10 Steps to Turn the Toronto Maple Leafs into Stanley Cup Contender
Throughout Brian Burke's tenure as a head of an organization at the NHL level, he has made his name with the bold trades, big free agent signings and the colourful comments made to media that will be heard many years later.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans, this marks the fifth season for Brian Burke. This offseason, he must be bold and make a statement to turn the franchise around and escape an eighth consecutive year as Stanley Cup Playoffs spectators.
Brian Burke has a very good history of playing bold, and Leafs fans should urge him to continue to do the same starting now.
Let's take a look at 10 steps that will put the Leafs back in Stanley Cup contention.
10. Communication with Head Coach Randy Carlyle
Brian Burke made a big move back in February to maintain his full roster at the NHL level.
At the NHL trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs had many potential offers on the table that would have allowed the team to gain first, second or third round draft picks. However, Burke remained confident and stayed with the team he built over the summer.
He also said Ron Wilson was not the problem for the team's struggles. However, on March 2, Ron Wilson was fired after a free fall that saw the Leafs drop out of playoff contention to to the point of running for a lottery pick.
Other than firing Wilson, Burke invited Randy Carlyle back to his team bench to coach the Leafs. Randy is a straight forward guy who demanded a physical and blue-collar style of hockey.
Going into the 2012-13 season, the coaching staff will need a very structured plan to turn the group into a hard working, physical hockey team that competes in all areas of the ice.
Most of the work will be done between Burke and Carlyle. Their communication on the type of system and the player personnel is vital for the Leafs organization moving forward.
Starting at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the Maple Leafs will make a first step towards becoming a Stanley Cup contender once again.
9. Player Selections at 2012 NHL Entry Draft
On June 22-23, the Toronto Maple Leafs will enter the draft with the No. 5 pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Based on the scouting report that has been filed and discussed for many weeks and months now, it is safe to say that the Leafs have an opportunity to draft a very talented offensive player at that pick.
Assuming for a moment that the Leafs decide to retain the No. 5 pick to select a prospect, all the signs point towards a forward and, potentially, a center.
Luckily for the Leafs, No. 5 is pretty much the best position for them to draft a talented C.
The names that stand out include:
1. Sarnia Sting—Alex Galchenyuk
2. Quebec Remparts—Mikhail Grigorenko
3. Leksands Sweden—Filip Forsberg
Of the three players, Galchenyuk is probably the best fit; however, the concern of a knee injury that kept him out of the entire regular season in juniors makes it relatively unknown where he is as a hockey player.
If Galchenyuk is taken before No. 5, the Leafs have options between Grigorenko and Forsberg.
Between the two players, Forsberg is more mature and has the experience playing with men in Sweden for the past two seasons. He is big and strong and has the ability to dominate play at the pro level.
Grigorenko, on the other hand, has all the talent in the world, but like many Russians before him, he may not have the compete to become the No. 1 C in the NHL.
In terms of the second-round pick at 35th overall, the Leafs have an opportunity to take a look at a couple of players who may be around near that time.
1. Tom Wilson (Plymouth Whalers)—He's a big, physical piece of business, who can really grind with the best of them down low on the end boards. He will be a force screening the goaltender with decent hands to finish the rebound.
2. Adam Pelech (Erie Otters)—He's a stay-at-home defenseman, who stands at 6'2'' and 210 pounds already. If the Leafs draft him, he may become a household keeper for many years to come. He's not too flashy but may soon play 300, 500 or 700 games in the NHL.
Leafs' third-round pick and 2011 sixth was traded to Nashville for a 2011 third-round pick.
Leafs' fourth-round pick was traded to New Jersey Devils for Dave Steckel.
The 126th pick overall is the Leafs' next pick after No. 35. Therefore, the first two rounds of the draft are extremely important.
Maple Leafs must acquire good future assets for the team.
8. Brian Burke Needs to Consider Several Trade Possibilities
In Brian Burke's past history, he has made major trades that shaped his hockey team.
Those blockbuster trades can make or break a team. Let's take a look at some of the trades that he must consider if he wants to get the Leafs involved.
1. Jarome Iginla of Calgary Flames—The Flames are desperate for a change of direction, and Jarome Iginla may become a centerpiece of that retool effort in the offseason. Jarome Iginla brings several things to his potential new team.
He has skill and tenacity on the ice. At 35 years old, the All-Star forward scored 43 goals, 43 assists for 86 points for an offensively challenged Flames team that have not had a true top line C since 1995.
And he has years of leadership experience. Jarome Iginla has been the face of the Calgary Flames for more than a decade now. If Iginla joins the Maple Leafs, the challenge won't be very different from what he had to face each year in Calgary. In fact, Iginla has more help and promise if he joins the Leafs that has pieces coming together really soon.
The Leafs' coaching philosophy fits Iginla's game. The new style of play brought over by Randy Carlyle will be almost exactly the type of game Jarome Iginla enjoys playing. In Calgary, he was probably asked to do too much, but in Toronto, the likes of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles will be able to support Iginla offensively.
This summer, if Rick Nash becomes available, Toronto is on his list of destinations. In Brian Burke terms, Nash is a big body forward that contributes close to point-a-game offense. Nash also has experience as the captain and will bring leadership to the dressing room.
If the price is right, Rick Nash would be a very good addition to the Leafs lineup.
3. Roberto Luongo of Vancouver Canucks—The Canucks now are changing directions to make Cory Schneider their next starting goalie. Luongo has a long list of accomplishments at the NHL and international level.
Since the Leafs brass is considering adding a goalie to stabilize the situation, Luongo may not be very expensive this summer. Francois Allaire and Roberto Luongo have a long history working together. Luongo used to attend Allaire's goalie camp in Montreal every summer.
Iginla, Nash and Luongo are three big-time players who could really change the landscape in Toronto if any of the deals are made this summer. Brian Burke has big decisions to make.
7. Salary Cap Considerations
Brian Burke may have an endless wish list for the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer.
However, the reality is the Leafs organization really does not have a lot of salary cap space to make all the big splashes in trades or free agency.
According to CapGeek, the Leafs have committed to 17 players and have $7.596 million remaining to their disposal. If the Leafs go with the traditional 21-man roster, that will likely translate into $1.90 million per player for the final four additions.
Note that this money does not likely include addressing the goaltending situation where Gustavsson is becoming a free agent and James Reimer is the only goalie left from last season.
Therefore, perhaps the Leafs need to make a couple of trades to free up cap space before July 1 arrives.
Here are a list of underachieving players that are paid handsomely by the Leafs:
Tim Connolly (4.75): 13 G, 23 A, 36 Pts. Missed 12 games due to injury.
Mike Komisarek (4.5): 1 G, 4 A, 5 Pts. Missed 37 games due to injuries and healthy scratches.
Colby Armstrong (3.0): 1 G, 2 A, 3 Pts. Missed 53 games due to injuries and healthy scratches.
Matthew Lombardi (3.5): 8 G, 10 A, 18 Pts. Missed 20 games due to injuries and healthy scratch.
Total Offensive Production
4 Players: 23 G, 39 A, 62 Pts (122 games missed).
Total Salary Commitment
Their salaries equal $15.75 million against the 2012-13 Salary Cap.
Brian Burke must be creative in trying to shed some of that salary through trade in exchange for prospects or draft picks.
6. Which Pending Free Agency Needs to Be Re-Signed Using the Cap Space?
With Nikolai Kulemin becoming an RFA this summer, the Leafs may need to find themselves another cheap (less than $2 million) player for their top-9 forward group.
Perhaps Kulemin will be traded if the Leafs and Kulemin cannot agree upon a contract, which is likely going to be higher than $2.35 million he received in arbitration last time.
Also, Jay Rosehill is a free agent. Brian Burke will be looking to fill his shoes with a skater that can provide Randy Carlyle five or seven minutes a night, while being able to skate on the Leafs fourth line.
Other free agents are Joey Crabb, Matt Frattin and Cody Franson.
Crabb and Frattin may find themselves back with the Marlies for cap consideration if they re-sign.
Franson may command a pay hike from his previous $800K salary. Therefore, some money must be allotted to his contract extension.
5. Goaltending Is an Issue
Brian Burke, historically, has not been a very good GM when it comes to making decisions with goaltending.
During his time in Vancouver, Dan Cloutier was a longtime experiment that never worked, and in Anaheim, the J-S. Giguere—Ilya Bryzgalov situation was not handled very well.
In reality, Bryzgalov should have gave Anaheim more in return, but Burke ended up waiving Bryzgalov and losing the goalie for nothing. As you know, Bryzgalov turned in a pretty good career as a starter for the Phoenix Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers.
On the other hand, Ducks G Jonas Hiller from Switzerland and Leafs G Jonas Gustavsson from Sweden are a couple of pretty good finds by his staff overseas.
For this offseason, here are the top 10 nominees for the Leafs goalie acquisition:
No.10—Anders Lindback (Predators RFA)
No.9—Josh Harding (Wild UFA)
No.8—Martin Biron (NYR UFA)
No.7—Scott Clemmensen (FLA UFA)
No.6—Tim Thomas of Boston Bruins
No.5—Jonathan Bernier of Los Angeles Kings
No.4—Tomas Vokoun (Capitals UFA)
No.3—Al Montoya (NYI UFA)
No.2—Richard Bachman (Stars RFA)
No.1—Roberto Luongo of Vancouver Canucks
4. Defensive Breakdown
Current Leafs top-6 D Core:
Cody Franson (RFA)
Credit to CapGeek for in-depth in providing the salary commitments of the defensemen next season.
Part of the goaltending problems with the Leafs last year began with the defense that played in front of Reimer, Gustavsson and Scrivens.
So far, the Leafs have defensemen that may be able to move the puck with Gardiner and Liles, physical defensemen with Phaneuf and Schenn and some stay-at-home defensemen in Gunnarsson and Komisarek. However, none are able to carry the team and log big minutes.
It may be argued that Jake Gardiner eventually could, but he better figure out the defensive part of the trade first before asking for more ice time from coach Randy Carlyle.
Of the group of six, Liles is a solid guy, but his smallish size may not be enough to put fear into the opponent's attack.
Brian Burke should consider minor retool on defense before the start of training camp.
3. Should Dion Phaneuf Remain the Captain?
Soon after the Leafs completed their free fall from playoff contention, the Toronto sport media questioned Dion Phaneuf directly.
Phaneuf was very frustrated with missing the playoffs, and his teammates also were frustrated at the time. So the question was not really fair.
Now, since we are a few weeks removed from the heat of the moment, when the Leafs look at the makeup of the team, Dion Phaneuf may or may not be the best fit for captaincy.
Conversely, to what the Toronto media was trying to convey in the Leafs' leadership, Dion Phaneuf is the perfect fit to be the captain of the Leafs.
Here is why:
Dion Phaneuf is young, and at 27 years old, he has experience at World Junior Championships, Calgary Flames days and knows how to play a style that matches what Randy Carlyle is looking for—brawn.
Phaneuf made a trademark for himself throughout his junior and NHL career making punishing hits. If Phaneuf is able to lead the charge playing a physical game, the Leafs' player should follow.
Therefore, it is best for the Maple Leafs to keep Dion Phaneuf as their captain.
2. Veteran Leadership
When the moments become tough, as it obviously did in January, February and March this year, good teams rely on their veterans for advice and leadership.
This summer, there are a few names that may become available for the Leafs to add to their leadership group.
Although I have no idea where the cap space is going to come from right now, the Leafs may look at exemplary players such as Shane Doan, Ryan Smyth or Zach Parise.
Actually, all three players listed are the hardest working individuals on their respective teams for many seasons. They play 120 percent on each shift and are not afraid to pay the price physically to accomplish the goals for their hockey club.
If the price is affordable and the free agent is willing to join the Leafs, it is crucial for Brian Burke to bring in someone who can calm down the young Leafs.
First, however, they must try to clear some cap space to make room for a signing.
#1: Big Power Forward, Anyone?
To no surprise, Rick Nash remains on the list of potential candidates, regardless of the likelihood of it actually happening. Free agents such as Dustin Penner can help provide the physical presence in front of the opposing goalies.
It is very difficult in today's NHL to acquire guys like Nash because every team is looking for them, and once they get the player, they will hardly ever give them up.
As a result, Brian Burke may have to be additionally creative to find a trading partner or a free agent signing that fits the financial planning of the Toronto team.
Conclusion: 10 Steps Towards to the Stanley Cup
If Brian Burke is able to accomplish the 10 Steps, it is safe to say he will transform the Leafs back into Stanley Cup contenders.
Burke must be the busiest GM in the NHL this offseason, because any team that is on the outside of the playoffs has major work to do.
He is also faced with cap constraints this summer, a couple of key RFA signings and a vacant goalie position. That is a lot of work to do in the remaining 120 days of the hockey offseason.
As a result, Leafs fans better hope the chips fall in Toronto's favour, because the Leafs definitely need help to turn them back in the ultimate race.
This is Joseph Trenton covering another segment on the Leafs Offseason Series.