Leafs on the right path?

It is to be asked if the Maple Leafs are on their way back to the NHL’s good teams. They’ve made an interesting move this week-end by acquiring Vesa Toskala and this move could prove very rewarding. So what should they do or have they done enough to be back in those teams labeled as being playoff teams at the beginning of the season?

The Toskala Situation

After JFJ acquired Toskala he said something that I found somewhat confusing. He said ” After this season, we felt we needed to bring competition among our goalies, we felt we needed to bring someone to give us good games and to push Andrew (Raycroft) to his highest level.” This, I hope, is a polite way to tell Raycroft that if he regains the form that saw him win a Calder trophy, then he is an undisputed number one. If not, he’ll be the backup, an overpaid backup, but a backup. However, if this means that the Leafs are really leaning towards having a two-goalie system, then this trade is a mistake. Lets face it, the Leafs don’t have much young talent and their future seems tied to Wellwood, Steen and Stajan, who are very good and promising players, but not enough to say this team has a bright future. Knowing that, it’s pretty disappointing to see the Leafs trade these picks for a guy that won’t even be your number one. I’m not sure Toskala has what it needs to be a real number one, but then Vokun and Fernandez or even Bryzgalov are better options. Fernandez and Vokun had big contracts, but Bryzgalov didn’t and since Niedermeyer is probably retiring, I’m sure Bryan Burke would have liked to get one of the Toronto’s big two which myself, Leaf Fans and JFJ would love to give. Now I’m not sure Burke would have traded Bryzgalov for one of the two straight up (obviously not), but wouldn’t it have been a better option? I sincerely hope Toskala will be a solid 1b for the Leafs and will be worth the picks the Sharks got. The upside is that at least it was used in this draft and not next year’s (even if the Leafs had the top ten protection).

Ryan Smyth to be in Blue and White?

It is also highly speculated that the Leafs are among the front-runners to land Ryan Smith. It would be great to see captain Canada to play for a Canadian team, but I’m not sure that is what he really wants. Of course, the reason he got traded from Edmonton was the money, so he will go for the money, but say the Leafs and Red Wings have similar offers on the table, will Smyth want the pressure and media exposure he’ll have in Toronto compared to the quiet but still enthused atmosphere of Detroit. Not mentioning he’ll join a team that was the closest to beat the Stanley Cup champions (if it wasn’t of that turnover that Selanne created). One thing bothers me though, the Islanders probably won’t be able to keep Smyth. Why? If it’s because he wants to join a contender, than Detroit or Dallas would be logical choices, if he wants to go back to Canada, I think the Leafs are in a better position than the Flames even if the Flames have an overall better team, I think JFJ and MLSE will prove more convincing.

Defense situation

The Leafs have their version of the Ducks big three… just no as good. McCabe, Kaberle and Kubina are decent defensemen, they can score, they can pinch in, their amazing on the powerplay, but that’s not what a team is looking for when they say the word defenseman (well not the first thing they’re looking for). It is not given to everybody to have Scott Niedermeyer and Chris Pronger on a team, but I think the Leafs should aim for youth and defensive ability in their system. The best “prospect” they have is Staffan Kronwall, who is 24 and soon to be 25 and often injured. They did draft Juraj Mikus this year who even if he is a 5th rounder could prove to be efficient enough. In the minors, Semenov, Vorobiev, Oreskovic and Stralman are not stellar prospects.

It is a bit different regarding the players that are on the team right now. Colaiacovo and White could be solid 3rd or 4th defenders, but the problem is really the ties the Leafs have with both Kaberle and McCabe. I thought they would draft more than two defensemen this year, but with six selections and none before the 3rd round, it is tough to get quality guys. I hope Toskala is worth it.
The problem is that since Kaberle, McCabe and Kubina demand huge ice time, it’s tough to let other players develop properly… not to mention leading by example is out of the question.

Justin Pogge

I am not really a Habs fan, I’m just a fan of Canadian hockey, but I have to state the obvious, Pogge is no Carey Price and we have to be careful with Pogge’s future. He was very good at the Worl Junior’s, he had an excellent team in front of him but he didn’t face a lot of adversity. This year he wasn’t stellar with the Marlies and didn’t make the most of his size. He is tall and strong and moves very well for that kind of body. The Marlies weren’t the best team in the AHL this year, weak defense and nothing much in offense, but as the reports say, he wasn’t anything special and could have trouble to adapt to the NHL… especially with the defensive body the Leafs have now.

Other Free Agents

It is tough to say what the Leafs’ needs exactly are. Yes they need a scoring winger like Ryan Smyth but it’s not it. And what if they can’t get Smyth? The Leafs will need a checking center. Peca should’ve been just that last year but he wasn’t very lucky and picked up a bad injury. Will he be back this year? I think if his salarial demands are reasonable, he could be brought back. If he doesn’t want to or is too expensive, the Leafs could very well go with Wes Walz who won’t come cheap and is old but still very efficient. I’m not sure they want to, but they could also bring Perreault back. He know the Leafs, he can score and win a lot of faceoffs, he is not really a checking center but could be useful. Todd White and Adam Mair are the better options. They’re younger and faster and can provide with a little bit of scoring and Mair will fit well in the gritty Toronto tradition. If the Leafs can’t get Smyth, they could turn to Blake, who wouldn’t be as good a fit as Smyth on the Blue and White’s lineup, but is fast and has a great scoring touch. The biggest problem is that if the Isles can’t keep Smyth, I just don’t see them let Blake go.

The Final Word

The Leafs really have to build their future. Assuming goaltending is done (with Pogge…) they need to build a younger more adapted to the new NHL defense and the best way to do that without losing too much is the draft. They will have good years on offense with Sundin sticking around for at least one more year and Wellwood, Steen and Stajan developing into top 9 (maybe top 6) forwards. With Antropov and Poni continuing their hitting, they should be good enough in a smaller Eastern Conference. The future could look bright… the next few days will tell more.

Thanks for reading me and please intense Leaf fans, don’t bash me too much.