A perhaps unexpected win at the home rink of the defending Stanley Cup champions changed the entire complexion of the weekend. A workmanlike effort Saturday night against the Habs at home (albeit after yet another slow start) could have earned a better outcome than another OT loss. But two points on Sunday night means it was a strong weekend—for the team and in terms of the Eastern Conference standings.
The team’s refusal to cave is a testament to their resolve to stay the course, regardless of the personnel challenges coach Ron Wilson faces.
As I’ve said in previous posts, every guy on this squad is a legitimate NHL player. The difficulty is in working with a roster that simply doesn’t have a lot of top-tier offensive talent. But they are making do with a strong work ethic.
All this said, I’m one of those observers wondering who, on this current roster, will be playing for the Leafs say, three seasons from now?
I believe some of the back-end people will still be here. Burke is committed to Gustavsson in goal—he’s a Burke signing, as are Beauchemin and Komisarek on defense. I can see Ian White being on hand, though who knows what will happen as his stock rises throughout the league and free agency ultimately beckons. (I think Burke may try to sign him long-term before White hits free agency.)
Gunnarsson hasn’t had an opportunity to show what he can do, but he could be in the mix. Schenn I don’t know about. Like Gunnarsson, he wasn’t drafted by Burke and while he obviously shows signs of being a fine player, I wonder if he is the kind of piece Burke would surrender to bring in some high-end offense.
And Kaberle? Who has been talked about as trade-bait in recent years more than the longest-tenured Leaf defenseman? My thought is he, too, will be moved to bring in some offense, though wouldn’t it be ironic if Kaberle stays forever a Leaf despite the persistent talk to the contrary?
Up front, Kessel should and will be here. We all understand this was a major acquisition for Burke, giving up two top draft picks. (It’s hard to argue against that move, given that, at 22, Kessel is already a productive NHL player with star potential. Draft choices may turn out great, but then again, maybe not.) The question will be whether Kessel becomes a complete player, or just a nice player with offensive skills who ends up butting heads with his coaches.
But otherwise up front, who will be here in three years? Even in two years?
I go through the forward lines and I don’t see many who will still be around. Mayers, Orr, Primeau? All are players who can play a useful role, but are the types of players that, in a salary-cap age, can be easily replaced year-to-year.
Blake? Not likely, though he has certainly contributed. But age and contract status make it unlikely. Mitchell? Probably not. Ponikarovsky? I just can’t see him being a guy that plays his entire career with the Leafs, especially as Burke tries to change the mix on the team.
Matt Stajan? I know he’s a fan favorite of many, but I wonder if he has the offensive finishing on the one hand, or the toughness Burke likes on the other, to last under Burke long-term.
Kulemin? He’s a young guy who may be one of their better all-around performers of late. I certainly like what I’m seeing most nights. I have to believe he stays. Stalberg? He’s young, too, but I don’t know.
Stempniak often shows the grit Fletcher brought him in to deliver, but if Burke has other options down the road, I can see someone else in his role.
Grabovski? I could be very wrong, but I just don’t see him being here when Burke has the kind of team he wants. If you’re going to be a purely offensive guy, you have to figure that a guy better produce 70 points a season consistently, minimum.
Hanson, Bozak and Kadri are the “young guns” that are in line to excite Leaf fans in the future. That said, having seen so many young players with “potential” come and go through the Leaf system over the years, I tend to be from Missouri on such things: in other words, I’ll believe it when I actually see players deliver on a regular basis for the blue and white.
Not surprisingly, I guess, the Leaf team that takes the ice in 2011-2012 will likely be very different from what it is right now.