Leadership Still An Issue For Maple Leafs
With the collective bargaining agreement still unsettled and a free agent pool that is now void of any super stars it is hard to fault Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke for not being overly active this summer.
Sure, Burke pulled the trigger on a deal to bring in forward James van Reimsdyk from the Philadelphia Flyers in return for defenseman Luke Schenn and he was also able to sign unrestricted free agent Jay McClement to a two-year, $3 million contract, addressing his forward depth, but neither move addressed the seemingly poor leadership on the Maple Leafs roster.
Veteran forward Colby Armstrong (an assistant captain last season) was bought out by Burke and has since signed on with the hated Montreal Candiens, further reducing whatever leadership the Maple Leafs had.
That leaves captain Dion Phaneuf and little used veteran defenseman Mike Komisarek to lead the Maple Leafs into the 2012-13 season, which has more than a few fans worried about the overall leadership of the team.
The Maple Leafs struggles last season are well documented, as few players, if any, really stood out as bonafide leaders.
Simply being a veteran does not mean a player is capable of leading, but there are a few players that Burke will likely turn to in an effort to replace whatever leadership Armstrong brought to the table.
Long thought to be potential captain material, the aforementioned Luke Schenn has been shipped out of town. That leaves Burke with a few options on the current roster such as veteran defenseman John Michael Liles or perhaps the Maple Leafs nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy as the NHL’s comeback player of the year, Joffrey Lupul.
While I would have no problem awarding Lupul with an “A”, one wonders if Burke has enough leadership on his team, or if he needs to upgrade?
A few months ago we debated the merits of bringing one of Jason Arnott or Jaime Langenbrunner into the fold in an effort to give the Maple Leafs a boost in the leadership department. Langenbrunner has since agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the St. Louis Blues, while Arnott is still a UFA.
Arnott, 37, registered 17 goals and a total of 37 points in a leadership role with the St. Louis Blues last season. 17 goals is nothing to sneeze at and nobody would question Arnott’s leadership ability. Which begs the question, if Burke could get Arnott to sign a similar one-year, $1.5 million deal, should he do it?
To be fair, the Maple Leafs top two lines are all but set with Phil Kessel, James van Reimsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin rounding out the Blue and White’s top-six forwards.
That said, both MacArthur and Kulemin struggled at times last season and might benefit from a little competition from a player like Arnott. While I cannot envision Arnott playing on the second line for a full season he would be more than capable of filling in should one of the Maple Leafs top six get injured and/or should Kulemin or MacArthur find themselves in a bad slump.
When you consider the fact that Burke still has just over $9 million in cap space with which to sign players it seems to me an investment in Arnott would be a no brainer, especially if Burke could land him on the cheap.
One thing last season taught us is that an NHL club never has enough depth. Injuries and cold streaks could see a player disappear from the roster or see a huge reduction in icetime.
There is hope that one of Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin or Joe Colborne will step up and find a role on the second or third line with the Maple Leafs, none of those players are money to make the big club. With few prospects looking like they are NHL ready, signing Arnott as an insurance policy would seem the smart thing to do.
Arnott, who has a total of 1172 NHL games, 400 goals, 504 assists for a total of 904 points on his resume, would be a tremendous locker room presence as a player that has plenty experience as a leader, playoff experience and a Stanley Cup ring to boot.
At 6’5” and 220 pounds, Arnott would also bring some much needed size to the Maple Leafs roster, an asset Burke puts a lot of stock in.
Entering the season with Phaneuf, Kessel, Liles and Lupul sharing the leadership role would be fine, but adding a player of Arnott’s experience and character would be a tremendous move.
You can never underestimate leadership, let’s hope Burke realizes this and brings in Arnott.
Until next time,