Toronto Maple Leafs: Ten Roster Moves For Canada's Team
The Toronto Maple Leafs have many unanswered questions heading into training camp.
Will the improved defense result in an improvement in goals against?
Will the goaltending have enough support to succeed?
Will the Leafs have enough scoring?
Will the Leafs younger players step up?
This article is going to address the ten roster moves that the Leafs can realistically make to improve the team for this year and beyond.Many of these moves represent investments for long-term improvements, but also feature a few small tweaks that could provide solid returns.
Improving now but also long-term is the key to the Leafs becoming once again, indisputably Canada's team.
Top-Six Consideration: Nazem Kadri
Bridging the gap from the London Knights to the Toronto maple Leafs will be no easy task for Leafs prospect Nazem Kadri.
After a tremendous preseason last year with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he scored 3 goals and had 2 assists in six games, Kadri was sent back to junior.
Coach Ron Wilson said that Kadri would only make the Leafs if he was able to play as a member of the Leafs' top-six forwards. Wilson later said Kadri wasn't big enough to handle the rigours of the NHL yet, and needed to add some muscle to play on the Leafs top-six.
Kadri has been working with some of the other Toronto Maple Leafs this summer, and it has paid off.
After being drafted at 170 lbs, Kadri has gained 15 pounds and counting to be able to play against bigger opponents in the NHL.
At this point depending on Kadri's training camp and preseason, the Leafs could do worse than allow Kadri to begin the season on the top-six.
Top-Six Consideration: Jerry D'Amigo
Jerry D'Amigo is the Toronto Maple Leafs hottest prospect when it comes to progression over the past year.
Originally a sixth round draft pick in 2009, D'Amigo has burned his way through the Leafs' depth chart.
After scoring 10 goals and 34 points for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of the NCAA and being awarded ECAC Rookie of the Year, D'Amigo has the goods.
The fact that D'Amigo finished tied for third in World Junior scoring with none other that 2010 first overall selection Taylor Hall, proves that D'Amigo warrants NHL consideration.
The Leafs currently have a hole one their second line wing position, one that could be filled by the speedy American winger.
A Versteeg-Kadri-D'Amigo second line could provide the Leafs with ample skill, speed and aggression to provide the depth scoring so sorely needed.
If Kadri and D'Amigo have some chemistry this September, the Leafs have to allow them to play at least a few games. The two of them possess exactly what the Leafs require on the second line: skill and tenacity.
Waive Jeff Finger
After two years, the Jeff Finger experiment has failed for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
When Cliff Fletcher signed Jeff Finger, he believed he was signing a late blooming defenceman capable of becoming a top-four defenceman.
Flash forward two years later and Jeff Finger is coming off a year where he was scratched for more games than he played. While Jeff Finger could probably play somewhere else in the NHL, Finger priced himself out of Toronto's future plans.
The situation is neither Brian Burke's fault nor Jeff Finger. Unfortunately it hasn't work for either side.
Waiving Jeff Finger will provide Finger the opportunity to play for another team in the NHL. If he doesn't get picked up, he can either be loaned to Europe or play for the Toronto Marlies. Either would be better for Finger, because no players enjoy sitting in the press box.
Mid-Season Call Up: Keith Aulie
One of the least talked about returns of the trade that brought the Toronto Maple Leafs a new captain is defenceman Keith Aulie.
Keith Aulie is projected to be a monster shutdown defenceman with a little offensive upside. Despite an okay season split between the Toronto Marlies and the Abbotsford Heat, many scouts still believe that
Aulie could be one of the next big shutdown defenceman.
The Leafs should at least consider giving the young defenceman a look sometime this season to see where he stands in terms of development. After all, it is could of hard to evaluate a shutdown defenceman if he isn't trying to shutdown at the NHL level.
Look to see Aulie come up later in the season based upon injuries and his level of play in the AHL.
Mid-Season Call Up: Juraj Mikus
At 6'4, 188 pounds Juraj Mikus has a large projectable frame for a young defenceman with great offensive potential. Selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fifth round of the 2007 NHL Draft, Mikus was relativity unheard of before last summer.
Mikus came to North America based solely on the potential that Leafs brass saw in the young Slovak.
After scoring only three points in 53 games in 2008-2009 for the Trencin of the Slovak league, Mikus was thought to possess greater potential that could thrive under NHL tutelage.
Is another Marlies defenceman who deserves a quick look by the big club. After coming to Toronto, Mikus had a good season for the Marlies scoring 23 points on a very bad Marlies team.
Last season when Mike Komisarek was injured it was between Carl Gunnarson and Mikus to receive the call up.While Gunnarsson played very well for the Leafs, both Mikus and Gunnarsson had put up similar numbers with the Marlies at that point.
Once again, Mikus represents another case where you really don't know what you have until your give him a shot.The worst thing that could happen is he isn't ready and he gets sent back down to the Marlies.
At least he will have gotten a taste of what it takes to play at the NHL level.
Mid-Season Call Up: Jesse Blacker
Another case of a preseason surprise is 2009 second round draft pick Jesse blacker.
While Blacker had a quieter preseason then fellow 2009 draft pick Nazim Kadri, Blacker was a solid force on the blueline.Blacker displayed sound decision making, patience and simplicity to his game that shot him up the depth chart.
That combined with another solid season in the OHL and brief stint with the Marlies will hopefully earn Blacker a taste of the NHL sometime next season.
Some may question the decision, calling it a rush and why not just allow Blacker to hone his craft in the minors. The advantage to calling blacker up at some point in the season is that it shows him what it takes to play in the NHL. This provides him the ability to train in the offseason knowing what he needs to improve.
Ultimately Blacker's play with the Marlies will determine if he gets a call to play for the leafs. If the Blacker that showed up last preseason appears for the Marlies, don't be surprised to see him play a game or two for the big club this season.
Mid-Season Call Up: Marcel Mueller
At six-foot-three, 220 pounds, Marcel Mueller is a force to be reckoned with. Mueller brings truculence by the barrel full, combined with a goal-scorers touch.
Last season, Mueller recorded 24 goals, 56 points and 122 penalty minutes in 53 games with Cologne of the German League. Expected to start with the Marlies, Mueller brings an intriguing combination of size and skill –assuming he can bring that style to the North American game.
According to Uwe Krupp—Mueller's Olympic Coach—the German brings a strong skill set but he still has a way to go.
"He's developed very nicely, but I don't think anything he has done so far is going to be good enough to play for the Leafs," Krup told Blogger Mike Ulmer of nhl.mapleleafs.com,"Marcel is going to have to make another step and that is going to be a big challenge for him."
His coach also said that he doesn't think Mueller is done growing, and could become even bigger.
Depending on how Mueller adjusts to the North American game, he should get a shot at some time with the big club when injuries arise. Hopefully the pugnacious scorer makes the most of it.
Re-sign Christian Hanson
The first thing the Toronto Maple Leafs need to do with Christian Hanson is resign him. Then Coach Ron Wilson needs to sit down and have a serious discussion with Hanson.
Christian Hanson possesses just enough talent to get a few points in the NHL. The problem is that he is a proven scorer at the AHL level who had problems adjusting to the NHL.
Besides his offensive ability, Hanson possesses all the necessary attributes to be a dominant, shutdown center. The only problem is his willingness to do so.
Wilson needs to sit down with Hanson, and watch some tapes of Jordan Staal. Staal is the type of player that Hanson would do well to model himself after. They share similar size, and skill, albeit Staal clearly is more skilled right now.
However, if Hanson could perform Staal-like defensive duties while chipping in 30+ points, he could find a very cozy home as the Leafs shutdown center.
Sign Ryan Johnson
A great penalty killer, energy, shot blocking fiend adequately describe what unrestricted free agent Ryan Johnson can bring to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After being in the top five in blocked shots among forwards for the past two seasons, Ryan finished 3rd in blocked shots by only 12 shots.
What is more impressive is that in a season that saw Ryan play only 58 games due to injury he still managed to block 85 shots. That's 85 shots compared to the league leading 97 shots blocked in 77 games by Chris Drury.
At that pace if Ryan had played all 82 games last season he would have blocked over 120 shots. Even if Johnson only plays 69 games, if he continues his shot blocking pace, he will block 100 shots, most likely the most in the league among forwards.
All of this for a million or less would be a steal for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Re-sign Tomas Kaberle
After all that Tomas Kaberle has been through and all that has been said by the club, the media and his father; Kaberle wants to remain a Leaf.
Why he would want to remain after the whole trade debacle is anyone's guess but when someone shows that much commitment to a club, it's ridiculous not to reward it. Loyalty is very rare these days in the NHL, and even with the controversy with his father, he has told the Leafs that he wants to stay.
Clearly any deal involving Kaberle would have to make sense for the Leafs. Maybe a four-year 3.5-3.75 million dollar a year deal would be amicable for both sides.
Could Kaberle receive more on the open market? Maybe, last year. But if this offseason was an indication of anything, it's that older players who show signs of slowing down are often on the outside looking in.
The opportunity to stay in the same city, finish his career as a Leaf for a reasonable cap hit might just be enough to bring the Leafs and Kaberle together for a few more years of a dysfunctional but operational relationship.