For this week’s TLN Roundtable, resident philosopher Cam Charron posed the following question to our writing staff… “What Now?” The Leafs have a new President, a coach on the hot seat, an underperforming team, and a top ten draft pick. It’s a simple question to ask, and a much harder one to answer. Cam, Logan, and Steve II weigh in below…
The Toronto Maple Leafs, unlike a lot of rebuilding teams, are capped out for the next couple of years and absolutely committed to a core of players that may never develop into a contending squad. The Leafs will be paying $4-million or more on at least 7 players starting next season. The Canadian economy is not doing as well as expected keeping the cap a little bit lower than previously thought and the rising salary cap isn’t going to be enough to cover the Leafs sins from the last year.
The Leafs can either stick with this core and a new system and supplant them with the right pieces, which may turn the Leafs into a playoff spot but I don’t think they can build a contending team unless they make a couple of big moves. David Clarkson’s contract is immovable, as is Tim Gleason’s, but Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak potentially have some trade value and would be able to net the Leafs a player or two while also clearing those contracts.
Staying the course could lead to a playoff team within a year, but I think the more prudent move is to see what you can get for your current players now (minus Kessel, van Riemsdyk, Gardiner, Rielly, and maybe even Kadri) to at least clear some space for the future, and try and replace the current guys with good buys in free agency, spending fewer dollars trying to find the Mason Raymonds of the world rather than the Clarksons. That may lead to another year outside the playoffs, but I think the team will be stronger two years from now with a couple extra lottery picks in the system, less money committed to underachieving players, and most importantly, Kessel and van Riemsdyk will still be in their 20s.
Everyone has to get on the same page, or Shanahan has to tell everyone what page to be on. What kind of hockey team do we want to put on the ice? Ultimately, one that is going to win a Stanley Cup. That sounds painfully obvious, but Nonis and co. seem to have miscalculated what kind of system and what kind of players win in today’s NHL. What do most of the top teams in the league have? I’m not going to use this roundtable to break that down, but management has to take a long look and figure out what is required to be successful and win a Cup.
I think the first thing they’ll determine is that the Leafs are way off in terms of how they play. That’s on coaching. Keeping the current coaching staff into next season would be an absolute catastrophe. And actually, so would keeping most of the men that whisper into Nonis’s ear. Loiselle and Poulin have said some things on the radio over the last year that not only make me concerned about the team, but the health and well-being of them both.
The good news (there’s good news?) is that there is a solid amount of talent already on this team, and while organizational depth is a concern (and needs to be addressed with a great draft – #teamNylander or #teamEhlers please), there are some important pieces already in place.
Then, management has to figure out what to add to what they already have, and who is expendable to get the team they need to succeed. What free agents could help this club without hurting it long term? Who from the Marlies is ready to take an NHL job from someone next year? Other successful teams use cheaper AHL players to fill out the roster and provide solid depth to the big club. Hello Abbott, D’Amigo, Holland, Ashton, and Brennan.
There’s a lot more to this offseason than what I’ve listed above, but those are some of the steps required in the most important summer in recent memory. Shanahan has a lot of work to do and a lot of decisions to make. Within a few months, we are going to see what he’s made of and if he is as intelligent as many claim. Let’s hope he is.
It starts with Carlyle. The experiment that Burke tried with his former cup-winning coach obviously didn’t work, and he has to be let go. Fans are clamouring for it, columnists are clamouring it and bloggers like us are clamouring for it.
After that, the biggest issue for me is skating and speed. The Leafs have been lauded as one of the fastest teams in the league for a few years now, but there’s too many statues on the team. Franson, Gleason, McClement, Bolland, Orr. All these players seemed like they can barely skate – especially Gleason and Franson on the back end – and if the Leafs want to get better at controlling the puck, breaking out of their zone and raising their putrid possession stats, they need to become a more fluid team.
Whether that’s fixed through free agency or from within, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be opposed to all these players leaving and forming a Marlies line that can actually skate and bring some energy to the club. Watching Holland, D’Amigo and Leivo play as a third or fourth line would be pretty exciting if you asked me.