Feb 282012
 

I was somewhat disappointed in the lack of Maple Leaf moves made during yesterday’s trade deadline.  Not because Burke didn’t trade for anyone who can help us make the playoffs this year (though I though a trade for Ben Bishop would have been a useful gamble both short and long term) but because he didn’t do more to set up this team for the long term.  From my perspective this team is unlikely to make the playoffs this season and even if they do there is little chance they will win a round.  Their defense and goaltending is bad at best and physical defense oriented teams have the ability to shut down the Leafs offense.  The Leafs overall have a dreadful record against playoff teams.  So, Burke had an opportunity to take a team that had very little to be optimistic about this season and set it up for a better future.

Forwards

The way the team is currently set up we have the following group of forwards:

Kessel-Bozak-Lupul
MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin
Lombardi-Connolly-Frattin
Brown-Steckel-Armstrong

The six players I have listed in bold are the only six players that I believe have a chance to be on this team playing the same roles they are currently in 2-3 seasons when the Leafs really should plan on having a competitive team.  And even with those six players Brown and Steckel are not core players and may or may not be kept around and Frattin still has to prove himself.  Let me address some of the guys I haven’t listed in bold.

Bozak – I kind of like Bozak, but lets be honest, he is not a first line center and he especially isn’t a first line center between Kessel and Lupul.  Neither Kessel nor Lupul are quality defensive players nor exceptionally big and putting a small and weak defensive center between them that doesn’t have elite level offensive skills is just not a recipe for success.  It’s possible that Bozak could be a second line center with the right wingers but if we are giving the second line role to Grabovski he doesn’t fit there.  He isn’t good enough defensively to be a third line center so I have a hard time to see where he fits in long term.

MacArthur – MacArthur is the left wing version of Bozak.  He has some nice offensive skills but really isn’t much more than a 50 point one-dimensional player.  He isn’t big, doesn’t play big, isn’t anything to write home about defensively.  He is a nice place holder until we get something better but nothing more.  I don’t see MacArthur playing a significant role on a Stanley Cup contender.  He just doesn’t bring enough of a complete package to play a significant role on a contending team.

Kulemin – Being realistic and setting last seasons career year aside, Kulemin is probably a defensively responsible 15 goal, 35 point player.  While he is no doubt a useful 2-way player he is probably more suited for a 2-way third line role.

Connolly – I like Connolly and I think on the right team with some big wingers he can be a quality second line center but he is really just a place holder on this team and probably doesn’t have a long term role in Toronto.

Lombardi – Lombardi was just acquired as a way to get Cody Franson and has no long term role in Toronto.

Armstrong – If Armstrong could stay healthy I think he can be a useful player.  Unfortunately he cannot stay healthy.

So, looking forward I think this could be the lineup when we are ready to compete including the holes we are looking to fill.

Kessel-????-Lupul
????-Grabovski-????
Frattin-????-Kulemin
Brown-Steckel-????

Needed are a first line center, preferably one with size and a defensive presence.  Two second line wingers, preferably at least one with good size to offset Grabovski’s smallish stature.  A 2-way third line center who can kill penalties.  At least one fourth line role player.

The plan, I presume now, is that at some point Colborne can be plugged into the first line role and Kadri and newly acquired Carter Ashton can be plugged into the second line winger roles.

The question I have is, why couldn’t we have started this process right now?  Speculation is that first round draft picks were offered for both MacArthur and Kulemin.  Would it really have hurt this team that much to have flipped MacArthur for a first round pick and seen what Kadri could do on the second line for the remainder of the season?  Kadri hopefully has a long term role with the Leafs, I am not certain MacArthur does.  With the Leafs ever get another chance to flip MacArthur for a first round pick?  I am not so sure.  The price for players was extremely high yesterday (see Gaustad, Paul) and I don’t think you get a first round pick for MacArthur in the summer.  Same goes for Kulemin, though I do think Kulemin could have a long term role with the Leafs, just not necessarily as a regular top six forward.  Wouldn’t it be nice going into this summers draft with two or more first round picks and the opportunities that provides either in drafting quality prospects for the future or packaging them in a trade?  Wouldn’t it be nice going into this summer with some kind of indication as to whether Kadri is ready for a regular role the NHL?  I can argue the same for Bozak.  If Bozak could have been flipped for a draft pick or a prospect, wouldn’t it have been nice to see if Colborne is ready for regular NHL duty?

I realize it is tough for Burke to admit to fans that this is more or less a lost season from this point on, but I don’t really think fans would be unhappy had he traded away Bozak and/or MacArthur and/or Kulemin and/or others for first round picks and prospects and said “we thought that we had a playoff team that could possibly even scare someone in the first round but it has become clear that the group was not coming together as expected so we decided to make some changes and give some of our quality prospects a chance to show they will be ready for the NHL next season.”  Some fans might be angry that they have on some level ‘given up’ on the season but I think the majority of them will see that as being far more realistic than what Burke actually said: “we still believe in this team.”

So, as far as I am concerned, yesterday was a lost opportunity to trade away some players that may not (or probably do not) have a long term future with the Leafs (MacArthur in particular) while the prices were as high as they may ever be for those players.  It is also a lost opportunity to give some NHL ready prospects such as Kadri and Colborne an opportunity to show their abilities at the NHL level.  Instead have to watch a bunch of guys who won’t be with the Leafs when they are ready to be serious contenders fail to make the playoffs and generally continue to disappoint with their underwhelming performance.  Mediocrity without optimism is not fun to watch and lets be clear, this team is mediocre and there aren’t many players on the team we can be optimistic will be better a year or two from now.  They are what they are and there isn’t much hope this group will get any better.

 

  5 Responses to “Burke should have started rebuilding yesterday”

  1.  

    Loved your article and I completely agree. Although I like grabovskis game though I would have dealt him. If we could have gotten a decent prospect and a pick for Grabo I would have done it and let the kids, who are supposed to be our core play. They probably wouldnt do well the rest of the season but who cares we have our draft pick. The SMART sell off option wasnt taken because they are holding onto every straw trying to make the playoffs. They could have got a kings ransom for Grabo, Kule, MacA,and then try to convince someone to take lombardi and connolly or komi.
    Also we didnt make a pitch for Bishop because why? He isnt an established NHL goaltender? Neither are the two guys we stick between the pipes now either. A guy who is bigger than Komisarek (Bishop) who can play the butterfly style and have allaire work on his angles with him could have been great, if not real good.

    So we could have ended up with 4+ 1st rounders? I dont see how keeping this time would have been better than picking up grigorenko and Galchenyuk.

    Adam

  2.  

    Excellent write up. Would love to see you do the same for the defense pairings that you did for the forwards.

  3.  

    I have two theories:
    1) It may have a lot to do with Wilson. I don’t recall if Burke has actually said it, but it seems widely believed that despite his extension Wilson’s continued tenure is predicated on playoffs. If Burke strips down the roster he basically hands Wilson his pink slip with no chance. I’m not suggesting that’s not what he SHOULD do (or that he has a chance despite leaving the roster intact)…but I doubt it is what he wants to do.
    2) Perhaps he was attempting to assemble a crack team of professional choker/tankers and realized he had everything he needed on hand…

  4.  

    Pretty near what I had envisioned as well. I think Kulemin is worth another year’s look, to determine which is the real Kulemin before giving up on him. A half season, even. You can look at Mac and Lupul similarly, they are reclaimation projects. You can either sell high, or determine if that player is a valuable asset for you moving forward. Both seem to be thriving in Toronto. Lupul is cresting 30, whereas Mac is younger. Lupul is capable of greater output. Are either going to be effective leaders as they stay with this team? I don’t think either has sufficiently demonstrated that yet, but I’m not privy to that. To me, leadership from them would be the primary characteristic I would base my sign/trade decision on. If Burke stunted the growth of this team in order to offer his ‘buddy’ a chance to remain employed, then he’s the biggest problem the team has.

  5.  

    Bozak does not fill 1st line center potentially allows corruption of the offensive unit meaning breached front lines unlike previous center Mats Sundin who owned the offensive end was a presence defensively.

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