.
He led the Leafs in hits and ranked fifth in the NHL with 175 hits. He can play both wing and center, draws penalties and is a ferocious penalty killer.
If Komarov isn't brought back, look for the Leafs to try and retain the services of Toronto Marlies Captain Ryan Hamilton.
Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren return to the team and fill the enforcer roles.
Paul Gaustad I feel will be picked up by the Leafs after he is bought out by the Nashville Predators. Gaustad is owed over $3.25 million a season for the next three seasons. That kind of coin being spent on a checking center might not be a wise business decision, so I look for them to use a compliance buyout on Gaustad.
The Leafs will be waiting in the wings as Gaustad ranked in the top five in faceoff percentage, and is also a great penalty killer. His experience playing in the Northeast is also a great asset to have. At 6'5" and over 220 pounds, Gaustad provides some much needed size to the Leafs center depth.
Forward Line Three: Mikhail Grabovski, Jay McClement, Nikolai Kulemin
This was the checking line that was used throughout the playoffs, and I feel the Leafs will go back to it again for the 2013 season. In the playoffs, I'd look for Grabovski to move up to the second line and the Leafs elevating Gaustad to play center on this checking line to give them more size.
With that said, I expect a bounce back year from Grabovski and Kulemin and McClement to contribute more defensively than offensively.
I moved Grabovski to the wing on this line as his ability to win draws isn't up to par and McClement proved he could win draws more consistently in the playoffs.
Forward Line Two: Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin
This was one of the more explosive lines for the Leafs down the stretch, and with another year of experience, this high-flying, skillful line should be re-united.
Joffrey Lupul suffered through an injury plagued season, but when he did play, he was a consistent goal scorer thanks to his ability to create offense, and center Nazem Kadri's ability to continually feed him the puck in good scoring opportunities.
Winger Matt Frattin showed signs that he was breaking out during the playoffs and his ability to hit hard and snipe corners will leave Leaf fans with visions of a potential Dustin Brown on their hands.
With that said, Frattin still has a long ways to go before he'll be that good, but if he can provide half of what Brown provides, the Leafs will be happy.
Forward Line One: James Van Riemsdyk, Stephen Weiss/Brad Richards, Phil Kessel
After rumors of Tyler Bozak asking for $5.5 million plus in contract talks, I feel the Leafs will just walk away from Bozak's demands and elect to go and find themselves a more veteran number one center option.
Stephen Weiss suffered through injury all year with the Panthers, and with the emergence of Jonathan Huberdeau into a top six option, and armed with a top three pick this year, the Panthers will likely elect to cut ties with Weiss.
The Toronto native Weiss might be a perfect option for the Leafs. Weiss is a very good playmaker and I feel is underrated in the NHL because he played on a very light scoring Panthers squad. He's not the greatest faceoff man, but he's a great passer and could really give the Leafs that much needed left handed centerman they haven't really had play with Kessel—minus the few shifts he plays with Nazem Kadri.
Another option coming to the surface might be Brad Richards. Richards, who was recently benched in the playoffs, still had seven years remaining on a nine year $60 million deal, which pays him on average $6.67 million a season. I have a feeling he may be a buyout option. Again, if he's bought out, look for the Leafs to be sniffing around the remains.
Kessel plays alongside James Van Riemsdyk, who played quite well in his first year with the Leafs. Van Riemsdyk played in all 48 regular season and all seven playoff games for the Leafs proving he has what it takes to remain healthy throughout a shortened NHL season.
The Leafs say goodbye to Tyler Bozak, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, and Clarke MacArthur.
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