Have Toronto Maple Leafs Done Enough in 2013 Offseason to Take Steps Forward?
The Toronto Maple Leafs put playoff excitement back into their city last year by ending the league's longest postseason drought.
As we approach the start of the new season, expectations and excitement surrounding this Original Six club haven't been as high as they are now in quite some time.
Not only will Toronto be expected to make back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in a decade, failing to take the next step by winning a round would make the 2013-14 season a huge disappointment in the minds of many fans in Leaf nation.
Last year's heartbreaking loss to the rival Boston Bruins in Round 1 of the NHL playoffs proved how close the Leafs are to beating the league's best. This is why general manager Dave Nonis made some bold moves in the offseason, both in the free-agent and trade markets, to bolster the talent and depth of his roster.
But did he make enough moves to help Toronto become a second-round playoff team, or one that has a legitimate chance of making a deep playoff run?
Let's analyze the Leafs' summer and determine if this team has done enough to take the next steps forward.
Lack of No. 1 Center Still Hasn't Been Properly Addressed
The Leafs may have a No. 1 center in rising star Nazem Kadri, who tallied 44 points in 48 games in his first full season as an NHL player. But he's not yet at the level of a top-line player, and neither is Tyler Bozak, whom Nonis re-signed to a foolish five-year, $21 million deal in free agency. Bozak is not a legitimate No. 1 center, but that's the role he's expected to play next season between Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk.
Finding top-line centers who are franchise cornerstones is difficult, and most of the teams fortunate to have one of these players drafted them because acquiring one in free agency or via trade is incredibly expensive.
For the Leafs to become a championship-caliber team, addressing this weakness must happen. All of the top contenders, including the Bruins (Patrice Bergeron), Blackhawks (Jonathan Toews), Red Wings (Pavel Datsyuk), Kings (Anze Kopitar), Penguins (Sidney Crosby), Sharks (Joe Thornton) and Ducks (Ryan Getzlaf) have a No. 1 center who excels at both ends of the ice.
Toronto has restocked the cupboard with impressive prospect talent and depth over the last few years, so if there's a deal to be made for a top-line center, Nonis should strongly consider pulling the trigger on a move that would catapult his team into the upper echelon of the league.
Offseason Additions Fit Randy Carlyle's Style of Hockey
When pursuing veterans through trades and free agency, it's important to add players who fit the style of hockey used by the head coach. Nonis has done a tremendous job bringing in forwards who play a physical game, will block shots, fight for pucks in the dirty areas and make the Leafs a tougher team to play against.
The trade for gritty center Dave Bolland, who adds scoring depth, truculence and valuable championship experience, was a brilliant move for the Leafs. As was the signing of top free-agent winger David Clarkson, who gives the Leafs a power forward with a skill set of goal-scoring ability and physical play (but don't expect him to perform at Wendel Clark's level) and is someone will quickly become a fan favorite in Toronto.
Opponents weren't able to push the Leafs around last season, which was an encouraging change from the 2011-12 squad that lacked toughness. In Carlyle's first season behind the bench, Toronto led the NHL in hits and blocked shots.
The additions of Bolland, Clarkson and the decision to re-sign enforcers Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren will ensure that the Leafs thrive in Carlyle's system and wear down opponents physically each game.
The Goalie Situation is Mightily Improved, But Remains Unsolved
James Reimer was arguably the biggest reason why Toronto made the postseason in 2013. In addition to his stellar 19-8-5 record, the 25-year-old set career highs with a .924 save percentage and a 2.46 GAA. Not only did Reimer make great strides in his development, he was both consistent and durable, which were two criticisms of his game prior to last year.
Who should start in net to begin the season?
But despite his solid season, Nonis decided to make a trade for Los Angeles Kings backup Jonathan Bernier, who was excellent in 2013 with 9-3-1 record, a 1.88 GAA and a .922 save percentage. You could also argue that he played better in the regular season than former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick.
Bernier has the potential to be a star goaltender, and the long-term solution at the position that Toronto hasn't figured out in over a decade. He's athletic, controls rebounds well and displays fantastic composure in net.
Even though the Leafs don't have a clear-cut No. 1 netminder, the addition of Bernier gives them more goaltending depth than most teams and two players with the potential to be reliable starters. Goaltending is the key to winning in the playoffs, and the Leafs are better equipped to reach the second round than they were in 2013 because of the quality added in net over the summer.
The Leafs took the necessary steps to move forward as an organization this summer. They added scoring and toughness with the Clarkson signing, valuable depth and Stanley Cup-winning experience with the Bolland trade and significantly improved their goaltending by acquiring Bernier.
What grade would you give the Leafs' offseason?
Toronto became a deeper, more skilled and more experienced team in the offseason while also not allowing any cornerstone players or top prospects to leave the team. This squad doesn't lack leadership and has built a nice balance between experienced veterans and young players eager to make their mark.
Nonis also managed to make quality additions and avoid giving out ridiculous long-term contracts that could burden his salary-cap flexibility. He still has to re-sign restricted free agents Kadri and Cody Franson, but accomplishing that and fitting under the cap shouldn't be a monumental challenge.
There are still weaknesses to be addressed and certain spots on the roster that should be upgraded, but it would be wrong to conclude that the Leafs didn't make themselves better for 2013-14 and the next few years based on the signings and trades made in the offseason.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft. All salary information via CapGeek.
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