There’s a lot of expectation and excitement around the Leafs going into this summer, and understandably so. Cap space? They have it. A new-looking front office that seems it’ll be ahead of most of the league gives us all hope that some of the wheel-spinning moves and slight missteps over the last couple years are going to reversed or covered up. Then there’s the big names out there, most notably free agent John Tavares, but perhaps more interestingly a trade block that might include everyone from Erik Karlsson to P.K. Subban depending on what you want to believe.
It really seems like the options for Toronto to explore before September are essentially endless. We could see substantial trades, one particularly monster UFA signing, who knows? What’s funny is that we could instead see absolutely nothing at all, at least as far as external help goes.
But that’s alright, despite what some outlets might believe about Dubas needing to blow the doors off to put his stamp on the team.
Dubas doesn’t really need to make splash at all, and there’s a real chance he doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see some hints through the draft and free agency that this team truly is his, but he doesn’t need to act in desperation to make a headline-grabber.
The thing we might be underrating about the Leafs going into 2018-19 is how much they could rely on their farm system to shape out their roster. I mean, the Marlies were the best team in the AHL all season and will hopefully cap that off with a Calder Cup win in the coming days. There are guys from that group who are much more likely to plunked into the Leafs’ roster than they were before – most notably Andreas Johnsson and Justin Holl, but also lower-ceiling guys like Trevor Moore. Some have guys like Grundstrom and, to a lesser extent Liljegren, with outside shots too.
What we might get when September’s training camp clues up is something like this:
Sparks or McElhinney
Obviously the problem with this roster is it doesn’t exactly make one want to scream in excitement, and doesn’t look like much of a tangible upgrade on 2017-18. But with that said, Johnsson and Kapanen get more secure roles and should be better, Holl gets a proper chance to make the team, and the fringe guys on the fourth line are probably a tick of an improvement as well.
So yeah, as far as the forwards go, while it isn’t going to generate a lot of buzz like a Tavares signing, or even bringing in a twilight guy like Thornton or Spezza would, the Leafs could coast through this summer without doing anything in terms of gathering external help.
The problem is mainly the risk of not improving the back-end, and potentially carrying a 22-minute-per-night anchor in Zaitsev for another season. An internal promotion like Holl would be a nice add, and Dermott should continue to take steps, but that’s not going to be enough to put minds at ease about that group.
Still, if we strip away the fan confidence element of this, it’s hard to say if this is an overall group that can’t be better than they were last season. That’s part of the balancing Dubas has to deal with, knowing full-well that much of the base is crying out for a guy like Trouba or Faulk or Hamilton. Going for one of those guys is going to cost a lot in terms of future assets, making it a pretty big gamble. But perhaps the biggest gamble of all is to do nothing. Oddly enough, it feels like the Leafs are well-equipped to go either way.
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