Toronto Maple Leafs: Have They Improved?
Thus far, Burke has added centre Tim Connolly, forward Matthew Lombardi and defenseman Cody Franson via free agency and veteran defenseman John-Michael Liles via trade.
While none of Burke’s acquisitions add up to a Brad Richards signing, there is reason to believe the Maple Leafs have been upgraded, at least on paper.
Don’t get me wrong, with Lombardi and Connolly’s health concerns both players could end up on the shelf for parts of the season, that said, if these two guys manage to play the better part of the 82-game season the Leafs should show considerable improvement up front.
As a member of the Buffalo Sabres, Connolly earned a 45.9% success rate in the face-off circle last season. He also netted six goals and added 13 assists for a total of 19 power play points.
Connolly also has the ability to shut the opposition down, especially on the penalty kill—an area the Maple Leafs need help in.
In Lombardi the Maple Leafs get a player that, when healthy, can use his speed and hands to create offense. As a member of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009-10 Lombardi had a 49.7% success rate in the face-off circle. Lombardi also notched four power play goals and added 12 assists for a total of 16 power play points.
The Maple Leafs finished the 2010-11 season with the 22nd ranked power play and ranked a respectable 15th overall in the face-off circle.
That said, the Maple Leafs could use a punch in the arm on both the power play and in the face-off circle, something both Connolly and Lombardi could do for the Blue and White.
With Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Keith Aulie and Mike Komisarek already in toe, Liles and Franson add an element of offensive depth to the Buds’ back end. Burke is also expected to sign restricted free agent Luke Schenn to a long term extension, which could see the always inconsistent Mike Komisarek moved or demoted to the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, Toronto Marlies.
As a member of the Colorado Avalanche in 2010-11, Liles lit the lamp a total of six times, adding 40 assists for a total of 46 points. Liles scored three goals and 18 points on the power play, which should help boost the Maple Leafs’ numbers.
Franson is a tremendous puck mover who has the ability to quarterback the power and make quick plays. As a member of the Nashville Predators in 2010-11 Franson netted eight goals and added 29 assists for a total of 37 points.
While Franson only lit the lamp a total of two times on the power play, he should see an increase in power play time, which, in turn, should see his numbers rise.
Not to be forgotten is the changing of the guard behind the bench. Feeling the Maple Leafs needed some new voices in the dressing room, Brian Burke elected to let long time assistant coaches Tim Hunter and Keith Acton go in favor of former New York Islanders bench boss Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin (who previously coached at Northeastern University).
Both Gordon and Cronin are expected to provide the Maple Leafs with a new voice and it is hoped that they will bring a fresh look to the Maple Leafs power play and penalty kill, respectively.
All in all Burke has done a good job of acquiring some depth both up front and on the backend. Look around the NHL, the majority of the playoff teams have just that—depth—which should serve Burke and Company well going forward.
Of course, signing Schenn to an extension will be an important part of Burke’s plan, as will additional depth up front. Clarke MacArthur is expected to go to salary arbitration. Burke seems hell bent on not overpaying for a player he deems has only put together one good season; arbitration should help the two sides iron out their financial differences, that said, there is no guarantee MacArthur will be back (which would be a mistake IMO).
Should Burke fail to sign Schenn look for the youngster to be dealt for a centre or power forward. Should Burke fail to acquire additional help up front the Buds will have to go with plan B which may include giving the likes of Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin a shot at a top-six forward position.
At the end of the day, with so much change in the NHL this summer nobody knows what the Maple Leafs roster will look like on opening day. That said, for the first time in a long time Burke looks to have the Blue and White on the right track, which, in time, should pay dividends in the form of a playoff spot as early as the 2011-12 season.
Are the Maple Leafs improved? On paper they are. Now all they have to do is go out and win!
Until next time,