So as we near the end of the 2009 - 2010 NHL season, the Leafs start to close out another lost year. But all is not doom and gloom. In the past season the Leafs have seen a major change in the guard.
Old players from past regimes have been sent packing. New players have been brought in. The younger generation has been handed the keys to the kingdom and the fans have been shown that the youth movement they have wanted for so long, is finally here.
The core is being assembled and the two main pieces are already here. Dion Phaneuf was brought in and the act of giving him the A just this past week show that he has a serious spot on this team. He will be the crux of the teams defense with Schenn, Gunnarson, Komisarek and either Beauchemin or Kaberle (more on that later).
The second main piece, Phil Kessel is a smaller part to the forward puzzle. While he will never be the forward that a team builds around, he provides the vital sniper role that is essential for any teams ability to score. Just ask the Bruins how they are doing without a natural sniper playing for them. Through a little Stalberg, Bozak, Caputi, and Kulemin in there and the forward core is talented. Although this core possesses talent (and PK ability of Kulemin and Sjostrom) it lacks the top line talent to make it dangerous to other teams.
That is where Burkes work lies next. With a loaded defense, a fixed goaltending problem (for now. its far more solid that it was before the Giguere trade), forwards become the next step in the massive rebuild that began just two years ago.
And so without further ado, I present 5 players that the Leaf should target.
For the Leafs to become more dangerous up front, another winger is key. And you really couldn't get much more dangerous (while keeping in line with the young line of thinking) than Bobby Ryan.
Now the obvious problem of him being an RFA on another team presents itself. That may not be as big a problem as some may think though. Bobby Ryan has so far refused to come to the table to negotiate a new contract with the Anaheim Ducks. He has turned down repeated efforts by the Ducks to sit down and has so far been difficult with them. If he continues to be difficult, he could force a trade. It has happened before. Yes, I am talking about the hotly debated Kessel trade. Say what you want about the deal, but it proved to other RFA's that if they don't want to be somewhere they don't have to.
Using Kaberle and maybe another asset (if needed) it may be possible to facilitate a Kabby for Ryan trade. With only 2 defenseman signed after this season, the addition of Kaberle could prove to much to pass up for a difficult RFA.
It may be a pipe dream, but a right winger with two seasons of 30 straight goals would definitely help give the Leafs another legitimate scoring threat.
James Neal would be a great addition to the Leafs front line. Not only does he bring scoring prowess (24 and 25 goals in his first two seasons) but he brings grit. A speedy left winger, he is growing into his 6 foot 2 frame and is currently 5th on his team in hits with 147. Adding that grit, speed and scoring prowess would be a solid move by Burke. Oh, and Neal is only 22.
But why would Dallas want to move him you might ask. Especially with his first two successful seasons and still being only 22. A couple reasons.
Number one, they need an offensive defenseman to man the powerplay. Badly. Robidas is a great defenseman. But he just can't fulfill the powerplay duties. And after trading away the Stars best prospect and closest shot a quarterback for the powerplay, the Stars need to find a offensive dman soon.
Number two they have a surplus in wingers. With Morrow as the Captain, Eriksson as the star winger (and already signed to a nice length contract) and Jamie Benn up and coming, Neal's role is becoming less and less needed. With Glennie also in the minors Neal could be used as a trading chip.
Number three. While this one is smaller it works in the Leafs favor. Joe Nieuwendyk and Burke have a good working relationship. It helps to have close connections. A trade that is beneficial to both teams would be great for both men.
Finally number four. The stars have internal salary issues. Their owner, Tom Hicks, is going through problems and has enacted a strict internal cap around 45 million dollars. While paying Neal 4 or 4.5 million dollars wouldn't be the end of the world, the money could be better spent on a defenseman rather than another high priced forward. Just something to think about.
At 6 foot 2, Wayne Simmonds has size. He plays a power forwardish type role and in his second full season he has scored 15 goals and 36 points. Not entirely huge numbers but its his ceiling that matters. He has the potential to be a first line power forward although second line power forward is more likely. He would fit perfectly into the lineup and give the forward corps the physicality that it is lacking.
Now, its unclear if he is available but the fact that Lombardi would not include him in a trade for Kovalchuk speaks volumes. While it could mean he is untouchable, its more likely that Lombardi didn't want to trade him for a player that might only stay for 30 or so games.
If Lombardi is interested in Kaberle, Simmonds would be an awesome target. Plus the Leafs could get more in the package, say a first rounder and maybe even a prospect.
Ryan Clowe is another interesting player. He is likely a player who can play the power forward role on the second line. He is a big, strong player who can pot 20 goals too.
Now he did just sign a new contract with the Sharks, but the cap might force a move. With Nabokov, Setegouchi, Marleau, Pavelski and others to sign, Clowe might be had for a team looking for that type of player.
What it would take to get Clowe, I am not sure, but its something that could really help the team if he comes.
Adding Jeff Carter would be huge but out of the five I mentioned, he is probably the least likely to move. Still, its not something that can be overlooked. For whatever reason, rumors of him being moved continue to persist, and in particular rumors of him in a trade for Kaberle plus have popped up here and there since Fletcher almost acquired him but was stymied by Kaberle's refusal to drop his clause.
Having a player like Jeff Carter would give this team two legitimate snipers. With Bozak and Kessel on one line, and Carter and Kadri (he can play the left wing and would be a perfect playmaker for Carter) on another, the Leafs could role with two legit scoring lines. Toss is Stalberg, Caputi or Kulemin on the other wings and the Leafs would finally have a forward corps worth talking about.
Getting Carter would be difficult. It could be done though. With Holmgren's repeated interest in Kaberle, if the Flyers falter early in the playoffs, a roster shake might be in the making and a trade that involves Kaberle and another piece or two for Carter might be possible.
If thats not possible, a trade with another team who has interest in Kaberle could be done. Any deal for Kaberle would then have to include a young talented goalie so that pieces from the Kaberle deal could be flipped with others for Carter.
Say Vancouver has interest in Kaberle. They trade Raymond, Schneider, O'Brien and a pick to the Leafs for Kaberle (just simple using this as an example as Vancouver has been rumored to be interested). The leafs then flip Schneider, Raymond, Hanson and Hayes or Stefanovich for Carter. It could work.
Adding Carter would be the ultimate coup for Burke and would really show the fans that he is serious about a rebuild. Although this may be a pipe dream, a guy can hope.