5 Roster Spots Toronto Maple Leafs Should Be Looking to Upgrade
With the Toronto Maple Leafs finishing nine points out of a playoff spot in 2013-14, roster changes are inevitable.
New president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Dave Nonis are tasked with turning the Leafs into a perennial contender.
Of course, this is easier said than done, but the Leafs do seem to be on the right path. Their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, has been relatively successful for multiple years now.
The organization is focusing on building from within. All of the top organizations are doing the same.
Let's take a look at five roster spots that the Leafs should be looking to upgrade.
While many want to focus on the need to move captain Dion Phaneuf, finding him a better partner might be the more important task.
Trading Phaneuf is going to be challenging, given his onerous contract. Phaneuf has been leaned on heavily, as well he should be as a No. 1 defender.
The Edmonton, Alberta native would benefit from playing with a more dynamic partner. Carl Gunnarsson is a steady NHL defender, but he's not worthy of a top-pairing spot .
The Leafs could add a big, strong, defensive defenceman, pair him with Phaneuf and then allow Phaneuf to play a more offensive game.
Another scenario would see pairing Phaneuf with an offensive-minded rearguard, and then the captain could focus more on being a shutdown defender.
One way or another, the Leafs do need to make a push for another top-pairing defender as their young defencemen continue to develop.
Almost every NHL organization can use an upgrade in their bottom pairing. The Leafs are no different, as they had to lean much too heavily on Phaneuf, and on some of their young, developing defencemen.
If the Leafs had better quality No. 5 and No. 6 defenders, it would allow them to use their more talented defenders in offensive roles, rather than trying to defend.
The Stanley Cup finalists are good examples of what a deep defence corps can mean, as both the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings have some strong depth defenders that are good puck-possession players.
The Leafs need to do their due diligence and look for a bargain-priced player like the Florida Panthers' Tom Gilbert, who could more than hold his own against tough competition.
No. 1 Centre
Tyler Bozak has developed into a better-than-average NHL centre. His offensive numbers were better than some other top-six centres, as he posted 49 points in 58 games.
Bozak would be a good second- or third-line centre on a better team.
Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk have developed into elite NHL wingers. They deserve an elite centre who can match their speed, skill and playmaking abilities.
The salary cap is an ongoing concern for the Leafs.
But if they are going to become a real Eastern Conference contender, they will need a better No. 1 centre in the near future.
Top-Six Right Winger
David Clarkson had an abysmal year offensively.
He could be an adequate third-line winger, but he's not a top-six forward.
The Leafs need an upgrade at this position. It could help jumpstart the club's secondary scoring.
This was an ongoing problem in 2013-14. If the Leafs' top line wasn't going, it often meant the Leafs struggled to score goals.
The Leafs may be able to fill this roster need with a young player from within the organization. David Bolland's status with the Leafs is in limbo.
Peter Holland could be a good option to make the jump to the NHL full-time. He had 15 points in 11 playoff games with the AHL Marlies this spring.
Jay McClement may or may not return to the Leafs, but he's no more than a fourth-line centre at this stage.
If the Leafs want to be a legitimate playoff contender in 2014-15, they must get stronger down the middle.
All stats can be found on nhl.com unless noted otherwise.