I well recognize the state of euphoria that tends to exist when the Leafs win a few games. It’s always been this way, even in the ‘70s and the often downtrodden ‘80s. Back in those days, if we beat the Habs on a cold December night at the Gardens, all was good with the hockey world, and good things were surely just around the corner for the Leafs.
Usually, the Leafs would then turn around and lose to the California Golden Seals, or the Cleveland Barons or whomever, and gloom would return to Leafland.
At the moment, though, the Leafs have looked really good for the most part this season. Another big road win in Anaheim doesn't hurt. When feeling hopeful, it seems like this will never end. We assume Kessel and Lupul will keep scoring, Phaneuf will be the best defenseman in hockey, the secondary scoring will always be there and Reimer will come back and save us from eternal hockey damnation.
On and on it goes. It’s fun, eh?
Now, if we lose a few, well, Phil’s a bit of a bum, Dion takes too many chances, and, ah, what if Reimer gets hurt again?
So as I pen this particular piece, I’m trying to walk the middle of the road: that is, looking at the Leafs objectively as a young team on the rise, with potential, who should definitely be in the playoff mix next spring, and who, with a few tweaks, could be a pretty decent team in the East—especially given the watered-down talent and overall parity in the Conference.
In that scenario, (i.e., the Leafs are good, but need to get better to play with the big boys) the organization will likely need to add some offense. (Yes, I know they are now one of the highest-scoring teams in the league, but I also know what I see…) At some point, this season or next, to get to that “elite” level a team generally need to be at to be a true contender for a championship, they will add some forwards.
For me the central pieces the Leafs need are indeed on offense. Oh, a team can always use more great defensemen, of course, but they are hard to find, and in Toronto’s case, they are awfully deep there, thanks to Burke’s moves over the past three years. With Phaneuf, Schenn, Komisarek, Gunnarsson, Gardiner, Franson, Liles, Aulie and Holzer, you have 9 NHL-ready guys on the blueline, with more biding their time with the Marlies.
So if you are going to deal from the classic position of strength, they would be moving one of those 9 defenders if they made a move to try and acquire a high-end forward.
My question for you today is, if you felt the Leafs had to make a move (and I realize at this moment, these are heady times with the Leafs being in a nice position in the Eastern Conference standings) and therefore had to ship out a defenseman, which one would you be willing to move?
We all recognize that if you trade your best defender, you can get “more” coming back your way. But my point is simply this: of the guys I just mentioned, who (for the sake of discussion) would you be most prepared to live without going forward, to obtain a difference-maker up front?
As much as fans love what Kessel and Lupul are doing while hoping that Grabovski returns to his old form when he returns (and that the kids like Fratting and Colborne will take that next step and contribute in a big way, too) I just believe we will eventually need more, to, again, be one of the truly "top" teams.
I’ve already said in the past that one guy I don’t want to see the Leafs move is Gunnarsson, simply because I think he brings so much overall skill and has such a high ceiling. I believe the guy can be an All-Star within the next two to three seasons (though we keep hearing the team was prepared to move him this past off-season).
But for the purpose of our discussion today, everything is on the table. So from where you sit, who absolutely has to stay on the blueline, and who would you be willing to part with—if you had to?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.