How Toronto Maple Leafs Should Fill Their Biggest Needs in 2014 Offseason
It has already been an eventful 2014 offseason for the Toronto Maple Leafs with the hiring of new team president Brendan Shanahan, but more change is sure to come.
Shanahan and general manager Dave Nonis recently gave head coach Randy Carlyle a vote of confidence in extending his contract.
This move signals that the Leafs are likely to add more of a veteran presence and more size to the team.
Scoring goals was not a major issue for the Leafs in 2013-14, though they could use some extra secondary scoring. Retrieving the puck and defending in the neutral and defensive zones were much bigger concerns.
Let's take a look at how the Leafs should fill their biggest needs.
Veteran Defensemen with Some Skill
The Leafs have some good young defenders in Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner. There are some promising prospects in the organization, but they are not likely to be NHL-ready for another year or two, at least.
Matt Finn, Stuart Percy and Petter Granberg all show solid promise.
Assuming Dion Phaneuf stays, and that Gardiner and Cody Franson are retained as restricted free agents, the Leafs still need at least one, if not two more NHL-calibre defenders.
Free agency seems the most likely place to fill this need. Andrei Markov would be attractive, but he may be in for a large payday given that NHL and KHL teams are likely to make offers.
In terms of salary and style of play, Tom Gilbert, Matt Niskanen and Kyle Quincey make some sense as veteran depth rearguards.
They are all puck-movers, and their salaries would be in line with the Leafs' salary cap next season.
Size Down the Middle
The Leafs need to continue to build organizational depth down the middle of the ice. No club can have too many centres or defenders in its system.
Size is an issue for the Leafs at the pivot position, although additional skill would be nice as well. While Paul Stastny would make some sense, the Leafs are not likely to have enough cap space to make that happen.
Trading for a top-six centre is a possibility, but it's a remote one given most teams' lack of desire to trade away top centres.
With prospects like Frederik Gauthier not likely to make the permanent move to the NHL in 2014-15, the Leafs may have to look again to the unrestricted free-agent market.
Adding two centres would make a lot of sense, if possible. Peter Holland looks ready to be a bottom-six centre, but he could also be utilized on the wing.
Some bigger centres with defensive abilities and some limited offensive upside are Brian Boyle, Marcel Goc and David Legwand. All of these players could be solid additions to the Leafs' bottom-six.
Depth Wingers Who Can Play
Hopefully Leafs fans have been able to watch some playoff action this spring. One thing that all top teams have in common is a third line that plays in all three zones and packs some offensive punch.
The Leafs do not have the depth to do this on a consistent level.
Josh Leivo and Jerry D'Amigo are two young players who may be able to fill that role on the wing for Toronto, even as early as next year.
The draft could yield a potential third-line player with size. Peterborough Pete Nick Ritchie could fill this role if he continues to work on his skating in the offseason.
Again, the Leafs may have to look to the list of unrestricted free agents. Mason Raymond should be a priority signing for the Leafs as well.
The speedy winger is a very good third-line player with the offensive abilities to fill in as a top-six winger as well.
Veterans Ales Hemsky, Radim Vrbata and Benoit Pouliot could be possibilities here.
Securing a Solid Backup Netminder
While James Reimer may not be willing to return to Toronto as a backup goalie, he and starter Jonathan Bernier would once again form a very good duo.
Reimer has the pedigree to get a shot as a full-time starter, but the market will not be great for goaltenders with more proven goalies like Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller and maybe even Martin Brodeur available.
The Leafs may turn to the Toronto Marlies' Drew MacIntyre, but Thomas Greiss, Al Montoya, Justin Peters and Chad Johnson are also potential targets.
With Bernier returning from injury and surgery, the Leafs may need their second goalie to play a lot once the season begins.
A very good tandem could mean the playoffs for the Leafs, provided they shore up the other main areas of need.
All salary-related information can be found on CapGeek.