Toronto Maple Leafs: 2011 Will Be a Year of Change

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IJanuary 3, 2011

TORONTO, CANADA - DECEMBER 4: Jean-Sebastien Giguere #35 and Tomas Kaberle #15 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate shoot-out win against the Boston Bruins during game action at the Air Canada Centre December 4, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages / Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

They may have had an impressive 5-1 victory over the rival Ottawa Senators to kick off 2011, but there are still plenty of things that are going to change for the Toronto Maple Leafs this year. 

The 2010 season saw J.S. Giguere and Dion Phaneuf enter the picture, with Phaneuf eventually being named the new captain of the club. It was a year in which Toronto started the new season in October with anticipation like we haven't seen in these parts in years, with a four-game winning streak to kick things off. 

But the year ended with waffles flying and the coach's head being called for by the fans. 

Yes, it certainly was a rough ride in 2010 for the Leafs, but before things get significantly better, it could be much of the same in 2011. 

Changes are coming, there's no question about that. How many happen is the real question that Brian Burke and Co. face. 

And it all starts with the coach. 

Ron Wilson will not finish this year as the coach of the Leafs. It just isn't happening.

He entered 2011 with a 77-92-31 record as the coach of the Leafs, but after a major overhaul and still no results, there really isn't any other option for Burke but to part ways. Winning 77 of 200 games (.385 percent) just isn't good enough, doesn't matter who's in the lineup. 

It would be shocking if Wilson is still behind the bench by the end of the season, but after winning just 14 of the first 36 games this season, there is no doubt that he's already on the hot seat.

Expect a change sooner rather than later, and ignore every "we're not firing the coach" comment from Burke in the next few weeks.

But it doesn't end there when it comes to the changes, oh no. Not even close. And when it comes to that infamous $24 million defense corps for the blue and white, it might be easier to discuss who sticking around, as there could be more on the way out than staying. 

The plans of Tomas Kaberle had been up in the air even before Brian Burke stepped in as the Leafs GM, but now there especially might be no one who knows what he's planning on doing at season's end. 

Kaberle is in the final year of his contract, one that comes with a no-trade clause which means he goes nowhere unless he agrees to it. Though, with Burke adamant that he will not ask Kaberle to waive it (sure Brian, sure), we may have to wait until the end of this season to find out if he ventures into free agency or sticks around for a new contract in Toronto. 

You'd think that the smart thing to do would be to have it figured out before he has the opportunity to walk at the end of the season. Either re-sign him, or ask him to waive his no-trade and ship him out of town for some assets in return. 

It would be moronic to let the longest-serving Leaf currently on the team walk for nothing in July, especially with so many teams needing a puck-moving defenseman come playoff time and willing to pay up to get one. 

Don't be shocked if Kaberle doesn't finish the year in the city he's played his entire career in.

But the blue line changes won't end with Kaberle. In fact, long before a decision is made with him, others could be on their way out.

Francois Beauchemin, rumoured in a number of trades already and Mike Komisarek, who has found himself losing playing minutes by the, well, minute, could both be shown the door if the right opportunity comes Burke's way. 

Each has been struggling mightily this season, and with such a need for improvement on offense, there is no doubt Burke would swap either for an upgrade up front. 

Brett Lebda (yes, he still plays for the Leafs) could also be on his way out, as he has, to put it nicely, not exactly fit in much through 37 games. 

J.S. Giguere also has a giant question mark beside his name coming into 2011, as he's playing out the final year of his massive contract, but could be a valuable pickup for a playoff team with a need for a rental between the pipes. 

His constant injury issues thus far certainly hurt his trade value, but if he can get his health back to normal there could be more than one team willing to trade for a 33-year-old Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup winner.

As far as the forwards are concerned, there may not be a safe one in the bunch. Burke probably is willing to trade anyone if it means a legitimate top-six forward comes back. 

It hasn't been a total disaster up front for the Leafs this season, as five are on pace for a 20-plus goal season, but in order to to bring in that dangerous scorer, Burke and Co. must be willing to give up almost anyone.

Not that any fan would have much issue with that. 

Yes, the Maple Leafs are in for what seems to be another long year on, and off, the ice. Things could be a whole lot different before the year is out. 

From the coaching staff to the players at every position, there is much to be done with the club before they'll be considered a playoff contender.

And we haven't even talked about the ownership yet.


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