The Toronto Maple Leafs have raised the team flag to its full height again.
The mourning period is over and the flag is no longer at half-mast. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Maple Leafs are looking forward to the 2013-14 season. The seventh-game overtime loss to the Boston Bruins hurt, but it’s merely a part of history now.
The Leafs have been making moves since their loss to the Bruins and have tried to get stronger by trading for Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier and ex-Blackhawks center Dave Bolland and re-signing Tyler Bozak.
But the biggest move so far is the signing of former New Jersey Devil right wing David Clarkson. The Maple Leafs need forwards with strength and determination, which Clarkson has in abundance. Clarkson signed a seven-year, $36.75 million contract, according to SportsNet reporter Nick Kypreos.
Clarkson going to the suddenly loaded Leafs.— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) July 5, 2013
Bolland also has it, and he put those characteristics on display when he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in the waning seconds of Game 6 against the Boston Bruins. But the Blackhawks were not enamored with Bolland’s consistency. That’s not a problem with Clarkson.
The Leafs have lacked the grit when it comes to competing with the big boys in the NHL. They appeared to get over that hump against the Boston Bruins when they took a 4-1 lead in the third period of the seventh game. However, when the Bruins decided they were going to fight until the end to stay in that game, the Leafs did not have enough response.
The Bruins dug in and anchored themselves in front of the net, and the Leafs had nobody who would push Milan Lucic or Zdeno Chara out of the way. Clarkson, at 6'1" and 200 pounds, is not going to accept that kind of thing without throwing his weight around.
He’s also capable of anchoring himself in front of the opposing goaltender and maintaining his position when defensemen start banging him around. He proved himself in 2011-12 when he scored 30 goals and had 16 assists.
During New Jersey’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, Clarkson had three goals and nine assists, and all of his goals were game-winners. Clarkson had 15 goals and nine assists in the truncated 2013 regular season.
Nobody expects Clarkson to rescue the Leafs alone. Bringing in a winner like Bolland is going to help. He did not have his best year, with seven goals and seven assists, but he should be able to provide 15-20 goals each year and show the willingness to battle in front.
The other big move for the Leafs was bringing in Bernier from the Kings to shore up their goaltending situation. While James Reimer (2.46 goals against average, .924 save percentage in 2013) had shown a lot of improvement, he was in net for the Leafs' seventh-game, third-period collapse against the Bruins. It seems questionable that he was ever going to get over that.
While Bernier has yet to prove it as a starter, he had a 2.36 GAA in 2011-12 and a 1.88 mark in 14 games last year. The Leafs expect him to give them an upgrade in net.
These additions, and the resignation of Bozak, are solid accomplishments for Toronto general manager Dave Nonis.
He has made the moves that will allow the Leafs to continue to grow and get over their Game 7 meltdown against Boston.
That's in the rear-view mirror.