Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014 Free Agency
The Toronto Maple Leafs opted not to swing for the fences in 2014 during the recent free-agent signing frenzy.
While some might argue that the club being spurned by Josh Gorges and David Bolland has hurt its image, the bottom line is that organizations should not want players who want to be elsewhere.
The Leafs have changed some parts on the back end and also made significant changes to their bottom-six forwards.
Let's take a look at the best- and worst-case scenarios following the start of free agency.
Best-Case Scenario: The Defence Improves a Great Deal
The Leafs have added a pair of veteran defenders from the Western Conference. Former St. Louis Blues rearguard Roman Polak was picked up via trade while Stephane Robidas was signed to a three-year deal after playing with both the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks last season.
Polak is moving from one of the best defensive teams in the league to one that struggled to keep pucks out of its own net last season.
If he lines up as a fifth or sixth defenseman alongside Robidas, the duo might be able to lean on its experience with some very strong defensive teams to perform well in Toronto's end.
Robidas is returning from significant injury and will be eager to prove he's worth the trust that the Leafs have placed in him.
If the top four includes Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, there are some solid pieces to build upon here.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Defence Is Unable to Keep Up
While some of the younger Leafs defenders are highly mobile, Polak and Robidas will be challenged to play upwards of 16 or 17 minutes in 2014-15.
Polak is not a great skater and will need to be protected by playing against opponents' bottom-six forwards.
While Robidas is a stronger skater, he is 37 years old. He will not be getting faster and there should be concerns about him being able to play regularly in Toronto.
There are some young defenders in the system, but it is unlikely that they are ready for regular duty this season.
If this defence is hit by an injury or two, it could mean a repeat of last season in terms of five-on-five shots against and goals against. The Leafs ranked last and 24th in those respective categories in 2013-14.
Best-Case Scenario: The Depth Forwards More Than Hold Their Own
The Leafs are hoping their depth forwards—the fourth line, in particular—will be able to play eight to 10 minutes per night.
Komarov and Kontiola may be joined by young Peter Holland to form a very effective third line.
Matt Frattin will likely slot into the fourth line along with Frazer McLaren and hulking Frederik Gauthier.
There would be question marks surrounding this line, but it would have some size that could create issues for opposing depth defenders. That could prove decisive in the Leafs challenging for a playoff spot in 2014-15.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Forward Group Is No Better Than Last Year's
Frattin, Komarov and Kontiola are unlikely to be game-changers. The Leafs have lost free agents Mason Raymond and Bolland as depth forwards.
Raymond had 45 points last season and his 44.2 five-on-five Corsi percentage was not spectacular, but it was better than the team average. Bolland had 12 points in 23 games and managed a 44.1 Corsi percentage.
The top two lines could be OK as long as second-line pivot Nazem Kadri continues to mature and David Clarkson can focus on playing some good two-way hockey in 2014-15. However, Joffrey Lupul needs to have a much better season.
Elsewhere, finding the right chemistry among the depth forwards could be a lot easier said than done.
Making the playoffs is always the goal, but the free-agency period has not improved this forward group in a meaningful way thus far. A move sideways will not sit well with diehard Leafs fans.
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