Leaf fans are probably enjoying the break in the NHL schedule as much as the players, so I won’t go on at length about the Leaf situation today. Many hockey fans are caught up in the Olympic spirit and specifically Olympic hockey fever and that’s as it should be. (I have my own Canadian Olympic hockey memories, but I’ll set that aside for today.)
I’ll just say that Toronto General Manager Dave Nonis, at least in my mind, is in a very interesting situation right now to say the least—and he has plenty of time to think about possibilities. Why do I say this? Well, his team, in my view, is not really good enough to win a Stanley Cup, but with a couple of adjustments and maybe another solid defenseman, I can’t help but wonder if they just might be ready to take a run at the Eastern Conference crown.
That said, what does Nonis do now? I’m hardly suggesting he sell off all the bright young kids in the system—not at all. But does he just continue to be patient and wait and wait some more, knowing he does not have the overall roster strength to win it all this spring? Or does he, in fact, take a bit of a run at it? Does he pull the trigger on a deal or deals that perhaps won’t make the earth shake (neither did the Gleason trade, but that has sure helped thus far) but could have an impact of this roster?
If so, might those moves indeed be enough to get us past Pittsburgh and/or Boston in the playoffs? If the answer could be yes, is it something he has to consider, as in, yes, being willing to move a potentially valuable young asset or two to coalesce this group and make it playoff battle-worthy—and capable of a lot more than just maybe winning a round.
In this “go for it” scenario, what players might have to go? We have to be realistic: if you want to get something you generally have to give up something of value. (Quick aside—we did acquire Phaneuf for very little, and we think we got Lupul and Gardiner for nothing, but we should acknowledge that Francois Beauchemin is not exactly just taking up space in Anaheim. He was a plus 19 in a short 2012-’13 season, and is plus 26 this season while averaging 23 minutes a night on a very, very good Bruce Boudreau squad.)
So if you are Nonis, what are you thinking as the Olympic games go on thousands of miles away from the ACC and the NHL is on everyone’s mental backburner? Are you willing to let this season play out, take no risks, and see if Carlyle can somehow win—or at least go as far as possible with the roster as is?
Or, do you figure, “this is one of those seasons where anyone can win this Conference, and once we get that far, who knows?”. If that’s your line of thought, do you make those one or two daring, maybe even high-risk moves to get this team on a level playing field (or at least closer) with the best teams in hockey?
Sometimes, the opportunity to win a championship does not return as easily or as quickly as organizations, players—or fans—might think. The Leafs may well be positioning themselves to be contention for years to come, but are we really sure of that? Things change awfully quickly in sports.
So think on this—and let me what you would decide if you were in Nonis’ shoes…