As the season winds down ever so slowly, it’s time to start looking ahead to next season. Although there are many areas that need to be addressed, and many more areas from which to find solutions, the NCAA free agent pool is today’s topic of discussion.
Brian Burke et al are usually very active when it comes to the college FA scene, as we have seen in years gone by. To refresh your memory, here is a short list of his college free agent work:
- Christian Hanson now plays in the Washington Capitals organization, but Burke pursued him for his combination of size and skill.
- Tyler Bozak was the top free agent of his class, and rightly so. He has become the de facto top line center for the Toronto Maple Leafs, alongisde Phil Kessel.
- Brayden Irwin was a big forward that Burke signed, but hasn’t shown much in his time here. He was re-signed to a minor league contract, and spends his time mainly in Reading, the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Marlies.
- Ben Scrivens was the top goaltender available, and has become one of the best goaltending prospects in the system. He’s the starter for the Marlies.
- Simon Gysbers is a smart, offensive puck moving defender currently manning the blueline for the Marlies this season.
- Tyler Brenner was last year’s college free agent signing, and has split time evenly between the Marlies and Reading Royals. Hasn’t show much offensively just yet.
As the NCAA itself begins to conclude it’s season, more and more players are becoming available to sign as their respective teams are eliminated. You can bet that Burke will be ready to pounce as soon as these players become available, ready to hand a bag of cash at them.
Just to clarify, the Leafs will be able to sign college free agents this year because they are only at 48 of the 50 allowed contracts. Technically they have 53 contracts, but five of these players (Greg McKegg, Stuart Percy, David Broll, and Andrew Crescenzi) don’t count because they have not played at least 11 NHL games this season (and were returned to their junior teams).
Regardless of the above, since a player doesn’t count against the reserve limit unless they play 11 NHL games, any signed free agent would not count against the reserve limit for this year, but would have a year burned off their contract.
This leaves the Leafs able to pursue any and all free agents they can throw their money at.
So, just who could the Leafs be targeting?
The number one option in my mind would have to be Justin Schultz who is currently property of the Anaheim Ducks. He’s a former teammate of Jake Gardiner‘s, and he had a standout year with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Schultz scored 44 points this season (16g – 28a) continuing on his 47 points last season (18g – 29a). Speculation holds that Schultz will hold out on the Ducks until July 1st, where he can then field offers from all teams as an unrestricted free agent.
Should the Hobey Baker candidate become a free agent, you can bet your bottom dollar Brian Burke will probably be taking a run at him. He’s about as good as they get coming out of college, and it would give Burke more depth on the blueline from which to make a deal.
Mark Zengerle – Center – Wisconsin
Attended Toronto Maple Leafs prospect camp last summer and the Maple Leafs still have interest in the sophomore forward … Tied for most points among all second-year players in the country … Had second-longest scoring streak in program history at 20 games. – Tim Wharnsby – CBC
Spencer Abbot – Left Wing – Maine
Spencer Abbott leads the nation in both points (56) and assists (37). And not surprisingly, he has become one of the top candidate’s for this year’s Hobey Baker Award as well. In addition to his point production, Abbott’s quickness and game-changing ability are among the assets that have put him squarely on the NHL radar. One team that has reportedly paid close attention to Abbott’s development at Maine this season is the Toronto Maple Leafs. - DJ Powers – Hockey’s Future
Dan DeKeyser – Defense – Western Michigan
With 30 NHL teams pursuing him, Dan DeKeyser has become the hottest commodity on the collegiate free agent market this season. And it’s not hard to see why. Two NHL teams that have shown some of the greatest interest in the Broncos rearguard are the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. – DJ Powers – Hockey’s Future
These are just a few of the more popular names out there, and the Maple Leafs are probably interested in many others. At this point, we know the flood gates are opening and Brian Burke loves his free wallets.
Darren Dreger reported last night that the Toronto Maple Leafs have received an offer from an unidentified team for UFA to be, Mikhail Grabovski. He went on to say that the proposed deal included a second round pick and a prospect. Today, Dreger expanded upon the topic, noting that the prospect is currently at the AHL level. Everyone already knows my thoughts on dealing Grabovski, if not, you can read them here. There are many components the team should seek to add in order to become better, but subtracting Grabovski – at the price of a second round pick and a prospect – would set the team back in many ways. Unless the team has a deal to bring in another center immediately, they would probably be forced to call up Joe Colborne, unless they plan on promoting Matthew Lombardi or Darryl Boyce up in the lineup. Tim Connolly still has a year left on his deal, but his uninspiring play as of late has me hesitant to pencil him in any higher than the third line. To set the record straight, I don’t think the Leafs will pull the trigger on this deal. If they liked it, it would have been done already. It’s no secret Brian Burke and Grabovski’s agent are probably negotiating, but at this point we’re not privy to the negotiation status or direction. It’s at best a guessing game whether Grabovski will stay with the team, or if his demands will force him out. Right now, here’s where I think we are down the middle:
- Grabovski is our best center, but similar playing styles to Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul has him playing on a different line. Grabovski is a playmaker primarily, but can find the net if given the chance. He’s diligent defensively, and he checks effectively.
- Tyler Bozak has developed nicely into a dependable center, and has had the luxury of playing with Kessel and Lupul. Like Grabovski, he’s primarily a playmaker, but can find the net on occasion. Bozak is also considered a defensive asset, and checks industriously. Grabovski is the better center option, but Bozak has found a niche for the time being on the top line.
- Tim Connolly is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. We all know he has the capability to put up some serious numbers, but when you watch him play, his decision making and work ethic makes you sit there and wonder ‘why?’. Why, as in, why we ever signed him. He’s currently playing on the third line, but brings nothing to the line that a prototypical third liner would bring. He’s not overly physical, and his lack of work ethic sets his linemates back.
- Matt Lombardi is the most predictable player in the world. Having watched him closely for most of the season, his only ‘moves’ are driving wide with speed and going five-hole. Seriously, watch highlights of him scoring: he’s in alone, or driving wide, and he scores five-hole. As a checking option, he’s decent but commands a hefty price tag. He’s decent for spot duty in the top six, but I wouldn’t be confident placing him there for an extended time.
- Darryl Boyce is your standard thirteenth forward / fourth line center / AHL call-up kind of guy. I like his work ethic, his physicality, his speed and willingness to battle. For all these reasons, he’s great to have around for the spots I listed above. Any higher, and your just shooting yourself in the foot or being delusional about his skill.
Moving out Grabovski without acquiring an adequate center in return would require Connolly, Lombardi or Boyce to move up into the top six. There’s a big issue with that happening, and thus, at this point its really not ideal to be discussing a Grabovski trade. In an ideal world, I’d look to deal any of the other centers first. Too bad this world isn’t ideal.
Recently the Maple Leafs played the Penguins in ‘Steel town’ for game one of their home-and-home match-up, losing 5-4 in a game-deciding shootout. For anyone who failed to watch the whole game, Tyler Bozak “scored” the icebreaker for the Leafs about 2 minutes into the first period, only to be waved off. As the replay was shown on TV, everyone agreed that the referee had blown the call and the goal should have been reviewed; something that is non-existent in today’s NHL rulebook.
Coaches should have the right to review a possible goal, or any ‘phantom’ call for that matter, as it is very important to any hockey game. Even at the beginning of the season, the points add up in the end and one blown call can be detrimental to a potential win and ultimately their playoff chances. In this specific scenario the Leafs might have gotten the extra point in the end, not to mention holding the Penguins off from getting a point whatsoever. However, the referee had mistakenly make a bad call and has now left the Buds with a little added pressure on their young shoulders worrying about making up that blown point in another game elsewhere.
I know it’s still February, but the points add up, and as we’ve seen in the past, the differential in points between the 8th and 9th place team is often by 1 or 2 points. These blown calls don’t only happen with the Leafs; they happen night in and night out league wide. The NHL should allow the coach to challenge a “bad” or “good” call made by the referee so teams are always awarded the right call, and possibly the 2 points. The element of strategy is another factor which would be implemented to this rule change, ultimately holding the coaches responsible for their fate if they fail to make a challenge. Between the excitement of challenged plays and the decreased percentage of blown calls, it is hard to disagree that it is time for the NHL to seriously take this into consideration.
Here’s the clip of the goal - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRfHfPuXvqM
After a strong start to this month’s home stretch, the leafs fell back to earth and maybe even lower as they lost two very important games over the course of the weekend. Friday night the Leafs were in Buffalo and for the most part did play a fairly strong game but were unable to pick up the victory and ultimately lost by a score of 3-2. The following night at home on Saturday the Leafs played host to the Rangers. This game was not very fun to watch from a Leafs’ perspective as they were unable to get anything going for majority of the game and ended up getting shut out by a score of 3-0. A 4-2 record this month is not that bad, but because of the extremely tight standings, the two losses this weekend ultimately have pushed the leafs out of the playoffs and sitting in 9th place. This is not the end of the world, simply because a winning week this week will put us back into the top 8 as it is literally is that close, however it is an area of concern as the Leafs need a strong end to this month’s home stand.
Another area of concern has been the ‘cooling’ off of the leafs’ top snipers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. They have now gone 3 consecutive games without registering a point; their longest streak of the season. On the bright side, center Tyler Bozak is set to return to the lineup Tuesday night and return to the Leafs’ top line alongside Kessel and Lupul. Tim Connolly has simply not been able to connect with the 2 snipers, something Bozak has, therefore a shift in the lines have been implemented ahead of Tuesday night’s match-up with the Senators. The line-up is as follows:
On the defensive end, after briefly being sent down to the Marlies, rookie Jake Gardiner is back up with the big club. It is not yet known who will be sitting on the defensive end, but all eyes point to Gardiner getting back into the lineup. Finally in goal, James Reimer will see his first action in six games, as he tries to get back into the win column and win back his number 1 job.
This past week also saw the beginning of a long month ahead filled with crazy trade speculation and rumors. The spark to this period… Brian Burke’s comments on a radio show where he stated that the Leafs are closing in on a deal and although things can change, it is “very likely” the Leafs make a move shortly.
These comments were made last week, and we have yet to see a deal, so maybe it fell through? Or perhaps Burke is waiting for the right opportunity to make a splash. Regardless Burke knows we are one impact forward away from being a contender in the East, and personally I have a gut feeling it will be sooner rather than later that this forward lands in Toronto.
Time to cue the names rumored to be on the move… We have heard the likes of James Van Riemsdyk, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Eric Staal just to name a few. With Van Riemsdyk’s most recent concussion you can all but scratch him off the list as potential trade bait (unless it is very minor and he returns to action within the next few weeks).
Bobby Ryan is probably the most rumored to be on the move of the remaining three and perhaps the most acquirable asset for the right price. The rumored asking price for Ryan/Getzlaf from Anaheim’s perspective would be one of Joe Colborne or Nazem Kadri, a prospect, and a 1st rounder. Depending on who that prospect is and how high they are on the rankings can essentially make or break this trade.
Looking through GM Brian Burke’s eyes, I think it is safe to assume he expects he would have to let go of one of those young prospects although he might try to ship off a roster player instead of another prospect to minimize the damage done to the youth pool. Also, because the Leafs would be acquiring another top line asset, this makes a 2nd/3rd line guy expendable, for example Mikhail Grabovski or Clarke MacArthur (both of whom have been rumored to be on the move).
Finally defenseman Luke Schenn may also be used as heavy trade bait simply because our defensive depth has exceeded expectations this season and with John-Michael Liles set to return soon, the logjam on the back end is quite a waste. Yes I know, the more depth the better, but there comes a time when excess parts are converted into covetable assets, which in this case means trading a defender (and perhaps more), for an impact, top-six forward.
With all of that said, the rumors are expected to wheel in as we approach the end of January and into the beginning of February. Burke is known to make his ‘big’ moves well ahead of the deadline so it is safe to say the end of January is a possible time frame for one of these deals to go down (if they do). Until it happens, all of us fans will have to wait patiently and hope Burke can pull of some magic like we have seen him do in the past.
Aside from the rumors, these upcoming games are as big as ever, and the team needs to focus on winning some hockey games and picking up points, ensuring they are back in the top 8 for good.
January. The second half of a long season begins as teams begin to converse about potential deals that would seemingly put them over the top, or to restock their cupboards. For many years, this Leafs team has been assuming a seller’s standpoint at this point, but this year it seems the trend will end. With 47 points (21-15-5) in 41 games, the Leafs are on pace for a 94 point season, which should be barely enough to squeak them into the playoffs for the first time since the lockout. To put this into perspective, the Leafs had 38 points (16-20-5) after the same amount of games last year. Playoff-bound? Still too early to tell, but it’s a baby step in the right direction, that’s for sure.
Since the last time I wrote, the Leafs made many rosters moves, and here’s a little recap incase you forgot.
- Korbinian Holzer bounced from the NHL to the AHL, nothing worth commenting about though.
- Maligned forward Luca Caputi was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Nicolas Deschamps, more on that later.
- Philippe Dupuis was demoted to the Toronto Marlies. Now I don’t have to worry about spelling his name wrong anymore.
- Colton Orr‘s time as a Leaf is finished. He passed through waivers, and was demoted to the Toronto Marlies (AHL).
- Matt Frattin was demoted in favour of keeping Nazem Kadri, and in order to accomodate Mike Brown‘s return. More on this later too.
- Returning to the lineup were Mike Komisarek, Matthew Lombardi and Mike Brown.
- Tyler Bozak suffered an injury on the 30th, and should be out for a few games longer.
- John-Michael Liles remains out, so too does Colby Armstrong.
Luca Caputi and Nicolas Deschamps
At times, it was easy to forget about Luca Caputi, aside from his presence on Twitter. He had fallen so far down the depth chart due to lackadaisical play and injuries that this trade seems almost insignificant. In Caputi, the Leafs are losing a big bodied forward who at one time was coveted due to his size and scoring combination. Now, he’s effectively a grinder, but struggles in this role due to poor skating. It’s a wonder we even acquired anything in return other than a late round pick.
In Deschamps, the Leafs are acquiring a prospect which the Ducks deemed was expendable in order to acquire players closer to contributing at the professional level.
Deschamps, a former second round pick of the Ducks (Burke’s own pick as well) had less than impressive numbers this year (34GP – 6G – 8A) after posting decent numbers last year with the Syracuse Crunch (80GP – 15G – 31A). He wasn’t a prolific junior scorer, as are most offensive players in the QMJHL, but still shows some decent upside in terms of work ethic and finding the net.
At this point, the trade gives both players a change of scenery, with the Leafs opting to trade for a player and give him some more time to develop, as opposed to Caputi who was in need of a new contract and could no longer be labeled ‘prospect’.
The End of Orr
I won’t delve too far into this, it would take a lot of time and effort to get to the true underlying issues of fighting, heavyweights and the direction the league is taking. When Brian Burke signed Orr to his contract, he envisioned Orr patrolling the fourth line, playing as decently as an enforcer can (which he did quite well) and reminding other teams not to take liberties with his teammates. Three years later, Colton Orr no longer has a job. Fights do not exist as they once did; players take liberties and skirt away from their traditional consequences, and this makes Brian Burke (an astute traditionalist) furious. Orr’s roll is now filled by Jay Rosehill / Mike Brown: guys who skate faster, can contribute more offensively, and play bigger roles defensively. Also, they cost less than Orr’s $1.00 million cap hit.
Orr now skates for the Toronto Marlies (AHL) and we wish him the best of luck.
On Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri
Firstly, I’ll say this. The Leafs have two good, young players in Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin. They will both be offensive contributors at the NHL level one day. However, at this point in time, given the situation at other spots in the lineup, only one of the two can remain with the big club. Nazem Kadri, since being brought up, has shown that he is ready for prime time, and has been a factor in almost all aspects of the game, including the scoresheet (for all you people that judge a players value solely on his statistics). He effectively bumped Matt Frattin (who has been good, but not as good as Kadri as of late) down to the fourth line. With Mike Brown set to return, Frattin was demoted to the Toronto Marlies (AHL) so that he could play top line minutes and continue to hone his offensive game. Brown – more suited to the fourth line role – adds a defensive element that Frattin does not have, while keeping the speed and tenacity status quo. A lateral move? Perhaps. The effects of the move are primarily for the long term, as opposed to the short.
The Return of Brown, Komisarek and Lombardi
While refreshing to have Brown and Komisarek back from injury, I can’t say I’m too pleased that Matthew Lombardi is returning to the lineup. I haven’t seen much from him that I’ve liked, or made me think “wow”. He plays hard, but brings little to no impact on a nightly basis. He scored a shorthanded goal in the season opener against Montreal, but hasn’t done much since then. He’s never been an offensive juggernaut, but has a measly 7 points in 23 games, well below his standard output.
Hate if you must, but Mike Komisarek has played decently this year. He’ll never impress you with an offensive play or slick pass out of his own zone, but he’s steady when he’s on his game, and he’s definitely been better this year.
You all know what Mike Brown brings to the table, that’s what makes him a fan favourite.
They say don’t put the cart before the horse, but tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs will take the two points and move on. Although unspectacular throughout most of the game, the Leafs were able to mount a third period comeback and force overtime, eventually besting the revived Jets in the shootout.
Tonight’s game was disheartening and frustrating to watch for a few reasons. It seemed at times the Leafs couldn’t make a pass, clumsily dishing the puck around their own zone and behind forced back behind their own net. They were very much clogged in the neutral zone, and often could not get their cycle game going.
Their defensive effort was not much better. Lost man coverage and impulsive decisions in their own end often led to scoring chances, which James Reimer handled quite well. In my opinion, Reimer had a good game. The first goal, scored by Tobias Enstrom, was through a medley of screening teammates, so you can’t fault him there. Alexander Burmistrov‘s goal was a pretty one; Nik Antropov forced the puck outside and around the net, then dished it in front for the roofjob. A tough play for any goaltender. Lastly, Mark Scheifele‘s first NHL goal came after the Leafs (cough, Mike Komisarek, cough) gave up another penalty, and was the result of a scramble play rebound. Reimer should have had the rebound better, but on the other hand there was no support around him.
Fear not however, as there were some positives to be found yet in the win. The Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel – Joffrey Lupul line continues to dominate. When I say dominate, I really mean dominate. Kessel now has 12 points in 5 games (7g – 5a). His 7 goals account for approximately 41% of the 17 the team has accumulated to date. Lupul tallied two goals tonight, destroying the net camera with a one-timer, and having one bounce through Ondrej Pavelec‘s legs via an Enstrom deflection. We’re perhaps seeing glimpses of the scorer Lupul once was (and still has the potential to be) with his hot start (7 points, 4g – 3a in 5 GP).
The real gem here is Phil “The Thrill” Kessel. This year, he does it all. Aside from scoring pretty goals every game, Kessel has also found success in dishing the puck. For example, in tonight’s game he made the smart move and fed the puck to a wide open Lupul who slapped it into the gaping net. In the past, Kessel would have looked for a shot. He probably would have missed, or it would have deflected out of play. Tonight he dishes the puck and ties the game at ones. You can truly see that Kessel’s game is evolving. His offensive prowess has always been there, the rest is finally piecing itself together.
Other quick thoughts on tonight’s game:
- The Nikolai Kulemin – Mikhail Grabovski – Clarke MacArthur line needs a spark. They’re trying their creative drop-passing and weaving but it’s not connecting right now. They need to simplify and pot a few. With MacA missing the end of the game, rookie Matt Frattin returned to the trio and you could see the line was instantly better. Perhaps MacA is a bit rusty still?
- Luke Schenn didn’t have an impressive game. He made some dumb moves with the puck that often resulted in opposing scoring chances. Cody Franson needs to draw in the lineup again. I’d say replace Schenn with Franson but then there’s Komisarek, who had his worst game this season. Two consecutive penalties along with killing a few offensive chances just scratch the surface of the type of game he had. I’d swap Komisarek for Franson, but then again I’m not the coach.
- Jake Gardiner had a solid game for the Leafs. His skating proved valuable, often helping him out of tight defensive situations. He also created offense, leading rushes and setting up a few scoring chances. Pierre Lebrun wonders how you would ever take him out of the lineup again. I share the sentiment, he adds a dimension the Leafs severely need with their lack of secondary scoring.
- David Steckel won 16 of 18 draws tonight, good for 88.9%. The Leafs have earned a point in every game since acquiring Steckel. Need I say more?
- Lupul and Frattin in the shootout: cheddar snipes.
It was revealed during the game that Colby Armstrong and Clarke MacArthur were injured. After the game it was announced that Armstrong would miss the upcoming road trip, while MacArthur would make the trip and was considered day-to-day. Armstrong’s injury doesn’t bode very well for the Leafs, who are often a better team with him than without. The injures come at somewhat of a good time.
Tomorrow night’s tilt is with Boston, a team that isn’t shy to drop the mitts. You can be sure Wilson will want to dress Jay Rosehill and/or Colton Orr in anticipation of some physical stuff tomorrow night, considering what happened with Carolina the other night. If I’m Wilson I’d dress this lineup:
Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
Kulemin – Grabovski – Frattin
MacArthur – Lombardi – Dupuis
Orr – Steckel – Brown
Injecting Orr gives added toughness. Frattin sparked Grabo and Kulemin, so try it again to start tomorrow night. MacA drops to the third line (if he can dress) or move Mike Brown up and dress Rosehill.
Goalie Jonas Gustavsson gets his first start of the season tomorrow night in Boston.
- – -
Changes must come for this Toronto team. I don’t just mean it in terms of personnel due to injuries for the next game. Special teams will make or break success this season, and so far they haven’t been good enough. Tonight the PP started off flat, but was given some life when Steckel replaced Bozak with Lupul and Kessel. Perhaps they should try this for a few more games until Tim Connolly is ready to return.
In other news, forward Nazem Kadri was assigned to the Toronto Marlies. I feel it’s the right move, given his injury and the relative success of the team. There will be injuries (as we witnessed tonight) and he will get his chance. No one’s given up on him yet, and that’s important to note.
After a couple solid, albeit one nerve-racking, wins to start the season, the Maple Leafs appear to have some swagger that hasn’t been seen since Mats Sundin flanked Jonas Hoglund and Mikael Renberg a decade ago. Optimism is at an all time high throughout Leaf nation as the team gets through a relatively easy opening couple weeks of the season. The questions never seem to end, however, and with the Leafs quality depth (that’s not an oxymoron anymore!) as the Leafs get healthier and less-suspended there is a shortage of roster spots and ice time for players. It appears that amongst all speculation that Brian Burke is hovering around the trigger on a potential trade, but is it really necessary right now? Let’s break this down.
Up front is the primary concern as Clarke MacArthur comes back from his suspension, Nazem Kadri‘s knee is healing quicker than initially speculated, and it would be reasonable to assume we’ll see a Tim Connolly appearance sometime in the next week and a half. Combine that with the unexpected recovery and quality play from Matthew Lombardi and the Leafs have a shocking number of centres available. So where do you put them all? Firstly, Kadri has to start in the minors as Matt Frattin‘s solid two-way play has earned him the right to stay with Leafs for now. It can’t hurt Naz to get up to speed with the Marlies, get big time minutes, work on his defensive game and if he truly dominates the AHL then that will show he needs to be in the NHL. At that point, whether it be a few weeks or a few months, Burke has a better idea to get better trade value from other teams. Very rarely will teams make a substantial deal at this point in the season. This of course only goes with the assumption that the team isn’t struggling and in need of a shake-up, but with the team’s play thus far it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t a combination of lines with this current group that can’t do well enough.
Let’s face it, Connolly likely won’t be the iron man once he heals up from his flavour of the month injury and it wouldn’t be smart to have Lombardi play in every game as the season wears on. Combine that with responsible play of Tyler Bozak, and you have three centres that are capable of playing the pivot between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul or Frattin and Colby Armstrong. Any combination of those sets of wingers with those centres has some offensive upside with defensive capability. It’s also important to recognize that the Leafs now have a quality fourth line in more of a Brian Burke mold. Jay Rosehill and Colton Orr are excellent for spot starts when toughness is needed, and a line of David Steckel – Philippe Dupuis - Mike Brown has an excellent balance. Since MacArthur counts towards a roster spot despite being suspended, that requires only one roster move to make room for Connolly when he’s healthy. When that happens, it would be smart to send down Rosehill and carry those extra centres. This gives good options to match up the line-up on a nightly basis depending on the opponent, as well as gives the opporunity for some more injury prone players to rest for a night if they’re banged up.
On the defensive side, it’s nice to see Toronto finally have a glut of NHL-ready defencemen. Keith Aulie was already sent down to the Marlies to make room for stand-out Jake Gardiner; Mike Komiserek for all purposes hasn’t been terrible; Cody Franson is a big mobile, puck mover who can run a secondary powerplay unit; and Carl Gunnarson has been nothing short of solid. While I agree Aulie deserves to be with the big club after a great debut last season, letting him earn his way back on to the Leafs roster is the best bet. It’s not a bad thing to let the likes of Komi and Gunnar play since it will only boost their trade value if they play well. If not, it’s good to know there are guys ready to answer the call if a shake up is needed. And let’s not forget injuries happen and when they strike the Leafs blue line, we’ll be thankful for this depth.
At this point, Ron Wilson has many options to put a line-up together that can compete with any team in the league on any given night. This capability injects some excitement that hasn’t been found in nearly a decade since the Leafs last made the playoffs.