Hope already building for next year for the Leafs

Not that it will ease the considerable angst of a fan base headed for its seventh consecutive year out of the NHL playoffs, but the latest noble-but-doomed effort by the Toronto Maple Leafs showed a team headed in the right direction.

Yes, we know that direction for now is the golf course but bear with us.

If, of course, if the Leafs managed to beat the Detroit Red Wings last Saturday, their 4-3 win Tuesday night over the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres would be real cause for excitement. They are still mathematically alive in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt but sitting five points behind the Sabres with only five games left in the regular season does not leave a lot of room for hope.

Better the fans should turn their gaze to next season (I know, you’ve heard that enough), where the real hope starts.

Leafs general manager Brian Burke may have as much as $25-million (all currency U.S.) to spend if the salary cap gets to $63-million or so and Tuesday night’s win over the Sabres provided the latest evidence where the spending priorities lie.

There are some pending restricted free agents on the roster that Burke has to look after. But only defenceman Luke Schenn will make a sizable dent in the budget. Winger Clarke MacArthur may also cost a couple million and goaltender James Reimer can expect a healthy raise but Carl Gunnarsson and Tyler Bozak will not break the bank. Especially Bozak, whom we’ll get to later.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/david-shoalts/hope-already-building-for-next-year-for-the-leafs/article1962507/


387 Responses to Hope already building for next year for the Leafs

  1. nordiques100 says:

    There is more value in the centre position, and in having PK ability and faceoff ability for which Bozak is the Leaf's best. Thus there to me was a real no brainer there. Bozak is the preferred player.

    Versteeg is fine, but there just are roles that need to be filled and the role needed by the leafs is best filled by Bozak.

    There isnt much wrong with his skill level. But production wise, he may not be anything more than what Stajan provided which was high 50s in points. This is unless he decides yes, I should shoot the puck. He is the Leafs most predictable forward. Until he changes, his production will falter. There has been not much sign of that even down the stretch.

  2. DannyLeafs says:

    I do agree that Bozak has a better defensive skill set, however, when he is trying to force his offensive game, his defensive positioning suffers tremendously. I am not saying that it is all Bozak, no player is 100% responsible for another's +/- and every player is at least somewhat responsible for their own.

    Kessel and Bozak's +/- would both be greatly improved if Kessel played with a center who's offensive game was more complete, and Bozak's would be better if he was in a role where defense was his first priority, and any offense he provided was a good bonus. Coincidentally, Bozak plays better offensively when he isn't relied on to score, and I think his production might actually increase by playing a third line role.

    I am not saying that it is all Bozak's fault, just that he is out of place in a top line role, and that it hurts the team. I do think you are going overbored saying that Bozak's plus minus is a direct result of playing with Kessel, I think it's more of a result of him playing in a situation he isn't suited to. No player can have the worst plus minus on a team just because of who they play with, otherwise, it wouldn't be the worst on the team as the player responsible would have a worse +/-.

    As for your side not, it's interesting, but I don't think Lupul would be a good fit at center and I don't think he has much, if any experience playing center at the NHL level. I think if you are going to go that route, it makes just as much sense to go after a winger that has center experience such as Jokinen, Laich, or Connolly. Since most of the free agent wingers that have played on a top line have some center experience anyway, it makes sense that if you were going to have a winger fill in at center, it would be a guy you signed, and not a guy already suited to his role on the team. I just can't see the Leafs signing a guy who only plays wing based on an experiement that they haven't even had the opportunity to try out.

  3. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    Agreed for the most part. I am not saying Kessel is soley responsible for Bozak's poor plus minus, I am saying that he sure doesn't help it and that Bozak's poor +/- is npt all due to poor defensive play.
    My point on Lupul was based on if we can't find a centre for Kessel and Lupul.

  4. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    I agree totally. I think he still will improve and change those parts of his game.

  5. DannyLeafs says:

    Yeah, I think the biggest problem is they just don't mesh well on the ice. For Kessel to be more effective, he needs a player who is better with the puck offensively, so the play stays in the other end of the rink. Lupul helps that, but a center that can really dictate the tempo of the game would go even further.

    I see what you are saying about Lupul, but my point was I don't think there is a forward the Leafs would have any interest in signing or obtaining that doesn't already have more center experience than Lupul. The only flaw with the idea I see is that the list of forwards available almost all have more experience at center than Lupul. Not saying its a bad idea, just I don't know of a winger the Leafs could add that wouldn't make a better center than Lupul. But on the basis that the Leafs cannot add a forward who can play center, then I wouldn't mind trying Lupul at center at all.

    And, if say Parise was available (not at all likely) for a similar package as what we spent to get Kessel, then I would be ok with pursuing that more heavily than worrying about a stop gap center, even if it meant we would have either an experiment all season to find a center, or have a rookie fill in. In fact, I think with those guys as wingers, you could actually give Bozak another shot between them, as with that amount of skill on the wings, you can really let Bozak play a simple game (whether or not Wilson would think that way is to be seen). Seriously, with Kessel and Parise playing the wings, any center that can win the draw, play his postion, protect the puck when he has it, and dump it in would probably be adequate for the time being. He doesn't need to carry the puck, he deosn't need to set them up for tap ins, he doesn't need to weave through traffic, just play a safe simple game,and let them do the damage offensively.

  6. DannyLeafs says:

    Also, just to note on a post you made earlier (and this has to do with many posts a lot of people have made about Phaneuf), there is a big difference good defensively, and playing good defense.

    That seems counter intuitive, but it's the truth. A player can be an extremely capable defensive player when in position, but that doesn't make them great defensively unless they are always in position. I have made this point about Phaneuf before. The reason his ceiling is considered so high, is that his biggest weakness is actually in an area where he has the skill set to be great. He wasn't always good defensively, but not because he isn't a capable defender when in position, because the fact is, he is a very good defender when in position. His problem was he had a hard time picking his spots offensively, and when making big hits, which left him unable to be in the position to make the defensive plays which he is capable of.

    The same can be said of Bozak. He is very good defensively when that is what he is concentrating on, but when he is in an offensive role, he creates chances for the other team because his decision making with the puck can be spotty when he's trying too hard to set up kessel, and he is often out of position when the play gets turned the other way.

    There are plenty of players in this league that can be thought of similarily. Guys like Semin, Callahan, Burrows, Marleau and even Spezza play large amounts of time on the PK are are actually pretty good in that role. However, I don't think many would consider them to be great two-way players, but they are capable of playing both ends of the ice at a pretty high level. What makes a player a great two-way player, is a player that can play all three zone, but also think about all three zones in all situations. Guys like Toews, Kesler, Bergeron, Backes, and Richards are all considered good two way players because they are always thinking about playing defense and it doens't effect their offensive production.

    Guys like Semin and Spezza are capable of playing good defense as long as that's all they think about, but you ask most people that watch them, they would say that the worst part of their game is their defensive coverage. Some guys will likley never be able to put the two sides of their game together, even if they are both there at a high level.

  7. DannyLeafs says:

    Also, that last comment was directed just at you, but in general people seem to consistently confuse players who are defensively capable with good defensive players. There is a difference, and it goes both ways. Sometimes people's comments seem to ignore that difference, but there is a significant distinction. Comments like "Phaneuf can't play defense, or doesn't play well in his own end" are just false. Same goes for guys like Spezza, Semin, Kovalchuk and Ovechkin. These guys are actually very good defensively when in position and focusing on D, but they don't transition well, and when focused on offense they have a hard time finding their position when getting back into the play. Ovechkin is the one out of the bunch that has been constantly improving in this regard, as if you have watched the Capitals he has really come a long way at being a more complete player. If he can ever put his high end scoring with this defensive play, he could become one of the greatest wingers to ever play.

  8. DannyLeafs says:

    haha, I was trying to make a comment seem less insulting, but instead I made it sound worse. First line should read, "the last comment wasn't directed just at you"

  9. mojo19 says:

    Val Filppula is way slicker than Hudler and Bozak and more versitile. Hudler looked like he was really gonna become something but after coming back from Russia he's kind of digressed a bit. Bozak and Hudler is a better comparison.

    I remember the Pierre Maguire Lupul/Cleary comparison, saying that sometimes team's get good from getting players "off the scrap heap". Which is I think where that comparison came from, I don't think Lupul plays a lot like Cleary, I think they were compared because they were essentially picked up for nothing but now are key players on their respective teams.

  10. mojo19 says:

    ya but leafmeister, I called him being a stud winger who would score 30 before those "30 games". I said it when he was still plugging away with Wayne Primeau and Lee Stempniak on the 3rd line. And actually that "***** you" was specifically to you, cuz I remember last year after I wrote how great he would become you were the one with a little weasely comment that simply said "3rd liner" after my speech.

    Anyone can call a kid a third liner when he's already playing on the third line, then call him a 30 goal man after he's already scored 30. Show a little foresight for once.

  11. mojo19 says:

    Also I don't remember if it was you, but someone around November of last year when things were going really bad for the Leafs suggested to trade Kulemin to Pittsburgh for a late 1st rounder. Leaf Nation on HTR was about a 50/50 split on whether that was a good idea.

    I know he hadn't started scoring yet, but how can anyone who watched this kid play not have seen the obvious athleticism? Not to mention a heavy, heavy shot.

  12. mojo19 says:

    Ya, you could devide the Leafs forwards into two groups:

    Kessel, Grabovski, Kulemin, Lupul, MacArthur, Armstrong, (Kadri)

    and

    Boyce, Crabb, Sjostrom, Brown, Orr, Brent, Rosehill.

    Now which group does Bozak belong in? Time will tell. I think he's got slick hands and some creativity, but he doesn't use it, or he's not tenacious enough or something. Hard to pin point.

  13. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    I agree with you totally.
     That was my point I was trying to get across in the above post. Guys were saying Bozak is poor defensively but would be a good two way player. This made no sense to me. As you said, To be a good two way player you have to be good in transition and play all three zones. You can't just be good in your own end, you have to read the plays before they happen.
    This is why I said Bozak is more suited for a second line role than a two way centre roll because he can miss assignments because he is offence first most of the time. A two way roll, he is not suited for…yet. I do believe he will improve that part of his game with a summer to reflect and work on the mental part of the game.

  14. reinjosh says:

    Plus/minus isn't really a good indicator or defensive ability. It can help but its to easy manipulated. For instance a high scoring team will artificially bring a teams plus/minus up and won't show defensive inadequacies if they are there.

    06-07 the whole team was bad. 07-08 they improved as a team and everyones stats went up. The year they won the conference everyone played well. Then Kessel went onto the Leafs and the team wasn't very good defensively.

    I don't like the plus/minus stat.

  15. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    Honestly, I see 3 levels right now Mojo.

    Kessel Grabovski, Kulimen Lupul

    Armstrong, MacArthur, Bozak

    Boyce, Crabb, Sjostrom, Brown, Orr, Brent, Rosehill.

    I would have no problem with a third line of Armstrong, Bozak, MacArthur.
    Too bad Kadri wasn't a little more polished where we would know where he fits. If he can play with Kessel and Lupul…then a skilled forward with size to play with Grabo and kulimen is all that's needed.
    Then you have three productive lines.

  16. Kramer says:

    There should be an NHL trophy for best faceoff man.

  17. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    I really don't like +/- as an indicator either. It isn't a true gauge, I agree. Yet, everyone talks about how Bozak needs to improve it and it's used to prove his poor defensive play. It's funny though, when I use it against kessel (his +/-)…everyone says it's not a good indicator. It's hilarious….not directed at you personally.

  18. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    It sure wasn't me.LOL

  19. leafmeister says:

    Congrats. Great call. I am too happy with the end result to get into a pointless debate with you. I miss called this one. I would much rather have a 30 goal scorer and be wrong than a 15 goal scorer and be right.

  20. cam7777 says:

    Yea, wasn't really comparing them in terms of playing style, but in terms of how their careers should, or could progress as a result of similar situations (being picked up off the scrap heap).

    As for Filppula, c'mon man, he's been almost a Bozak clone the last two years – check out his stats.  This a guy who's not great defensively when thrust into an offensive role, but can win faceoff and make plays and excels in a support role.  Hudler took a lot of flak for his bad play early this season, but as the season progressed it became clear that Modano was to blame for his struggles.  He's been getting better throughout the year. 

  21. frankinboltonleafs says:

    If the Pred's beat the Blues and we beat the Habs….we'll finish in the middle third of the league. The cup is half full.

  22. Leafs_RegimeofBurke_ says:

    He's going to get better and better for the next 3 years.

    -Stronger mentally for sure, dealing with his frustrations during cold streaks. He'll get better with age.

    – Stronger offensively – He's hit his highest point total of his career this season, and that will go up with a real C.  (mind you he almost had as many points in Boston one yr. when he only played 70games.)

    – Stronger defensively: he was always relied on for pure offense, but old Ronny and co. are teaching him the defensive ropes. Heard an interview w Burke, he's impressed with how Kessel has turned a '60ft. game' into a '200ft. game', he's learning to use the whole ice instead of the offensive zone. This will help with getting more assists (hes making way more plays this year and getting rewarded with more assists), and will help him defensively.

    – We can only hope he gets stronger in terms of off-ice conditioning! Definitely looks like a tub, but man can he wheel all considering

  23. lukeleim says:

    2011/2012 Lineup

    Joffrey Lupul – _______ – Phil Kessel
    Clarke MacArthur – Mikhail Grabrovski – Nikolai Kulemin
    Nazem Kadri – _______ – Colby Armstrong
    Mike Brown – Tim Brent – Colton Orr/Jay Rosehill

    Keith Aulie – Dion Phaneuf
    Carl Gunnarsson – Luke Schenn
    Mike Komisarek – _______

    James Reimer
    ________

    FILL IN THE BLANKS

  24. lukeleim says:

    Joffrey Lupul – Stephen Weiss – Phil Kessel
    Clarke MacArthur – Mikhail Grabovski – Nikolai Kulemin
    Nazem Kadri – Brooks Laich – Colby Armstrong
    Mike Brown – Tim Brent – Colton Orr

    Keith Aulie – Dion Phaneuf
    Carl Gunnarsson – Luke Schenn
    Mike Komisarek – Jesse Blacker

    James Reimer
    Jean-Sebastien Giguere

  25. dumbassdoorman says:

    lupul-Stastny/Richards-Kessel
    Mac-Grabs-Kule
    Colborne-Laich-Army
    Brown-Brent-Orr

    Aulie-Phaneuf
    Gunner-Schenn
    Lilies-Eminger

    Reimer
    Conklin/Hedberg

    If we get Richards at the right price, forget about Lilies as well. I could see Burke trying to aqcuire both, ofeering serious cap relief, by offering picks and Prospects(Kadri, boy josh is gonna hate I said that…..lol). But he maybe the cost of aqcuiring a number one guy who is still young

  26. DannyLeafs says:

    I have the opposite opinion, but essentially the same idea. I would like to see Bozak on the third line in a defensive role, where that's all he concentrates on. His offensive ability will create chances for him now and then, and without the pressure to score, I think he could eventually increase his point totals and become a good two way player. All bozak needs to do to vastly improve his plus minus and defensive game, is just stop trying to force his offensive game.

    If he never becomes capable of anything better than 30 or so points, he is still a useful player, but if he is going to play a top six role, and can't score 60+ points a game while playing a great defensive game, he is a lost cause. I think he should focus on which comes a little more naturally (from the looks of this season putting the puck in the net is not a natural ability for him), and let the other side of his game develop around that. If not, he becomes a Matt Stajan clone, not a bad player, but a dime a dozen and not terrbily useful to a contending team.

  27. glotz_99 says:

    Joffrey Lupul – Brad Richards – Phil Kessel
    Clarke MacArthur – Mikhail Grabrovski – Nikolai Kulemin
    Nazem Kadri – Joe Colborne – Colby Armstrong
    Mike Brown – Tim Brent/Boyce – Colton Orr
    Jay Rosehill

    Keith Aulie – Dion Phaneuf
    Carl Gunnarsson – Luke Schenn
    Mike Komisarek – Matt Lashoff

    James Reimer
    Jonas Gustavsson

    Personally I would like to see the Leafs bring back Ian White, since he is still very young at 26 and was always a fan favorite. It would have to be a short term, low contract though, something similar to what Lebda got (2 yrs, 1.5 mil per year)   

  28. cam7777 says:

    1.) Brad Richards
    2.) Brooks Laich
    3.) Kent Huskins
    4.) Jonas Gustavsson or J.S. Giguere

  29. JustYouW8 says:

    Brad Richards for the first line center. (There's not really another option unless you pull off a big trade)
    Scottie Upshall for a third line winger who could step up if injury occurs. This is the kind of guy you want when the playoffs come, imagine playing against a line with him and Colby on it.. incredibly frustrating for the opposing team.
    Trade Bozak for a 3rd pairing d-man, possibly an offensive specialist who wont kill us defensively.
    Someone like Adam Pardy could be a 7th defenceman if the Leafs don't trust Lebda (i don't)
    Tomas Kopecky for 3rd or 4th line center. Good size and will plant himself in front of goalie, which Toronto is sorely lacking.. net presence with size..
    You'll see players like Colborne getting a shot next year kind of like Kadri did this year.. back and forth.
    Just my thoughts.. what do you's think?

  30. JustYouW8 says:

    Bozak needs to take a shoot more.. it drives me nuts how its ALWAYS pass with him. i know your job is to set kessel up but he has to mix it up every now and then. it wouldnt surprise me to see him pass on a breakaway..

  31. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    1st line C Brad Richards
    Kadri moves to centre 3rd line and sign Raffi Torres for his wing with Armstrong
    6th D Matt Lashoff has proven himself
    Goalie Josh Harding or one of the kids in system which would inclde Gus.

  32. cam7777 says:

    Ugh, no to Raffi Torres.  If we want an enormous pile of turds, I'm sure we can find something in our own organization to throw out and fester away on the ice.  If we're looking for a veteran D, and not signing Giguere (even though Burke already said several times he will sign Giguere if that's what he's looking for), my choice would be Ty Conklin.  I might even consider Ray Emery.  Harding, after being injured for a year, makes zero sense.  Also, don't expect Kadri moved back to center any time soon.  He's a better winger, and has likely found a permanent home in that position.  Lashoff will be on our squad though.

  33. reinjosh says:

    Emery! I have no problem with solving him. He had his issues in Ottawa but they haven't presented themselves since then. The guy is talented. I say give him a chance for one year. It couldn't hurt and he would be probably the cheapest goalie we could get. He also has some significant playoff experience should Reimer falter.

  34. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    Torres is a guy everyone hates to play against and is good for 15-20 goals a season. Armstrong and Torres would drive opposition nuts and allow Kadri to play the position he is best suited for, which is centre…not the wing. If the Leafs make Kadri a winger for good, it's a mistake. So, Harding makes no sense and Emery(speaking of piles of turd)and Giguere does. I have no problem with Conklin. Lets see, Emery is recovering from hip surgery and Giguere who will be 34 has chronic groin problems (doesn't sound like much less risk than Harding). Yet Harding who is only 27 is scheduled for a full recovery, has never had a save pct below .904 and has a career goals against of .259 and would come cheap is the bad choice. You would rather have an aging veteran with groin problems or a guy who has been a headcase (which is why I assume you don't want Torres). Wow, we agree on Lashoff, I'm sure as myself you predicted earlier in the year he was being pencilled in for next year.
    FYI …Giguere and Conklin are goalies not veteran D. LOL 

  35. JustYouW8 says:

    I would take Upshall over Torres any day..

  36. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    So would I. But I doubt Torres costs as much and with a weak list of UFA's  forards this year and the CBA at the end of next year…might be better to go for guys who might take one year deals on the cheaper side. I would like to save some cap room for possible trades.

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