Ville Leino: Why the Toronto Maple Leafs Should Sign Him as Their No. 1 Center

Mark GregoryContributor IIIMay 17, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 26:  Ville Leino #22 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates down the ice against the Buffalo Sabres in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 26, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Leino meshes well with the overall rebuild plan, a young 27-year-old, 6’1" 183 lbs player who could be acquired without the liability of signing a massive long term contract to, for example, Brad Richards. I believe Leino would choose the Leafs over other teams if he knew he would have every opportunity to be the Leafs No. 1 center. I think he has a better upside than say Brooks Laich in terms of production.

With Leino in the fold, it would allow the possibility that Bozak could rebound from his sophomore slump and might next year perform better than Leino in the No. 1 center spot. (I for one have not given up on Bozak, the same way I never gave up on Grabovski last year). Switching Leino to the third line in this case would be a workable plan “B.” Competition for the top center job, and having options in terms of line combinations, is a healthy condition for a team.

I believe it is critical to keep the Grabovski line intact, and thus it is important to sign MacArtur to a two or three year deal.

The other player who should be targeted is Andrew Brunette—a left winger who would push Lupal for the LW position on the first line. With both Lupal and Armstrong having histories of injuries, this would cover the team in case of any injury/slump.

Signing two free agents would negate the necessity of trading any of our up-and-coming players from our prospect pool. As well for the first time in years, the Leaf roster would remain basically intact from the team that finished last season on a tear.

Lupal/ Brunette  Ville Leino/Wheeler   Phil Kessel

Clark MacArthur Mikhail Grabovski   Nik Kulemin

Colby Armstrong  Bozak/ Kopecky    Kadri

Brown      Brent    Frattin

Keeping the teams' salary cap with some room would allow Toronto to be in a good position of still being able to add a key player at the trading deadline to build momentum going into the playoffs, and with the assets to be able to pry away a key player who might otherwise become a free agent.

In my mind, Toronto would have been a playoff team this year if the season started after Christmas. There is no need to import big salaries or big egos into the Maple Leaf team.

Though this lineup isn’t as “ big and tough” as I would ideally like, the problem of having a team without enough talent has been elevated. The Marlies look like they will ice a much better team next year, with several VG prospects coming up the pipeline.

Trading for a Stasny, Parise or Stamkos would decimate the team in terms of prospects. Even though it would probably increase the chance of us landing Richards as a free agent, there is no guarantee the team would have any chemistry, and the team would be in the position of being up against the cap.

I think a “no-name” team building from basically the ground up with hungry young players and peaking at the same time, while the team is a contender, is keeping as many options open as possible. Meanwhile, trying to accumulate assets that will only increase instead of depreciate is the way to go. Chemistry and injuries are things impossible to predict for the most part, but keeping oneself in a position to make adjustments midstream is a wise course.

In terms of the defense, there is a need to add one player to the Toronto rear guard. My idea is to target either a UFA on one of the remaining playoff teams or one of the UFA from the Montreal Canadians, preferably Markov, who I believe could be signed at a bargain. If he happened to be healthy during next years playoffs, then the Leafs would be very lucky—as well as the fact that signing Markov might invigorate Komisarek to perform equal to the money the Leafs pay him. Markov and Komisarek as a third pairing looks good to me.

Of course there are other ways to go:

1. For instance, signing Hejda as a UFA which would allow the Leafs to trade a roster player.

2. Stalberg might be obtained fairly cheaply

3. Tomas Kopecky would be a valuable addition, adding some size down the middle.

4. Blake Wheeler seemed to come alive in Atlanta after a change of scenery and might be obtained for the right price.

Trading for Wheeler and signing Kopecky would definitely add some size down the middle.

These are some possible scenarios with the goal of building the Leafs into a contender instead of a perennial pretender.