Turning Over a New Leaf

The Toronto Maple Leafs building through the draft. It kind of has a weird ring to it considering the Leafs have not developed a home grown talent since probably Felix Potvin and before that Wendel Clark. In the Pat Quinn era, the Leafs have mainly gone with veteran talent brought in from outside. Younger players at the time like MacCauley, Smith, Sullivan, Johnson, Modin, Markov as well as prospects like Boyes, Immonen, and high draft picks were moved out and in their place were more experienced players like Nolan, Leetch, Cross, Khristich, Reichel, Renberg in an effort to bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto.

With a new and likely more restrictive CBA looming, it is rather unknown as to what direction the Leafs will take for the future. The need to build from within is a priority for Toronto and steps are being taken to address those needs. John Ferguson was brought in with the purpose of instilling his scouting and development background to the organization. Perhaps now he can finally put his stamp on the team. Having the farm team play in Toronto was a fine move as it will allow the team to keep a closer eye on prospects. The improved scouting staff, especially with the hiring of Craig Button will make sure this area is no longer neglected. It appears the Leafs are showing an interest in going the direction of building from the draft and developing their own players.

But the temptation of playoff revenue, being profitable and having money to spend and being surrounded by impatient owners, fans and media could cause the franchise to continue its spending ways and bring in more players from outside. With a large crop of free agents likely to hit the market once the CBA is in place, it would be hard not to see the Leafs get involved and bring in a top player or more.

Right now the Leafs have seven veterans under contract. With so many roster spots potentially open, it will be very tempting for Toronto to bring in outside help. With new rule changes likely to come into effect the Leafs may take advantage of their flexible roster and build a team that could conform to those rule changes. And depending on who is out there, the Leafs may simply want to add to the talent they have in order to remain a competitive team and keep their playoff spot in tact.

Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan give Toronto two forwards who can play on the top scoring lines. Sundin is the unquestionable leader, franchise player and biggest talent on the team. He is irreplaceable. But Nolan on the other hand is very questionable in that he never seems to stay healthy. The Leafs may need to pick up some scoring help considering the likes of Mogilny, Roberts, Niewendyk, Francis will probably not be back.

Darcy Tucker has been a heart and soul player ever since he became a Leaf. He has been a sparkplug throughout his career and being one of the few Leafs in their prime, he should have some more good years remaining. However the Leafs may have to think about upgrading their talent to include players who can kill penalties, win faceoffs, and be able to grind it out night in and night out. Players with size and speed are what Toronto lacks. too often the Leafs lost all the little battles and without the great play of Ed Belfour/Curtis Joseph, things would have been much worse.

People can say what they want about Bryan McCabe but he is a solid number 2 or 3 defenceman. He can hit, score, play physical, join the rush and has a good work ethic. Any team would want a defenceman like that. He had one bad game and suddenly he wasnt NHL calibre. Boggles my mind. Tomas Kaberle is a solid top 4 guy too. He can skate, rush the puck and be creative. if he only would shoot more, he would be a step up. He is a bit soft though, but the coaching staff should protect him better. Ken Klee is an excellent role player who gets the job done but goes unnoticed. He is a very useful player. These 3 give them a solid foundation but if Leetch decides to leave, the team will lack a top guy on defence. Most successful teams have a top dog on the blueline that makes everything go (i.e Lidstrom in Detroit, Stevens in Jersey, Blake in Colorado, etc.). And hopefully we have seen the last of Aki Berg playing significant minutes and being overwhelmed as usual.

And though Ed Belfour in goal will be over 40, he still has the talents to be a top goaltender. the only question is his health. He can no longer play close to 70 games a year. The Leafs need a top backup in order to give Belfour significant rest for the playoffs. The Leafs need a safety net in case Belfour goes down again.

As you can see, with some holes at all positions, the Leafs, who have made the playoffs the last 6 years, will certainly be tempted to bring in more veterans for a run at the Cup. Considering their two top players are well over 30, time is not on their side and players like Belfour and Sundin may not wish to be part of a rebuilding program.

However, the time may be now, with the new NHL ready to emerge, for the Leafs to start fresh and start over. Since the last few season did not bring the Leafs the success they sought, the Leafs may look to take their team in a different direction.

One of the biggest myths is that the Leafs do not have any young talent. That is not true. Though they dont have the kind of depth in their system as say the Panthers or Capitals they have some young players. People often mention that other top teams like Philly, Detroit and New Jersey always churn out young talent year after year and that is true. But in time the Leafs should be able to fill their roster with some home grown players.

Much of their young talent is on defence. Karel Pilar has been off and on with the Leafs the last couple of seasons and has shown some of the skills that got him to Toronto from time to time. If he can do that regularly he should be in the Leafs top 6 on defence. He can pass, skate, and do some good things on offence. If he can be smarter positionally, he should be a solid defencemen at the back end of the roster.

Carlo Coliacovo has been the Leafs top prospect the last few seasons. The reason he has been just a prospect and not yet a Leaf has been his injuries. He has been injured every year and that has been of some concern for Toronto. However he has the skills to be a solid offensive contributor, the heart and demeanor to be a leader and the grit to take care of his own end. this has not been seen consistently due to his health.

Brendan Bell developed under the tutulage of Brian Kilrea. Like many former 67s, they usually are pretty smart hockey players. Bell has the ability to do it at both ends. his size and grit make him tough on defence, his skating allows for contributions on offence. He just needs to be better on a consistent basis to reach the next level. It sometimes seems that Bell is uninterested from time to time which results in some lapses on the ice. He does though have the talent to make it.

Ian White has all the skills to be a very good power play quarterback. He is in the mold of Dan Boyle and if he can be as productive as Boyle, he should have a decent NHL career. He can skate and handle the puck, has a good point shot and is a solid playmaker. But being under 6’0 and well under 200 lbs makes him a liability on defence. at his size he will not be able to handle many forwards in front and in the corners. he may be prone to penalties because of his lack of size and strength. That may hold him back in the long run.

Dmitri Vorobiev may be another late round steal much like Kaberle and Markov were. He has good size and is solid in all areas. It is just that he will not be an impact blueliner but more a 5th or 6th defenceman. There really isnt much demand for these types.

The Leafs have a few under 25 forwards that should be NHLers. Nik Antropov has been with the Leafs a few seasons and will be a regular for years to come. He has the size, he has skill and he has a bit of a mean streak. But it is unknown what role he would play. He doesnt score enough to be on the top line, and isnt disciplined enough or fast enough to play a checking role. His production is not what the Leafs thought. Of course injuries have derailed is development but the Leafs hope he can be a 20 goal man some day. His biggest problem is that he takes too many dumb penalties.

Alex Ponikarovsky is similar to Antropov in that he is big, has some skills like a good hard shot, and works hard in the corners willing and able to play a physical game. But at times he can play very soft which is not what you want to see from a 6’4 forward. Pony does not have enough skills to be a top line guy but he has been one of the few home grown talents to make it to the Leafs.

The Leafs highest hopes of a top forward lie with Alex Steen. If he is like his father Thomas, he should be a very good player. He is a skilled, smart centre with the ability to play a sound two-way game. The only knock is his size or lack of it. He will probably need a season or two in the AHL to get use to the grind of North American hockey and the long season. He should be a solid second line centre for a long time.

Matt Stajan has been the biggest surprise among the young players in the organization. He some how made the Leafs right out of junior winning a spot on a veteran laden team. His speed and strong two way play endeared him to the coaching staff and Stajan should have a long productive career. Though a bit small, he is a very smart player with good hockey sense. He was able to put up points yet was probably the Leafs most responsible forward on defence.

Stajan’s fellow World Junior teammate Kyle Wellwood has yet to make the jump to the NHL. He has NHL calibre skills and smarts, but lacks size, strength and is not a great skater. That is a big drawback for a small player and could keep him from making it. But he has a chance to be a decent power play guy with strong playmaking skills. new rule changes will benefit a player like Wellwood if they decide to open up the game because he is not big enough to handle the physical grind of the tight checking trap NHL.

The only hope of the future in goal is Mikael Tellqvist. He has had success in the AHL, in Europe and internationally but hasnt seemed to be able to make the full time jump to the NHL. He has been inconsistent which has caused his status to drop from future number 1 to backup. He is small, and the smaller equipment wont help his game any. He also has trouble in traffic which is really how the North American game is played. He has played some decent games at the NHL level making him a much better option than Trevor Kidd. If he can stay healthy and play with better consistency he may be the guy who can help Ed Belfour get a break.

The Leafs have many other youngsters in their system such as blueliners Jay Harrison, Andy Woszneiwski, Pierre Hedin and forwards Robbie Earl, Jeremy Williams, John Mitchell as well as goaltender Justin Pogge. The problem is that they seem to lack one or more key ingredients that may hold them back. The encouraging sign is that the Baby Leafs had a good season in the AHL and with a stronger focus on development and deeper roster, should continue to improve. Though the Leafs have youngsters who will probably make good role players in the NHL, the lack of any top end talent coming in at all positions is a cause for concern. This is why there is a need for Toronto to start keeping their top picks and developing them properly. Hopefully making the Leafs into a young homegrown team will be the key to bringing the Stanley Cup to Toronto in the future.

32 Responses to Turning Over a New Leaf

  1. hockeyhead says:

    it’s funny…the lightning offered modin for K-Mac but they got boyes (jillson) for him instead. i wanted the modin trade.

  2. nordiques100 says:

    Oops! my title was “Turning Over a New Leaf”

    My Bad!

  3. nordiques100 says:

    you guys almost got hogie too for another kyle…..wanvig. but of course the fax machine was sabotaged.

  4. hockeyhead says:

    one giant blunder that sort of defines bruins management.

    that would of been a good trade. i don’t even know where wanvig is. houston aeros or something.

  5. Serdy says:

    Good article.. Im glad to see someone has some confidence in the leafs farm system. HF terribly underrates them. Antropov, Pony, Stajan, Wellwood, Coliacovo, Steen, Telly will all be in the NHL. That is not a bad core of young players. The only reason people think they suck is because they are leaf prospects. I also do not believe that Wellwood is so disadvantaged with his skating ability that he will not make it to the NHL. You do not score 38 goals, with a much better AHL compared to last year, and still be a brutal skater. Yes he is soft now, but that will not be impossible to fix.

    Every team must go out and acquire people, it is nothing new, and the leafs will be the same way, but with this new cap they will obviously need to rely more on young talent.

    Lastly, I hear rumors about Toronto signing Dafoe, please tell me it is not true. If they sign Dafoe, it is a pretty good sign that Toronto will not be trying to build from within if they do not give Telly a chance.

    Let the Leaf hating commence

  6. nordiques100 says:

    I’m with you about Dafoe. He is more injury prone than Kidd and Belfour combined and that is bad.

    And I have said many times that it’s only because they are leafs which makes them overrated. there may be no ovechkin or crosby’s but some decent players nonetheless. But if these prospects were anywhere else, the story would be different and many of these guys would be elite players.

    take a look at kondratiev, talented yes, but also a headcase, he abandoned the baby leafs. it shows me a player who is pretty selfish and not worth keeping. now as a ranger he is a top notch guy and from what we hear worth more than leetch. boggles my mind.

    If they do start to build from within, they have some decent pieces to work with.

  7. Aetherial says:

    The problem will be that 6 players are tied up, taking up something like 26 million…

    leaving less than a million for the other 14 or whatever it is.

    Not gonna happen. I don’t know what Detroit, Toronto, Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis etc. are going to do.

    There will be a lot of selling “FA’s” and not much buying. During this *adjustment period* there will be players WAY underpaid as existing contracts take up too large a portion of the cap.

  8. rojoke says:

    After seeing Wellwood all of this year, I can’t see how anyone can knock this guy anymore for not being 6′ 4″ and 220 lbs. The bottom line is this guy is as creative with the puck as any player that Toronto has drafted in the past 14 years. He has scored numerous NHL-highlight goals this year alone. He’s not a perimeter player, and he makes his linemates better players as well. I’ve yet to see Steen play, but if you think Steen is “the Leafs highest hopes of a top forward,” then either you haven’t seen Wellwood that much, or Steen is the second coming of Wendel Clark. If Wellwood gets a solid shot at the NHL, he’ll prove that you don’t have to be 6′ or taller to contribute to a team offensively.

  9. rojoke says:

    The first mistake that John Ferguson made was firing the coaching staff. After numerous underachieving seasons, the team, in a lame duck year in St. John’s, goes out and sets a record for wins. They lost in the first round of the playoffs, but Doug Shedden, Kevin McClelland and Russ Adam took basically the same team as 2003-04, whihc basically stunk out the joint on most nights, and turned them into a solid team. If Acton gets the job with the Marlies, and it seems like he will, then he’ll have to win 50 games next season to top Shedden’s last season. He got screwed because he didn’t get success fast enough. Another year or two and he could have had this team in a Calder Cup final.

  10. Habfanforever says:

    The people who underrate the Leaf’s farm system need to take a closer look in order to know what they are talking about. As a Habs fan, it is my duty to hate the Leafs but even I don’t underrate any of the Leaf’s top prospects because I actually saw some of them play and I find it safe to assume that a couple of them could enb up long term NHL-ers.

    One guy that is grossly underrated is Ian White. This guy is so explosive on the powerplay because he is so quick to move the puck and he’s slap shot release is lightning fast as well as accurate. His defensive play is also very underrated, if you watch him play, you’ll see that although he’s small by defensemen standards, he’s not afraid of digging the puck out of his own end while facing guys that are obviously quite bigger.

    My Ian White comparison (as others did) : A right handed Brian Rafalski.

  11. Habfanforever says:

    sorry forgot the spell check

  12. nordiques100 says:

    much has to do with his lack of speed. he isnt a great skater. that is what might hold him back. but then again that was the knock on yanic perreault and he turned into a decent offensive centre.

  13. TheCoach says:

    The problem with Wellwood is not only his size, but his skating. He is not a great skater, and if you’re not a great skater you usually have to have size to make it. If you don’t have size, you usually have to above average skating. Wellwood isn’t big, and he’s not a great skater.

    The kid has creativity, but because of his size and speed, I can’t see him being a top line scorer at the NHL. He won’t be able to overpower a defenseman or outskate a defenseman.

    Steen is still the Leafs best prospect, and has the potential to be a very good top 6 forward. He is followed by Coliacovo. Wellwood, in my opinion, could be a good 3rd or 4th line player.

  14. rojoke says:

    He’d be a waste of a draft pick as a 3rd or 4th liner. He’s got great hands, great vision and too much skill to be getting less than 10 minutes a game or as a checking forward. I think he’s best suited to second line duty. If skating and size are a problem, and I really don’t think they are, until he sees NHL-calibre defencemen on a nightly basis, then maybe his best opportunity to shine offensively would be on the power play. He was head and shoulders better than most defenders in the AHL this past season. So while he may not fare as well as he did on The Rock, he should be good for 20-25 goals and possibly even a point a game if he got the right linemates.

  15. mojo19 says:

    Does that 26 mil include 24% rollbacks they’re gonna be taking? cuz if not, its more like 21 million, which still doesnt leave them in very good shape, but better.

  16. Kill_Yourself says:

    Good article. However you said “Sundin is the unquestionable leader, franchise player and biggest talent on the team. He is irreplaceable.” Personally I think that Mogilny is by far the best player on the team (when hes not injured) and that Sundin is over-rated, the leafs should trade him for someone younger that can still get decent points like maybe Marc Savard who is pretty under-rated with picks or something.

    The leafs should get rid of Aki Berg for sure and put Peirre Hedin in his place, all though they should have never traded Ric Jackman for Drake Berehouskey, that was just ridiculous, in my mind Jackman was at least better than Berg and Pilar.

  17. wingedim says:

    The question I have is what are the contracts for Ling and Aubin at. Are they now UFA or still under contract with the Marlies and therefore potentially available for the Leafs to sign?

    Ling is another Domi/Tucker type player. More of a Domi I guess from what I’ve seen of him playing with Columbus who would add some young grit to the big team.

    Aubin could be a viable back up for the Leafs if available since he does have the NHL expericence, streaky as it may be.

    I think it’s time to move on with Antropov…maybe it’s because like you indicated that they don’t know where he can fit in, however, you can only keep trying to find that out for so long before it’s like beating your head against the wall. Yes he could end up being another Steve Sullivan or Alyn McCauley or Kenny Johnsson (GOD I still hate that trade) but he could end up being another ‘Potsy’ (Karpostev) as well. That’s the chance you take.

  18. PayUpSucka says:

    Mogilny is washed up, big time, I love the leafs as much as the next guy, but Sundin is 2x the player Mogilny is, considering Sundin plays 82 games a year, and he averages both a point a game in both the reg season and playoffs, I mean Mogilny is hurt more than Owen Nolan, and most nights he does play he’s invisible.

    As far as your assessment of Berg, i’m with you, as well as Jackman, boys were smoking and not sharing the day they traded Jacko for Bumhowsky.

    Hopefully all of White, Coliacovo and Hedin will be full timers this year.

  19. PayUpSucka says:

    Wow, people are really growing up and maturing around here, when I saw 17 comments were posted for Nords entry I figured here we go, but not one “the leafs all suck and suck and suck” comments, but then I looked at who was posting and it makes sense seeing as how it was header, mik, and company commenting, makes it alot easier to comer here and comment when good hockey guys are commenting with their brains instead of their as ses.

  20. hockeyhead says:

    thanks bro, i agree….but it is nice to argue with the morons.

    sorry about your A’s….at least my halos are doing well. although you might not agree.

  21. nordiques100 says:

    it’s the ricky ley syndrome when it comes to defenceman. he can only accept blueliners as good as he was….which isnt saying a whole lot. He tried to force jackman to be strictly a stay at home defenceman and hit everything in sight with no offensive game. jackman was a scorer in junior who could at times play tough.

    and before he tried to turn jason smith into a puck rushing blueliner and got rid of him cause all he could do was take care of in front of hte net. he supposedly had “no skill”

    for some reason he finds berg to be a pretty solid top 4 guy. he loves to play him. i guess he thinks berg will get better after 9 years of teaching? what a turd.

    ley was the one who sent carlo down after he coughed up the puck to bure i think it was for the winning goal. broke the poor kid’s confidence. yet berg coughs up the puck every shift but gets to play special teams and spend 20 minutes on the ice.

    as much as berg blows, ley is the real problem.

  22. nordiques100 says:

    it is because we havent heard from any flyer fans. there team is of course better because:

    a)esche beat belfour once so that makes him a better goalie

    b)jeff carter and mike richards are already hall of famers

    c) there stanley cup drought is 8 years less than toronto’s

    wow that was fun ripping into Philly. I am just getting warmed up for the season to start so that the trash talking can begin again

  23. nordiques100 says:

    sorry their team, not there team. my bad

  24. hockeyhead says:

    i must say that i am tired of the richards and carter ramblings. (baby bruins had just if not more points)

    lindros never brought a cup. and neither will carter and richards. especially with esche in net. HA HA..

  25. PayUpSucka says:

    Amen, Dick Ley.

  26. PayUpSucka says:

    Bas tard!! haha, I knew your boys would be there regardless, oh well header there is always next year for the a’s, young pups!!

  27. PayUpSucka says:

    Gretz was a horrible skater too, so was Luc Robitaille, and Brett Hull, Wellsy is still a youngin, he’s got hockey smarts and that can’t be taught, skating can.

    He’ll be a 1st or 2nd liner if he works on his legs.

  28. nordiques100 says:

    well esche is on par if not better than belfour and brodeur supposedly because he beat them once.

  29. hockeyhead says:

    right on……at least it looks like no rsox or yankees in the playoffs…..that would be a riot.

    it would be like having the hockey rangers in the major leagues.

  30. BWbullies says:

    Now why must you go there. It was an ok article and you had to ruin it. It was about hockey and not about the talks, even though its was about leafs.

    One good thing you already know some of the reasons why the Flyers are better.

    Oh by the way the leafs SUCK!!!!

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