Futility Has Its Rewards

As the saying goes, sometimes you have to be bad before you can be good again. This is so true for the Toronto Maple Leafs. A 41 year cup drought and no playoff appearances since 2004 have resulted in the franchise bottoming out and starting from the ground up. The hope is they gradually make their rise up the standing doing things the right way and avoid the quick fix.

GM Cliff Fletcher has started the process of breaking things up and rebuilding the team. He is however by no means finished (At least he should not be). He has cast off several veterans, he brought in a credible coach and picked up a defenceman in the draft to build around. All solid moves, but there is still a long way to go for the Leafs.

A few more good solid drafts will go a long way to boosting the process of getting this team to be respectable again. To do that, it will take a few more lumps in the foreseeable future to get that to happen.

For now, coach Ron Wilson will try and get this team to play sharper, cleaner and smarter. A tall task indeed considering the dearth of talent the Leafs have. There is much work to be done. He will need to improve the development of the team’s young players. Many stagnated under coach Paul Maurice or simply weren’t giving a legitimate chance. He needs to vastly improve the team’s defensive play. They are nothing short of pourous and at times hideous. Special teams will need to be better. That may prove to be difficult especially for the PP where there is a definite lack of scoring prowess in the team. And if anything, he needs to get the Leafs to play with their heads held high win or lose. Its a necessity the team stops the trend of folding under pressure and suffering embarrassing losses and letting teams walk over them.

The key for the Leafs is to stay on track and lean heavily on drafting and development. There is no other way around it. They are not good enough now and will never be if the temptation for 8th spot creeps into their mindset.


A look at the roster clearly shows the Leafs are thin up front when it comes to offence and has a logjam of similar type blueliners on defence. Their strength lies in goal with Toskala and at the very least, it gives the team a foundation to start with.

C: Nik Antropov, Mikail Grabovski, Matt Stajan, Dominic Moore
RW: Niklas Hagman, Alex Steen, Mark Bell,
LW: Alex Ponikarovsky, Jason Blake, Jamal Mayers, Boyd Devereaux, Ryan Hollweg

With Captain Mats Sundin unlikely to return, who is going to score or at least be the focal point of the offence? They have players capable of scoring 20 goals but really are very limited when it comes to creating plays and setting up teammates. Antropov is their best all-around forward. He is in his contract year and a good season could mean a big payday or from the Leafs point of view an asset to move for futures. Can he do it without flanking Sundin, that remains to be seen. Blake needs a big comeback year and to do so he needs to use his teammates better. A player like Ponikarovsky will suffer badly without Sundin. He is another who could be on the outs.

There are high hopes the kids like Grabovski, Tlusty and Khumelin will play well, earn a roster spot and produce. They should be afforded the chance to show their stuff as there isnt a lame duck coach behind the bench ignoring them. Wilson should give these players every chance to succeed as the Leafs really have nothing to lose by playing them.

There is a decent crop of role players on the Leafs. Players like Steen, Hagman, Mayers, Stajan will be counted on to improve team defence but also provide needed offence. Mayers, Bell, Hollweg should at least make the Leafs harder to play against and more willing to stand up to their opponents. This team is going to have to bring their lunchpail every night and work their teils off for the team to even be slightly competitive.

D: Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Mike Van Ryn, Jeff Finger, Carlo Coliacovo, Ian White, Anton Stralman

Something will have to give on defence as the Leafs again have too many similar players at this position. The only two veteran surivors of the purge were Kaberle and Kubina. Both were almost traded at the deadline but for now will be counted on to be leaders and role models for the team’s youth. Kaberle is their only star skater. He is one of the best offensive defencemen in the league and with his NTC possibly revoked if the Leafs miss the playoffs, he is another player who could be moved and the only one who could bring an embarrassment of youthful riches to the team. Kubina survived the cuts and with Kaberle should form a top end pair.

The continued development of Stralman is a necessity. The organization is high on him and he has the potential to be a really good offensive blueliner. The player not many outside the team are not high on is Jeff Finger. With McCabe, Gill, Raycroft gone, Finger may be Leaf Nation’s new whipping boy. He is the only one who resembles a defensive defenceman and may prove to be a very effective player should Wilson sharpen the team’s defensive play. There should be a real battle between the likes of Kronvall, Frogren, Coliacovo, White, Van Ryn for the backend spots on D.

G: Vesa Toskala, Curtis Joseph

Toskala is the team’s best player. He proved last year he could be a very capable number 1 who can carry a big workload. Having had Wilson as coach in San Jose should put goalie and coach on the same page. He is the only thing standing in the way of the Leafs being the worst team in the NHL. He should keep the team in every game and probably will steal a few along the way. Cujo returns to the Leafs but this time as the low maintenance backup the team has sorely needed. He should provide leadership, reliable relief for Toskala and finally some controversy free goaltending this season.


F: Bates Battaglia, Darryl Boyce, Alex Foster, Jeremy Williams, Kris Newbury, Tim Stapleton, Ben Ondrus, Greg Scott,
D: Richard Petoit, Staffan Kronvall, Jonas Frogren, Chris Harrington, Phil Oreskovic, Josef Boumedienne
G: James Reimer


By no means do the Leafs have an embarrassment of riches in their system. The addition of Schenn is only the beginning. The team may need another high end pick or two to really show true promise going forward.

F: Nikolai Khumelin, Jiri Tlusty, Joel Champagne, Jimmy Hayes, Rob Earl, John Mitchell, Dale Mitchell, Chris Didomenico, Mikail Stefanovich
D: Luke Schenn, Jamie Sifers, Korbinian Holzer, Dmitri Vorobiev
G: Justin Pogge

Khumelin decided to join the Leafs, leaving good money in Russia, as he was pretty much guaranteed a roster spot with the big club. He should play on the top 6 and give Toronto a solid forward who can do quite a few things well. Good skill, solid both ways, capable of being a sound 25 goal man. Tlusty is another who has a great chance to be a NHL regular. He is the closest the organization has to a true sniper. He has lots of speed and skill. And then there is Schenn who isnt going to win many skills competitions. He is a warrior. A rock hard defensive defenceman who isnt afraid to maim someone to win. He is the team’s future heart and soul player who should give premium effort each night and endear himself to fans and teammates alike. All 3 have a good chance to play quite a bit on the Leafs this coming year.

Some of the team’s other prospects include:

Justin Pogge – Will have 1 more year as team’s top no. 1 in the A
John Mitchell – Energy forward could make team as 4th liner
Mikail Stefanovich – Possible late round steal has big skill little desire
Jimmy Hayes – A project. Big power forward with decent hands
Rob Earl – speedster has chance to make team as energy guy.

There really isnt a whole lot the Leafs have to get too excited about. Schenn is a good start.
Players like Pogge, Tlusty and Khumelin are decent but grabbing another top name in the draft like a John Tavares, Anton Hedman, Brayden Schenn, Taylor Hall, over the next two years is a necessity.

Projection: 14th in the East, 28th Overall

Things may get ugly for the Leafs over the next few months as the team’s lack of leadership and talent could have them on the wrong end many nights. But in doing so, they will reap the rewards of a high draft pick and add another piece to the puzzle they have not been able to solve for decades. Patience will be a major buzzword around the Leafs camp as plenty of it will be needed by Leaf Nation. So long as they avoid knee jerk reactionary moves to win now, don’t get embarrassed and have their young players show some promise, the wait for success will be well worth it.

32 Responses to Futility Has Its Rewards

  1. Rico420 says:

    It's a great thing to see the Leafs finally doing this the right way – but I have a feeling that they're going to still find a way to finish better then 28th overall – the Blues, Thrashers, Kings, Isles are all going to finish in or around the same point total as the Leafs I can only imagine – the race for the bottom 5 is going to be a tough one this season.

  2. cam7777 says:

    I think it was you, nordiques, who made a comment in another post the other day, about how Kaberle and Kubina should or could be moved this year (based on the fact that they both would've been moved by Fletch last year, and that if he can talk Kaberle into leaving, Kubina would follow).  It got me thinking how the Leafs could turn things around pretty quickly if that were to happen.  Imagine this not completely impossible series of events unfolding(please ignore me if you think this is total fantasy):

    1.) It's January, and Ryan Whitney has been struggling since his December return to the Pens, and Gonchar goes down with a 6 week injury.  The forwards are scoring, but the defense is struggling.  They also miss the edge that Laraque brought to the team. This doesn't have to be the exact scenario, but you get the point.  The Leafs on the other hand, are an embarassment.  Fletch convinces Kaberle to accept a trade to Pittsburgh,  The deal sends Kaberle and Mark Bell (who hopefully has a bit of a comeback year) to Pittsburgh for Jordan Staal(he wants to be more than a 3rd line checking centre/PK expert) and a 2nd round pick (and maybe a later round pick if he can pull it off….Kaberle is worth quite a bit afterall),

    2.) Having seen the futility of sticking around Leafland, Kubina accepts a trade as well.  The Philadelphia Flyers, having gone through a host of potentially solid blue-liners, are looking for a leader to help Timmonen out.  Fletch manages to send Kubina and White to Philly for Scott Hartnell and a pick (3rd or 4th round).

    3.) Antropov being the Leafs only bright spot in a contract year makes him too valuable to miss out on the return he would merit.  Package Antropov and Colaiacovo in a deal to Vancouver (struggling for offensive help) for a defensemen, perhaps Sami Salo, and a 1st round pick. 

    4.) Dump any other minor players (Devereux) for whatever picks can be acquired.  Perhaps try and convince Cujo to move a few miles down the road and backup the Sens desperate goaltending situation in return for a decent pick.

    5.)***this is the part i consider to be highly improbable/fantasy***
    Jason Blake has a comeback year, and Nashville needs a scoring winger to help replace the loss of Radulov.  Blake gets moved to Nashville for Tootoo.  if blake doesnt work, try ponikarovsky.

    this lineup finishes the season




    You add a top pick like Tavares to this mix, and spend money on defensemen on July 1st (Bouwmeester will test the waters, Beauchemin, Komisarek, etc) and this is a turned around team.  The rebuild could be over pretty quickly if they could manage to get solid returns for Kaberle, Kubina and Antropov this year.

  3. Kramer says:

    Excellent article.  Almost as good as mine.

    The Leafs gotta get more draft picks and above all deal with the underlying conspiracy.

  4. nordiques100 says:

    I dont know how feasible this all is, but yeah you understand that its not out of the realm to move kaberle, kubina and antropov along with whatever else they can peddle.

    i know it would strip the leafs down even further but so be it. there really should be zero insistence on holding on to any leaf save for maybe toskala, schenn and some of their other youngsters. in no way shape or form should mentioning kaberle be a non-starter in any deal. he is their most attractive asset. right now, moving him is better than keeping him until he is in his mid 30s when maybe by that time the leafs will be decent.

    i think if by trading those 3 they get 2 1sts and 3 prospects and/or under 25 NHLers, thats a job well done.

    and if you throw in the possibility of moving ponikarovsky, bell, van ryn, white to land some more 2nd-3rd-4th round picks and/or middle ranged prospects that too would be a pretty decent accomplishment.

    and by finishing near the bottom, to get a shot at hedman or tavares has to be only good news if you're a leaf fan.

    if they do things right, they could really accomplish something here for a change.

  5. nordiques100 says:

    yeah the only worry is toskala and how good a coach wilson is. he can certainly get the most out of his charges. and toskala is one of the best goalies in the east. the fact is he can steal games. maybe one too many that could take the leafs out of the bottom 5.

  6. nordiques100 says:


    i guess newman gave you some bad info on cammellari? the fat bastard.

  7. Kramer says:

    Who are Ponikov and Grabski?  I read the article carefully, I couldn't figure out how we got them.  I was away for a month and I think i missed some trades.

  8. Kramer says:

    He's lost weight recently.  Stopped eating the non-fat yogurt.

  9. Kramer says:

    Ohhh, I get it….

    Ponikov = Ponikarovski

    Grabski = Grabovski

    My mistake.  I'm a bit slow sometimes.

  10. cam7777 says:

    oh yea, absolutely i dont think all that will happen.  im just saying, that if those guys can be moved, its very possible some very profitable trades will open up to the leafs.  and those would be the trades i would love. 

    there are guys that i would really love to see in a leafs jersey.  i really think staal doesnt want to stay a penguin forever in the shadow of crosby and malkin.  if thats the case, hes the guy i want the leafs to build the forwards around.  then, if lupul or hartnell can be pried away from philly, those are another couple guys i like.  hartnell is a little overpaid, but i think he'd work well with wilson.  lupul would be my first choice, but they arent letting go of him anytime soon by the looks of things. 

  11. RealisticNick says:

    Victor Hedman

  12. nordiques100 says:

    haha yes. i had anton stralman in my head. thanks!

  13. nordiques100 says:

    i thought it was not eating all those muffin bottoms that did the trick?

  14. mtlman2005 says:

    id watch out, Kings and Blues could do pretty good this year!

  15. leafy says:

    Nice article Nords.  A thorough yet comprehensive look at the Leafs.

    Lots of new faces this year, it's almost a different team from last year.  Finally we're starting to see some youth emerging from the organization.

    From the current crop of Leafs, I think we have 3 gems….Tlusty, Schenn, and Stralman.

    Maybe Kulemin could be on that list, but let's wait until we watch him first.

    We also have some very good young players…..Steen, Stajan, Colaiacovo, and White.

    And we have some emerging young players who coul crack the line-up….Williams, Earl, Mitchell, or others you mention above.

    In other words, a pretty decent start to rebuilding.  We're actually in better position now than we were in 1997, when we last started rebuilding.  Back then, we only had Sundin and Matthew Schneider.

    Now we need to add some top 6, or if possible, a franchise player.  It would really help if we finished last.

    I agree with you, this year is a write-off.  Although you never know with young players, they could surprise and hang around the 9, 10 or 11 spot all year.

  16. KingCanada says:

    Very good article.  I very much agree that the Leafs defence is overloaded.  They definatly DONT plan on having Shenn play for the Leafs this year.  By signing 2 defenceman and then swapping defencemen with Florida (Finger, Frogen, Van Ryn) they arent leaving a roster spot open for the blue chip prospect.

    As much as "Leafy" has praised Ian White last year, I am almost positive this is the year were he looses his roster spot.  He will become expendable and will get traded.  He is decent offensively and well his strengh is not playing defence…  We have Kaberle, Kubina, Stralman and Van Ryn to play the role of offensive defenceman which leaves him sittin on the bench. 

    Some argue that Frogren will be the odd man out but I ask you all… Do you really think that an established 28 year old defenceman from the Elite League will come over here to play in the AHL??  He will be the 7th man (6th if Carlo is injured) and will be part of the shut down pair with Finger.

    My theory is that Fletcher is paving the way for Burke to come manage so he is building a Burke style team ala Anaheim.  This sort of team requires big players who are hard to play against which he started to address by signing or trading for players like Mayers, Finger, Frogen, Hollweg ect and then also by drafting a Adam Foote type player in Luke Shenn.

    Would just like to correct a couple things..

    **Kulemin** not Kumelin 😛
    -James Reimer is younger then Pogge even, he should be in the prospect category.
    -Jamie Sifers is a journeyman AHL defender, not a prospect

  17. leafy says:

    Interesting points. Hope you're right on Frogren.  Obviously the Leafs had a chance to observe him in the Swedish league, and obviously they think he's pretty good.

    Re Ian White, I often point to his strengths, which is skating and puck handling.  He has pretty good skills overall.

    However, I do recognize that White isn't the strongest guy in the league and is fairly undersized, so he's often over-matched by big strong forwards.  He definitely needs to get more upper body strength and work on his positioning.

    I would't have a problem trading him, but only if we get something decent in return.  I'd be mad if it's a Fredrick Modin for Cory Cross type trade.

  18. leafy says:


    Things are becoming clearer.  Looks like Sundin wants to wait to see how the Leafs play before deciding.

    There's no rush, from his standpoint.  Who wants to play through the rigorous grind of training camp and meaningless/boring games during the preseason?


  19. nordiques100 says:

    unless you are one of those leaf fans who are bitter enough to hold it against mats that he wasnt there on day one from training camp on whatever team he plays for that isnt named Toronto Maple Leafs.

    i dont understand why people are so close minded about that.

    the guy can do whatever he wants. yeah so what he said he liked to be on a team from beginning to end. things change you know.

    maybe hockey isnt number 1 with him right now. but in dec or jan it might be again. if thats the case and at that point he says yeah i do want to play in the playoffs for a change, then why not? more power to him. thats the beauty of unrestricted free agency. you can decide when and where you want to play pretty much any time you want.

  20. leafy says:

    I don't have a problem with Sundin's decision.  He's entitled to do what he wants.

    Bottom line is he's not a machine, he's a real person.  His mind or body might not be up for hockey right now.

  21. KingCanada says:

    Ya i know what you mean, kinda like the Bell/5th rounder for Yannick Perrealt…that was rather dissapointing but lets face it there isnt much value in a undersized last pairing defenceman in todays game.

    I see White being packaged with any or Antropov/Poni/Bell at the deadline to extract an extra pick or get a higher pick or prospect or what not.  Maybe to a team like Calgary who is lacking an offensive Defenceman outside of Phaneuf (who really is the whole package).  Possibly Phoenix who lost 2 defencemen in acquiring Jokinen.  Who knows…

  22. nordiques100 says:

    there are not only too many bodies on D, too many similar guys.

    white has to go. with the emergence of stralman, how can white fit in? coliacovo needs time in offensive situations, so does stralman and van ryn and kaberle and kubina are going to be mainstays on the PP.

    his role is redundant and he should be moved pretty soon.

    its too bad taht kubina for maclaren deal didnt work out. he is exactly what they need. i wonder if they could peddle one of the blueliners like a jay mckee or maclaren or someone along those lines. they have some dollars now opened up and with him, finger, kubina and frogren. that you would have to believe would clean up some of the huge defensive zone problems they have. that would balance out the fact of having stralman, kaberle and one of coliacovo, white, vanryn in the lineup as well.

  23. nordiques100 says:

    well i said it before in a sort of joking fashion.

    he was doing nothing in the summer but getting lots of sun, going fishing, golfing and tapping that new hot girlfriend he has. can you blame him for not wanting to leave that lifestyle for the rigors of 8 months of intense hockey?

  24. KingCanada says:

    If I was Fletcher I wouldnt want him back in the lineup unless he accepts to sign without a NTC. If he plays most of the season and isnt willing to be moved he will just ruin our shot at drafting high and also make us not completly out of the playoff run come the deadline. If we arent completly out of the playoff race we might not dismantle the team for draft picks like we are SOPPOSED to.

    Sundin has big loyalties to the Leafs and I dont think he plans on playing elsewere. He is building a mansion in Burlington right now (3 suburbs west of Toronto just outside Hamilton). He definatly plans on remaining around teh GTA for the time being. If he really wants to help the team out and remain lovedc by leafs nation he needs to sign mid season to an affordable contract and NOT have a NTC so we can move forward in assembling a strong young core for the future. If he really cares about the Leafs he shouldnt handcuff us..

  25. nordiques100 says:

    your last statement scares me. i hope that doesnt happen. thats the last thing the leafs need. they need tavares plain and simple. really thats the absolute best thing.

    even finishing 8th and getting pasted much like how the thrashers got pasted in their first ever playoff appearance would be a setback.

    that get in and anything can happen speech i am getting pretty tired of.

    this year is a year to look at a few players they have, see some others maybe emerge as something more than what we've seen and continue to flip the team over to get younger, more skilled.

  26. nordiques100 says:

    Bell and a 2nd went for no panic yanic.

  27. JuicemaN says:

    you use the word embarrassment an embarrassing amount of times.

  28. nordiques100 says:

    yeah i should have said disgraceful, humiliating, shameful as well because the leafs are all those.

  29. Plekanec says:

     This is how the bottom of the NHL ranking will look at the end of the season.

    29.N-Y Islanders

     Once again 5 very talented rookies will end-up on team that plays in city(s) where HOCKEY isn't a priority! If "I" was a top prospect "I" would hate to be drafted by one of those bottom 6 team!

  30. KevinBaconFan says:

    The Daily Planet reports that Dany Heatley plans on excercising his "Bus Driver Clause" at some point during this year.  It is reported that Heatley will drive the team bus from the airport to the arena on January 14th, 2009.  Head of transportation, Frank Stallone, said " I don't see a problem with this.  Dany is an excellent driver.  We checked his record and saw only one parking ticket.  I didn't feel we needed a carfax report." More to come. 

  31. mojo19 says:

    They're not shameful or disgraceful. Not anymore. They're heading in the right direction now. All new management team, and building around younger players. We just need a franchise player, and a couple higher end support players added to the mix in the next couple years (via free agency or draft), and they'll get there.

    Plus we have the excitement of learning who the new full time GM will be. We should know within 7 to 9 month's!

  32. mojo19 says:

    I would love to be drafted by Toronto or LA, are you kidding? Those are the 5th and 3rd largest cities in North America. New York too is the 2nd largest, but NYI play away from the big city a bit. Still that would be sweet.

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