1. The Draft
The Maple Leafs have 11 picks this year (and an additional seventh-rounder if Aaron Voros re-signs) with two in the first round (Boston’s via Kaberle trade and Philadelphia’s via Versteeg trade). The best-case scenario for the first-round picks are at the 21st and 24th spots, respectively. The worst-case scenario, they are at 28th and 30th (Philly championship and Boston ousted in Eastern Conference finals).
There is a lot of talk around Leafs Nation that general manager Brian Burke should trade the picks because this is a weak draft. However, fans should keep in mind that even though there are not a lot of big names that are expected to have an immediate impact in the top five, as we normally see, the majority of the players slated to go in the first round are all on an even keel. There have been a lot of great players that have gone late in the first round (two breakout players from this year include Ryan Kesler, 23rd pick; and Corey Perry, 28th). As expected of course, Brian Burke has not been gone public with what he plans to do come draft time.
2. Re-Signing RFAs and UFAs
Aside from Clarke MacArthur (UFA), James Reimer (RFA) and Luke Schenn (RFA) (who are all due for quite a raise compared to their current deals) the majority of the Leafs' 12 RFAs and UFAs are depth players. It is crucial that Brian Burke re-signs some of them for specialty situations, such as penalty killing. Some of those players right now are Fredrik Sjostrom and Tim Brent, both unrestricted.
Considering that these guys can be deemed as replaceable, there would be no surprise in Leafs Nation if the lower end consisted of a few fresh faces. And I am sure several Leafs fans would not mind seeing Tim Brent back in uniform, especially after his heroics back on February 3rd, 2011 against Carolina.
3. Look for a Defenseman
Unfortunately, Brett Lebda and Matt Lashoff are not the answer. With prospects such as Simon Gysbers, Jesse Blacker and Jake Gardiner on the horizon, Toronto Maple Leafs management need a defenseman for their second/third pairings. Somebody that they can sign short-term, for a cheap price. They do not want to tie up even more salary on the back end, especially since Luke Schenn is set to make a couple million.
There may even be some consideration to bring Ian White back. It is unlikely however since Brian Burke does not recycle and reuse. But who knows? Whoever is signed (if that even happens), will simply be a blip on the map for Leafs fans this offseason.
4. Find a Goalie
With Giguere becoming an unrestricted free agent, there is a void left in the backup spot. Reimer was great down the stretch posting 20 wins and a .921 save percentage. Most of the games were do or die so there was a lot of pressure on the young netminder as well as the team. It is uncertain if the young Manitoba native can handle a full season in net.
There has been plenty of speculation swirling about Bryzgalov and Vokoun—none of which will happen considering the amount and length of salary the two upcoming free agents can expect from around the league (probably not a lot of Ilya fans out there now considering his playoff performance). A likely scenario is Giguere being re-signed for $1 million to $2 million (considering his friendship with Allaire and Burke), but nagging groin injuries keep that as an uncertainty.
Other veterans that can be acquired for a bargain include Brian Boucher, Ty Conklin and Ray Emery. All of whom have enough experience to keep fans, management and team comfortable enough playing 20-plus or 30-plus games.
5. Top-Line Center/Forward
It’s been talked about for years. “Get Mats Sundin a first-line winger.” Well, the Leafs have that player in Phil Kessel, but no Mats Sundin. So now Leafs management has the even harder task of getting a guy that is in demand all over the league: a first-line center.
Leafs Nation has been yearning for one for years. Brad Richards was signed by the fans a few seasons ago, just not by the team. He has a long history of injuries, so he may not be the answer. Regardless of anything that may or may not get done, it will come under heavy scrutiny from fans. Recent reports indicated that Brian Burke may be even throwing out an offer sheet at a young star that will be restricted this season (as per his interview on TSN Radio). This of course has any prototypical hockey fan thinking two things:
- Is this guy a total hypocrite after what we saw go on with him and Kevin Lowe when Dustin Penner went to the Edmonton Oilers?
- Considering Steven Stamkos and Zach Parise are both young and still RFAs, will it be one of them, especially since both teams have salary issues (Tampa may not have the money to spend unless they rid themselves of certain contracts and New Jersey simply not having the cap space)?
Who knows how the drama in Leaf land will unfold? One thing is for sure; we can expect a highly publicized series of events that may consist of absolutely nothing, considering the Toronto media.