Toronto Maple Leafs Need a Franchise Player: Who Should They Target?

Joey WilsonCorrespondent IJanuary 26, 2011

Brad Richards
Brad RichardsJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It has become painfully clear that the Toronto Maple Leafs, as they are constructed at present, have a serious issue scoring goals.

They have at times been able to open up the flood gates with some big games (The 9-3 thrashing of Atlanta comes to mind), but all in all, this team has a penchant for making the Braden Holtby's of the World look like the next coming of Patrick Roy. 

This team does have some talent up front, however most of these skillful forwards are streaky and can go cold for several games at a time (Apologies to Clarke Macarthur who has been pretty steady all year long).

This type of hot-and-cold play leads to losing streaks and ultimately, combined with inconsistent goaltending, lands any team near the bottom of the standings and looking a lottery pick squarely in the face. 

Another line of thinking that I tend to agree with is that in general, the Leafs just do not have anything close to a franchise player, and I say that while looking at both the present squad as well as the prospects playing in both junior hockey and the American Hockey League.

In fact, since Mats Sundin left, we have been missing a stud-horse forward with the ability to carry the team on their shoulders for several games at a time. 

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Given that Nazem Kadri doesn't project to be that franchise forward and given the fact that the Leafs do not possess a first round pick this year, the outlook for obtaining a franchise player through the draft looks bleak for the immediate and the short term future of the team.

Even if the Leafs finish near the bottom again next year, it is far from a guarantee that the player they pick in let's say, the top 5, will turn out to be a franchise altering type of player.

That leads me to the question of how to obtain such a player. If I had the definite answer, then I would imagine that so would Brian Burke and his braintrust, including the intelligent hockey minds of Dave Nonis and Dave Poulin amongst others.

One way to do this is through the signing of unrestricted free agents., and the one name that comes to mind is Brad Richards.

Richards would be a perfect fit for this team; he would provide the type of centre that Phil Kessel needs if he is to become even close to the type of player that the Leafs need in order to justify the trade of three draft picks.

The problem with Richards though is that, well, if you were Brad Richards, would you even want to come to the Leafs? He will have several suiters lining up and assuming the Dallas Stars, with their unstable ownership picture looming large, will be unable to resign him, why would Richards choose the Leafs over teams such as Tampa Bay or the New York Rangers?

Another player who has been mentioned recently as a player who could become a franchise player for the Leafs is Zach Parise.

He is tremendously gifted, has produced in the playoffs and has a penchant for scoring big goals, as was the case with his last minute goal in the gold medal game at the recent Vancouver Olympics which stunned Canada and sent the game to overtime.

The issue with signing Zach Parise is that the Maple Leafs would have to go the offer sheet route, and that means surrendering three or four first round draft picks to New Jersey (depending on the amount of money they sign him for). I actually think Parise could potentially be worth the picks, as crazy as that sounds, but if he's not surrounded by adequate talent, then it's a complete waste (see Phil Kessel).

Alex Semin is a supreme talent and is also set to become a UFA this offseason; however, it is widely known that he loves it in Washington and doesn't want to leave, but if he does leave, it will likely be because he is demanding a contract in the neighbourhood of $8 million per season.

If Washington decides to spend that money elsewhere, it is likely for the same reason that the Leafs may not want to consider Semin: He is not a franchise type player, and is in fact a one-dimensional scorer.

The prospects for obtaining a UFA in the next couple of seasons seem bleak in looking at who is indeed available. Jordan Staal is set to become a UFA in 2013, but if they don't land him, then what?

I don't have the answers.Iin fact, as you can see by the articles I've written in the past, I tend to think aloud and change my opinion sometimes within a day or two of writing a story.

I don't have the answers, but I love to read the feedback, both positive and negative and hear the suggestions (the ones that don't ask me to go ^%&* myself) of what should be done by said team.

Brian Burke has a monumental task ahead of him and while some preach patience and for Burke to be conservative, others would suggest Burke go all out to acquire a stud like Richards or Parise, regardless of the cost.

Finding the next Mats Sundin may take an earth-shattering trade, such as the one that sent beloved captain Wendel Clark to the Quebec Nordiques. However, in the salary cap era, those types of trades are much harder to make.

What's the right move? Beats the heck out of me.

All I know is that if this losing goes on for much longer I may consider becoming a fan of a team like the Canadiens.

As much as it sickens me to say it, I'm tired of having nothing to comeback with when their spiteful fans spew filth at me about how bad my Leafs are.

Tired. So, so tired. 

If you enjoy my writing and are also a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, check out my article on the Vernon Wells trade here: http://www.suite101.com/content/toronto-blue-jays-trade-vernon-wells-should-the-fans-be-excited-a337577


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