Lacking Centre Depth Disappointing For Leafs on The Way to The Cup

Graeme BoyceCorrespondent IAugust 16, 2010

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 3:  John Mitchell #39 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates in a game against the Boston Bruins on April 3, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The Bruins defeated the Leafs 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

That Tomas Kaberle will now remain a Leaf, and stay with us for at least 9 more months, is no surprise.  However, that the Maple Leafs are so thin at centre heading toward Training Camp is a surprise. 

Having now likely heard straight from his opposing GM's own mouths where they believe they are weakest, should provide Brian Burke with a decent bargaining chip when contemplating who else from among his stocked blue line might add value to another team.

Joining an un-movable stalwart Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson and Dion Phaneuf will round out the vaunted defense corps for the Leafs, as it stands today.  Of course, we each share hope that Keith Aulie and Jesse Blacker have good camps, and demonstrate some honest depth.  Recent acquisition Brett Lebda moves the puck well enough, but he's not a physical player and it remains to be seen where he fits in the big plan.

Jeff Finger is the new Garnet Exelby.

Burke's moves to increase overall strength and goal support along the wings have been modest considering their combined ability to demonstrate improvement overall, such as Marcel Mueller, and ensure a move up the standings.  The team really lacks depth, leadership and experience up the middle, if , for example, management is relying on returning veteran John Mitchell to deliver.  Likely not. 

So surely we are expecting break out years from Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak.  Both players are going to get the opportunity to "put up or shut up".  Frankly, I think they're poised to enjoy great years.  The wild cards are Mikhail Grabovski and Christian Hanson - assuming he is signed soon.  Maybe Tim Brent will step up, and  there are other hopefuls to consider: Alex Foster, and young Robert Slaney, who a few years ago was the Canadian Major Junior Scholastic Player of the Year.

Brayden Irwin stands out, literally, at 6'5" and is a local boy - and we all know how well local boys stand out when typically playing against The Leafs.  Another local boy and recent acquisition Mike Zigomanis is good on the draw and feeds his wingers well, thus could prove to be a nice surprise upfront.

After attempting to wheel and deal Kaberle, and turning down all the future offers, Burke is in a position to offer some of The Leafs' own depth in the prospect department... unless another so-called multi-player blockbuster is in the works.  The possibility exists given what has been stated by other GMs looking to shake up their rosters, notably Stevie Yzerman down south.

Despite all the awesome predictions from fans, obviously all interested GMs and senior management believed that by adding Kaberle they could not improve their chances to win The Cup.  Going forward, food for thought is certainly being digested, and it wouldn't be surprising if Kaberle is moved in any case, simply with his permission, to a team he'd prefer to re-sign with. 

Kaberle won't be with The Leafs next year.  But he is now incented to do well in the Blue and White, in fact very well this season as he inches toward free agency.  My advice to Kabs?  Shoot the puck, and get more than 7 or 8 goals.  $4.5 mil is still a huge chunk o' change to endure yet another disappointing year.