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.
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.