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The summertime wish list for the Maple Leafs? Calling Andrew Ladd

When you watch the playoffs every spring, you are reminded just how fast-paced and physical the hockey is.  Not to diminish what the Leafs have achieved in their re-building process, but I think the message is pretty clear:  to be as good as some of these teams, they still need size, toughness and skill up front.

Now, I’m not suggesting this is a revelation.  And people talk about the Leaf forward "depth" (or lack thereof) all the time.  I posted here last summer about the “top-six” and the serious reservations I had going into the season.

Even once the season started, the Leafs had obviously miscast guys (Bozak and Versteeg for example) as “top-six” players when they just weren’t there yet.  If it weren’t for the out of nowhere performance of MacArthur (a late-summer signing) and Grabovski, well, I’m still not sure what we’d be talking about now, with regard to “top-six” quality forwards.

Having said all that, what can Burke do this summer to get where the team needs to go to compete with the “big boys” that we seeing this spring in the playoffs?

I don’t think they’re that far away but I do think they are a ways away.

I do believe Reimer and Gustavsson, assuming they are both healthy, can hold down the fort in goal going forward.  Sure they might look for a veteran, but I don’t see them paying a huge price for one.

Schenn, Phaneuf, Aulie and Gunnarsson are a nice blend as the top-four guys on the blueline.  There is even some depth in the organization (Holzer, Gardiner and others in the minors; a possible Komisarek rebound, etc.)

I should hasten to make the point though, that contending teams need to be ten-deep on the blueline, if you want to get anywhere in the playoffs.  Look at the teams who have been decimated by injuries (the Maple Leafs were very fortunate in this regard this past season) and yet have made the playoffs.  But you need real depth, not just one or two ‘guys’ who maybe can play, beyond your top six.

Up front is the even bigger challenge.  Again, I could probably argue that, besides Kessel, Grabbo and Kulemin, the organization has about 12 guys who are third and fourth-liners at this point in their career.  That may be a bit harsh.  (I’m not sold on Kadri, though I want to be.  Yes, I saw him late in the season.  He can make sweet passes, for sure.  I’m just trying to picture him playing in the playoffs right now, where every mistake matters and the play is so intense and physical…) Lupul should be in that mix, too.

But I sense that most of us can agree that the Leafs have to do a few things.  Does that mean more trades?  Free agency? 

My instincts suggest Burke would rather get something for nothing, so free agency seems the surer bet, though he is clearly not afraid to deal.

Who’s on the market?

In terms of forwards, (assuming the pending UFA’s don’t simply sign with their current team before July 1) I realize that everyone will be falling all over Brad Richards.  I don’t doubt Burke would love Richards but so would probably fifteen other teams, maybe more.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, as much as I like Richards, for where this team is going, I’m not sure he is the ‘right’ high-priced guy to sign.  For 7 or 8 million a year, I’m concerned with his injury history (although everyone has an injury history nowadays) and with how much hard hockey he has played over the past decade.  I’m not saying he’s an old 30, but I would rather find a Brad Richards five years ago. 

Wouldn’t everyone, I guess.

Is Raffi Torres of the Canucks a temptation?  He may be due for bigger money (he’s making one million a year, I believe) after his late-signing and 2010-'11 season with the Canucks, especially if he has an impact in the playoffs.  He certainly fits the Burke profile for a winger.  He can skate and he hits.

What about Tampa’s Simon Gagne?  For me, this highly-skilled forward is in the Richards category, but even less attractive.  Too many injuries, too much tough hockey already played.  He may make less than his current 5 million plus next time, but that neighborhood is pretty expensive to me.

Is Jason Arnott a guy who could help for a year at a modest price?  If I think Richards is “too old” at 30, why would I even mention Arnott?  Well, he’s a big body who uses it.  He’s a winner who is still making a difference on playoff teams.   I realize his price tag may still be too high, but if his demands were more modest, maybe he’d be worth a short- term deal, like Gary Roberts when he came to Toronto.  Again, though, would Arnott be a difference-maker by the time the Leafs were knocking on the door?  Doubtful.

On the backline, we don’t necessarily need a veteran leader, but how about Eric Brewer?  I am really getting old, because it feels like yesterday that Brewer was one of the young guys just emerging on the scene with Canada’s 2002 Olympic team.  His perceived value seems to have dipped, but I’ve seen flashes that he can still play, if his contract wasn’t out of line.

Maybe the more interesting scenario would be if Burke went the restricted free-agent route.  It would be ironic, given his piercing attack on Kevin Lowe a few years back when Lowe went after Penner without advising Burke first (as the story goes).

The big name out there in this regard is Zach Parise, though I have to believe Lamoriello will sign him before July 1.  Why sign Kovalchuk and then let the heart of your team get away?

I can't see the big-money Rangers not re-signing Ryan Callahan, so for me, the more interesting "un-restricted" name might be Andrew Ladd.  At 25, he already has a Stanley Cup on his resume—two actually, including his rookie season with Carolina.  (We said much the same thing a year ago about Versteeg, and the Leafs evidently saw that as a mistake.)

Though he was a minus player on a struggling team in Atlanta this season, Ladd put up significant offensive numbers.  He has size, and has already played more than 400 NHL games.

He’s not the center Leaf fans crave, but he can play.  And how much money does Atlanta have, with their ownership issues?

Is any of this realistic?  Maybe not.  But I don’t think Burke, Nonis, Poulin and company will leave many stones un-turned this summer.

They want to get better, now.


  1. Ladd would be a nice pick up, but it's doubtful that he will be available on July 1st. As of Tuesday it looks like he is about to resign with the Thrashers. I think that Burkie will have to go the trade route to obtain a front line centre.

  2. What about Brooks Laich? He really seems to be overlooked and could be obtained for likely 3.5/yr

  3. all of these rfas would cost over a million to sign costing the leafs a first rounder. Since the Bruins have the Leafs first rounder they are unable to offer any of these deals. They cannot give up the first rounders they got from philly or boston, so unless they can get back there first rounder from boston (not happening) there is ZERO chance of the Leafs getting any of these rfas.

  4. Yes, most of the restricted free-agents (including Ladd) will likely re-sign with their own teams, just like Reimer and Schenn in Toronto.

    But it's fun to wonder what could be out there and possible, at least.

    As one of the posters mentioned, the draft choice situation muddies the waters, for sure. The trade route is always an option, but you have to believe some effort will be made to explore all options.

  5. Long suffering Leaf fanApril 21, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    Hey Mike, If you get a chance visit and listen to the Barilko brothers audio to their mother and sister. I think you will really enjoy it.

  6. My wish list is something like prying the salaries of Doan or Stastny from teams who appear to be unwilling to spend to win. Also, if look at the Sharks cap picture for next year, Pavelski might be the guy they need to let go of to stay under.

  7. just so that the other anonymous knows, any picks the leafs would have to give up in return for extending an offer to this years rfa's, would be from NEXT years draft and onward.