With the hope of the playoffs completely crushed, the Toronto Maple Leafs sit last in the Eastern Conference with 64pts. The Leafs however are hot, yes the same team that started the year 1 - 7 - 4 has won 6 of its last 8 scoring 30 goals over that span have proven to be a tough out for any team fighting to make the playoffs. Now this isn't what Leaf Nation was expecting at the beginning of the year with the free agent signings of Mike Komisarek (who has been a bust as far as I'm concerned) and Francois Beauchemin and coveted goalie Jonas Gustavsson. Add in the blockbuster and very controversial trade for Phil Kessel and the Leafs had hopes and realistic ones at that for a playoff birth.
Fast forward to today. Komisarek is on injured reserve with 4 points. Luke Schenn is starting to play lie the player he did last year as a rookie. Alex Ponikarovski Matt Stajan, Ian White, Jamal Myers, Nik Hagman, Jason Blake, and Lee Stepniak have all left the Leafs. But with those subtractions come in Dion Phaneuf, JS Giguere and Luca Caputi. Now this doesn't sound like much but all have done what they were brought into do and leave Leafs Nation what comes next?
Remember the Leafs don't have a first round pick in this years draft because of the Kessel deal. But he has produced as hoped, even with missing 12 games he has put up 28 goals, 23 assists for 51 points. Kessel is on pace for 32 goals and 58 points. Now yes the loss of what is inevitably a lottery pick this year hurts but the signing of three college free agents last season in Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson and Viktor Stalberg have made the blow easier with solid play in the NHL. Bozak is even centring the first line with Kessel on his wing. So all this aside that means the dive must be made into free agency and make no mistake Burke has said he will do whatever it takes to make this team better.
The Leafs need the most help up front, with no proven number one centre to feed Kessel the puck. Don't get me wrong Bozak is doing a good job this year but someone with a little grit and toughness might help. Mike Richards would be an obvious choice but do the Leafs really want to go down that road again of trying to acquire him? So that Leafs Burke to dive into a rather deep free agent pool with the likes or Patrick Marleau and John Madden Available.
Most would argue that the back end from goalie out needs attention too. But this however is not the case. Yes the Leafs have been horrible in net since the acquisition of Andrew Raycroft (Thank you JFJ for that gem of a trade). But JS Giguere brings a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy with and did what no other Leaf goalie in history has been able to do, recorded back-to-back shutouts in his first two games. And Jonas Gustavsson has had trouble with the speed of the NHL game and the rules that differ from the Swedish Elite League, but he has started to round into the goalie the Leafs thought he would be when they signed him this summer.
It can be argued that the D can be put up against any starting six in the league when it’s playing well. It boasts one of the best if not the best puck moving D-man in Tomas Kaberle, a human eraser with a howitzer of a shot in Dion Phaneuf. Francois Beauchemin boast a Stanley Cup ring, Luke Schenn a World Junior Gold. And solid players, in Carl Gunnarson and Garnett Exelby (when in the line up).
So to answer the question where do the Leafs go from here?
Quite simply put, the answer is up.