Building the Leafs a Work in Progress

This year’s version of the Maple Leafs differs greatly from past Pat Quinn teams. This year the team is not top heavy in aging veteran talent. There has been a greater emphasis on youth and giving opportunity to their prospects. It has worked out fairly good as the team is still in the playoff chase. But this team still lacks sufficient depth and it will take a few more years to address that need. And their deficiency is not only in terms of quantity but quality as well. Here is how the current Leafs were built.

Free Agents:

The bread and butter of the Pat Quinn era. No team has used and taken advantage of free agency more than the Leafs. From the likes of Thomas, Joseph, Mogilny, Corson, Nieuwendyk to the players they have now, much of the team is usually made up of free agents. Outside of Belfour, this current crop of Free Agents were signed by Ferguson.

Jason Allison – Still a point per game player but needs to shoot more. Has fared pretty well considering he was out of hockey for 2 and a half years. Big question is has his play been enough to make the Leafs pick up his multi million dollar option next season?

Jeff O’Neill – strictly a powerplay specialist whose play 5 on 5 leaves much to be desired. He works hard but always seems to be a step slow or a step out of position. Has team worst plus/minus.

Mariusz Czerkawski – a regular in the Pat Quinn doghouse.

Ken Klee – new rules have exposed Klee’s lack of mobility. Not worth the 2 million stipend.

Eric Lindros – proven once again his lack of durability. He can still hit and shoot the puck, but seems a step slow and timid in traffic areas.

Ed Belfour – One contract too many. Would be a major mistake by the team to pick up his option next season. Still shows glimpses of his old self but has let in an unusual amount of soft goals. New rules/equipment seemed to have bothered Belfour.

Clarke Wilm – picked up for depth, ended up as the teams top PK forward and faceoff man.

Alex Khavanov – Hasnt been that bad nor has he been particularly good either. Must be different for him playing with Aki Berg regularly than in past years with either MacInnis or Pronger.

Trades:

There are many players who were acquired via trade who are no longer with the team and in some cases no longer in the NHL. the likes of Nolan, Wesley, Leetch, Gilmour, Housley, Francis, Reichel, Renberg, Cross were acquired over the years that cost the Leafs sufficient depth and/or youth.

Aki Berg – acquiring him for Adam Mair was not that bad as Mair is no more than a 4th liner. But throwing in the 2nd round pick was a bit much as that pick to LA was used to grab Mike Cammellari. The Leafs sure could use more speed, skill up front. Berg has developed into no more than a 5th or 6th defenceman.

Chad Kilger – Kilger was acquired for a mid round pick in a rare trade with the rival Habs. He has turned into a pleasant surprise after being a relative bust in his previous stops around the NHL.

Bryan McCabe – The best move ever by Quinn. He stole McCabe who was much younger at the time than Alex Karpovtsev. McCabe has developed into one of the league’s top blueliners especially offensively.

Mats Sundin – One of the biggest acquistions in Leaf history has become the face of the franchise the last 10 years. He has also become one of the teams all time leading scorers. Unfortunately time is running out on Mats to bring a cup to Toronto. His deal did help the Nords/Avs as it did lead to the Clark for Claude Lemieux trade who was integral in their 1996 cup win.

Darcy Tucker – a very good acquisition for Mike Johnson. Has emerged as a heart and soul player for Toronto who the fans love and the non-fans love to hate. Has emerged from being a role player/energizer to scorer as a Leaf.

Draft:

As Cliff Fletcher put it so bluntly: “draft schmaft”. that’s pretty much how things have been for the Leafs. However things are starting to turn around and in fact have a surprisingly high number of drafted players in their lineup. By now the norm would be to see such players be busts or traded away for aging veterans. But the Leafs have begun a transition towards a greater emphasis on drafting and development and things are looking up.

Matt Stajan – a very solid 2nd round pick who should be a solid role player for years. In time his offensive game could emerge which would be an added bonus. He surprised many making the Leafs straight from junior.

Alex Steen – Might very well end up as the Leafs best first round pick since Vince Damphousse. Like father like son who should be a productive 2 way player for years.

Staffan Kronvall – a late round pick who gradually moved up the ladder in the Leafs organization right up to semi-regular with the current Leafs.

Carlo Coliacovo – a rare top pick not traded away. injuries have both hurt his worth and his development. But this year has emerged as a solid blueliner at the backend of the lineup and has added a big time open ice hitter to the Leafs D.

Tomas Kaberle – The biggest draft steal for the Leafs as he was picked in the last round. He has emerged as the Leafs best draft pick in the last 10 years. That epitomized how good and how bad the scouting has been for Toronto.

Kyle Wellwood – a relative steal in the 5th round. Was suppose to be too slow and small for the old obstruction NHL but has the shiftiness and skill to be productive in the new NHL.

Nik Antropov – The poster child of the Leaf’s draft woes. Sure there were others who didnt make it, but it’s Antropov who gets the brunt of the abuse. His constant injuries have really hurt his career and has never emerged as expected for a top 10 pick.

Alex Ponikarovsky – Finally turning into what the Leafs expected. A big physical forward who can cause havoc in the corners and in front of the net. He is one of the league leaders in shorthanded goals.

Mikael Tellqvist – Every day the Leafs goaltending picture for the future is looking better and better. Not only are the prospects emerging as solid players but so is Tellqvist who has been very good despite little playing time. He has shaken off his inconsistencies and so far has looked like a reliable NHL backup.

Tie Domi – Was reacquired for Mike Eastwood after being drafted originally by Toronto but then traded away. Perhaps one of the most popular Leafs ever. Now however looks a bit long in the tooth and probably shouldnt have been given a multi year contract this summer.

Karel Pilar – injuries have derailed this would be Leaf regular.

Waivers

Wade Belak – at least it only cost the team $100 to acquire him. However his foolish penalties and poor defensive play maybe make it not worth the money.

Top Prospects

On the Farm:

JF Racine – surprise at camp who may develop into at least a solid NHL backup.

Ian White – PP specialist has almost equaled last years point totals in just half a year so far.

Andy Wozniewski – didnt look out of place in his 1 game stint with the big team. facial injury has hurt his development this year and cost his chance at getting recalled.

Jeremy Williams – Junior scoring star averaging about a point a game for the baby Leafs.

John Pohl – minor league veteran has given the Leafs depth

Around the World:

Tukka Rask – was top goalie at the 2006 WJC

Justin Pogge – went unbeaten and led Canada to gold at the WJC

Robbie Earl – productive scorer for the top ranked Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA.

Dmitri Vorobiev – might turn into a Max Kondratiev type

Anton Stralman – Sweden’s top Dman at the WJC (which isnt saying a whole lot)

As you can see with the current Leafs, the team still relies heavily on free agency. This despite working under the restrictions of the cap. Of the current Leafs acquired via trade, the team has won most of those deals, however I am not too sure that offsets the deals made for players no longer playing with the Leafs. The lost draft picks and players like Boyes, MacCauley, Markov, Jason Smith and Modin being productive elsewhere is pretty hard to watch. But at least the team is starting to bring along it’s own draft picks and seeing them progressing as they are is a good sign of things to come. But another failed run at the Stanley Cup preceded by rent a player moves would be a step back for this team that in essence needs to take a few steps back to go two steps forward.


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