Too Many Questions Facing Toronto Maple Leafs
Heading into the 2010-11 season I posted an article that featured five key questions facing the Toronto Maple Leafs.
First, which goaltender would emerge as the number one goalie? Second, could Tyler Bozak rise to the occasion and emerge as a true number one centre? Third, would Dion Phaneuf be “Dion”? Fourth, Could Nazem Kadri deliver at the NHL level and finally, could the Maple Leafs improve their special teams?
Admittedly, there were a heck of a lot more than five questions facing the Maple Leafs this season, but if even half of these questions could be address positively, one had to believe the Maple Leafs would have an outside chance of making the playoffs this season.
Unfortunately, just days before the calendar flips into 2011, the Maple Leafs are yet to answer any of these questions—a least in a positive manner.
Fact is, the Maple Leafs are still searching for a true number one goalie, still waiting for Tyler Bozak to be their number one centre (which just ain’t gonna happen), Dion Phaneuf has been mediocre at best, Nazem Kadri has been spending much of his time in the press box lately and the Maple Leafs special teams still remain anything but!
To be fair, bigger questions have emerged this season, including which coach is the right man for the job, whether or not general manager Brian Burke’s plan is competent and, given the Maple Leafs poor performance thus far, how can Burke right this sinking ship?
There are no easy answers, but it appears as if Burke will be chomping at the bit to make changes as soon as the trade freeze is lifted.
Many Leaf fans have been calling for the likes of Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin to be traded, but it is unlikely either one will find themselves in new uniforms until the trade deadline, if ever.
High salaries and no trade clauses will make it tough for Burke to trade either player, which means he will have to look to move other roster players (let the Tomas Kaberle rumors begin) and/or look to trade prospects—which is bound to get the Leafs Nation upset again!
One of the bigger decisions Burke will have to make before season’s end is determining the futures of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson—one of which will be counted on to be the Maple Leafs number one goaltender for the now and the future.
Giguere has played well in spurts, as has Gustavsson, but with Giguere getting up there in age and with his contract set to expire at season’s end, it is doubtful Burke will re-sign the veteran goaltender, unless Giguere is willing to sign on the cheap.
To be honest, as each game passes it appears as if Giguere’s re-signing is becoming more and more unlikely. Gustavsson is already 26 years-old, if his time isn’t now, when is it exactly?
Truth be told, the Maple Leafs would be better off finding a trading partner, moving Giguere and signing another goalie this off-season. Gustavsson either “is” or “is not” the number one goalie—the sooner the Maple Leafs figure this out the better.
Burke has been stubborn to fault on replacing Ron Wilson behind the bench. That said, if the Maple Leafs continue to slide he will have to let Wilson go, won’t he?
Part of Wilson’s struggles has been his inability to get his penalty kill going. Whether it’s tasking the wrong players with the job, implementing poor systems or an inability to teach the intricacies of the PK, Wilson has been a total flop in this respect and, until recently, the Maple Leafs power play was a disaster as well.
As I have stated before, Wilson may be a good coach, but he may not be the right guy for the job in Toronto—maybe the two sides would be better off without each other?
The Maple Leafs have been dreadful down the middle this season. Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel have all tried to fill the number one centre role—each with various measures of success. Truth be told, all three were underwhelming, all three looked out of place.
Burke will have to deal with a number of players hitting free agency after this season. J.S. Giguere, Tomas Kaberle, Tim Brent and Fredrik Sjostrom will all be unrestricted free agents, while Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Brown, John Mitchell, Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak will all be restricted free agents.
Kaberle and Giguere both have no-movement clauses so it’s tough to predict if they will be traded. That said, it is highly unlikely either one will be back with Toronto next season, especially when you consider how mediocre both players have been this season.
Tim Brent will likely receive and offer from Burke. He is a good soldier, a gritty player that, in the right situation can excel—mainly in a checking role and/or on the penalty kill.
As far as restricted free agents go, Luke Schenn will be in need of a raise as will Clarke MacArthur, while Gunnarsson, Brown and Bozak will all be on Burke’s radar.
As far as potential free agent signings go it is far too early to speculate. NHL teams have been making it a priority to get their stars locked into long-term deals, while many free-agents are still asking for top dollar—which handcuffs many teams, including the Maple Leafs from signing key players to fill out their rosters.
According to capgeek.com, Burke has a total of $38,053,333 dedicated to 12 players next season, which leaves him with a little over $21 million to fill out his roster.
That sounds like a lot of money, but with ten players to sign, it will be tough for Burke to make a significant splash, he simply has too much money invested in the likes of Komisarek, Phaneuf, Kessel and others.
One things for sure, Burke will need to address the centre position (something I said all last summer and got a ton of flack for it) and he will need to bring in a legitimate penalty kill specialist—as much as Maple Leafs fans want to believe Sjostrom is the answer he just isn’t cutting it, check the numbers.
More likely Burke will look to sign another free agent defenseman and/or look for one of his prospects to step up. That said, as poor as Kaberle has been this season, his minutes and puck moving ability will be tough to replace, he is not as bad as he seems, believe me.
Even if Burke works his magic (manages to trade Kaberle and Giguere, moves a big contract and makes a couple of free agent signings) he will still have to rely on a number of players having better years in 2011-12 than they are having this season if he wants to see his team make the playoffs, mainly Phaneuf, Kadri, Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong—all of whom have underperformed thus far.
The questions are everywhere for Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs, the answers are yet to be determined.
Until next time,