I’m not sure when Justin Schultz plans to make his “decision” with regards to where he will sign to start his NHL career, but that’s just one of the many storylines in front of us as we hit Canada Day weekend—better known in hockey circles these days as the opening of the free-agency period.
An interesting (maybe surprising is the more appropriate word) number of ‘pending’ UFA’s have already signed with their “old” team before they even took a shot at the open market. But maybe their feeling is that, with a new CBA yet-to-be-determined, it’s better to grab something for sure rather than banking on a possible bigger pay day a few weeks down the road—when they could also be shut out.
We’ve already discussed here that it’s likely the Maple Leafs won’t be in any of the so-called big names, but surprises can always happen. As I write this, Schultz is still a possibility, and that would surely excite the Leaf populace, no question.
Beyond that, I can see Burke dipping his toe in the free-agent pool, but I’m hesitant to suggest anything major will happen. I assume he is still looking at Luongo (if the goalie's not Florida bound), but if Luongo ends up elsewhere, perhaps that opens up money for some other useful pieces, eh? Others have posted here, and probably correctly, that if the Leafs do have limited money to spend against the cap as it sits right now (around 70 million, right?) then how much would they/should they spend on third and fourth-line guys who are out there (Tootoo, etc.) who may not bring a lot more than what the Leafs already have.
The interesting (telling?) thing that hasn’t happened yet is that Burke (assuming he intended to) has not been able to move the contracts of players like Connolly, MacArthur, Komisarek, Armstrong, etc.. Now, maybe when teams are in the position that the Panthers were in last summer/fall, and need to spend to get up to the cap floor, we will see the Leaf GM make moves to rid the franchise of some cumbersome salaries. We’ll see.
But as things stand now, on the cusp of another free-agency feeding frenzy, I wonder—given our present roster—who you think has to be at their best this coming season if the Leafs are to entertain any real hope of pushing for a playoff berth in the spring of 2013—and maybe even something better than that?
I mean, when your roster is borderline in terms of playoff possibilities—and I think it’s fair to say the Leafs are still in that category, even with the addition of van Riemsdyk—even if they sign young Schultz, you need just about everybody to be “good” next season and to play well more often than not just to be competitive, right? But I wonder if we also need one or two guys to really play to their potential who perhaps did not last season, when we fell short.
For me, the names that spring to mind are probably James Reimer and Nik Kulemin. We’ve talked so much about Reimer, and I know a lot of Leafers are not of the view that he is the answer. I still sense he can be, but the jury is out, no question.
My point is simply this: in the absence of another goaltender coming in and “saving the day” (and I’m not sure there is one out there that will…), Reimer is the guy. And if he can play as he did the second half of the 2010-’11 season, I think a lot of us would take that. I know that a half-season was a fairly small sample size, but I don’t think it should be dismissed, any more than we can simply dismiss last season’s injury-plagued performance from Reimer. We just need the good Reimer, for the Leafs to make the playoffs.
The other guy for me is indeed Kulemin. I think we have all wondered if the KHL Russian air tragedy last fall had a personal impact on the young Leaf winger. Whatever the issue was, while he had a few good moments (and I have liked this guy from the get-go), he rarely put together his overall game—you know, when he hits, can control the corners and not only be responsible defensively but put up points, as well. As I’ve said here in the past, heading into last season his career arc was good—very good. I anticipated last season would be a big one for him, and it just never happened. Maybe that was an isolated off-year, which happens to lots of players. Maybe it was one step back so he can take two steps forward.
Whatever, he is another guy that, as things now stand with our roster, needs to be good—I would argue very good—if the Leafs are to push for a playoff spot next spring.
That’s just some summertime dreaming, I guess, before possible roster adjustments after July 1.
What about you? Who, for you, has to “step up” next season for the Leafs to have a shot?