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What’s the next shoe to drop in Leafville?

It has already been an active “off-season” for Dave Nonis.  The Bernier deal raised eyebrows (including those, I’m guessing, of his new co-“number-one”) in some quarters, relief in others.

It was the same with the Bolland deal.  Some Leafers see him as exactly what the doctor ordered; others are less sure that his career is still in its ascendency, and fear he may be, at best, a nice third-line player as opposed to someone who will play in the team’s top-six forward group on a regular basis.

Nonis has traded away a number of picks since he assumed control of the operation back in January, including via some moves he made on draft day.  Whether the current Leaf building agenda is new, his, or Leiweke’s is hard to decipher.  But Nonis must feel now was the time to move some of the organizational 'futures' that have been built up over the past few years to bring in some timely pieces like Bernier and Bolland, who both come from winning organizations.

Now, for all the activity, there is almost certainly quite a bit more roster shuffling to come.  You just get the sense that Nonis is working to massage the roster to bolster our strength in goal and at the center-ice position.

That said, if we are serious when it comes to the notion of discussing the Leafs in the same breath as the really good teams in the NHL, there remain some roster holes that desperately need plugging.

On paper, we should be stronger in goal, right?  We now have two competitive, mid-20s guys who want the top job.  Of course the Blue Jays had a word-class starting rotation this past winter, but their reality has been somewhat different so far in the 2013 Major League baseball season.  Things don’t always, as we all know, go as hoped.

On paper, we should also be stronger in the middle, with Bolland in place and McClement still here, with Kadri now having a full NHL season (well, half a full-season, if you know what I mean) and some playoff experience behind him as well.  We also have Grabovski in the fold, at the moment our presumptive first-line center. (I think Bozak, another of our centers, is gone.  So is MacArhur, one of our wingers...)

However, it could be argued by some that we still don't have truly elite NHL netminding, and I would argue that we certainly don’t have anywhere near the best center-ice lineup in the league, either.  I mean, I like Reimer a lot in goal, and I’m sure Bernier will be solid.  And each of the centers I mentioned are good NHL players.  But if we’re talking about being among the best of the best, well, I don't think so.

So there were sit.  We continue to tinker with the roster, presumably making it a bit better here and there.  Is it a lot better?  I don't know.  My instincts aren’t telling me that, but I can certainly be proven wrong.

We know we need a stud defenseman.  We need a frontline center, someone with size, elite skill and toughness. (I’m talking about the right kind of toughness—someone who can play in traffic, take and give a hit, and handle the pressure of facing shutdown lines…)

We all know those players don’t grow on trees, but this is the 'gap' that will need to be addressed by sometime next season, if not sooner.

As of this moment, the Leafs, I would suggest, are a competitive team in the East.  They could make the playoffs, or not. They could win a round or two in the playoffs, or not. It depends on so many factors and some intangibles, as well.

So with that as the backdrop, as you project what our GM may be thinking and what he may be inclined to do, what’s the next move on the horizon?  Are you expecting a major UFA signing this weekend?  Or something more subtle, say along the lines of the McClement signing from a year ago?

Are one of the goalies in play?  (They can’t both play at the same time and boy, as much as I have defended Carlyle, do I ever dislike hearing “if you win you’re in” as the coaching philosophy when it comes to goaltenders….Is that really how we judge how our goalie is playing?)

Is Phaneuf truly on the table?  Or is that all just idle media speculation?

What do you see as next concrete move that Nonis makes?  A trade?  A free-agent signing? Will we get that stud defenseman?  Are we in the running for a big-time center?

There are intriguing free-agent names out there, and not just Lecavalier and Clarkson (who many seem to feel has an arrangement that somehow guarantees he will sign in Toronto).  Though not centers, do any of Ryane Clowe, Jarome Iginala or Nathan Horton appeal to you? How about Dustin Penner, who runs from invisible to oustanding?

(Quick aside, based on all the hype from the TSN crew on the weekend at the draft, where every pick was fantastic, I could not help but look today at a list of available UFAs and recall how many of them were once being hyped the same way.  Many will be lucky to even get a contract offer….)

In any event, I have to believe there is a real plan in place, and Nonis and the brass are looking to put the right players into the right holes.

Maybe you have a surprise idea that you’re prepared to share with the rest of us, something that you think Nonis will do that will send Leafworld into a tizzy…

Bottom line: what shoe drops next, in your opinion?


  1. Too many issues, not enough space and time.
    All I hear from MSM, blogs, and hairstylist Tony from Woodbridge is Leafs need for Centreman. Bolland has been injured and his overall play diminished substantially last shorten season. His ceiling is 3rd. He is sandpaper, Leo with some upside scoring, let us not envision a powerforward 2nd or even 1st with said Bollard. But I believe most Leaf fans will not.
    But what not has been said, and is of huge immediate danger is defense. Phaneuf is overpaid, we only have 4 defenseman signed according to capgeek. Actually we only have 13 players signed with 16 mill in cap. Forget any of the free agents out there unless you compliance buyout Grabovski. Still nothing is directed to Leafs greatest need defense. Look you dont have to be a huge stats freak to understand over 66% of time was spent in Leafs zone. The whole season we've been playing rope-a-dope, and because of the grace of god, we got away with it.
    Nonis needs defense over anything else.
    And defense, solid, reliable, possession effective, transition intelligent defense is not of abundance in the NHL.
    My god Leafs finished 6th in goals scored, yet defense is ignored by most of the media and blogs. Shots against per game Leafs where 27th I believe. This is madness.
    I could go on, I have so much more to say its not funny. Unless you're truly interested I'm cutting this off here.
    I don't know what Nonis can do with a cap of 64.3 and only 13 players signed with only 16 mill to play with unless they compliance buyout Grabovski or even Phaneuf. with Free agents out there, Letang is absolute nonsense, where will Leafs go for the 3 to 4 defensemen they need to get through Boston?

    1. You raise some sobering issues, Walter. When I wrote that Toronto's goaltending (and their centres) would not rank at the top end of the NHL's best teams, I could have said the same thing about our defensemen, as well.

      There are some capable players there, yes, but still so many question marks after last season. Some see Phaneuf as a mainstay, for example. Others as, as you suggested, see him as over-paid and over-rated.

      If the Leafs are going to have success, along with their offensive abilities they will have to get air tight checking from the whole roster, and employ a tough, smart and mobile defense corps. They are still, as you mentioned, lacking some of the traits required at the back end- though we'll need the forwards to do their share to change those possession stats.

      Thanks Walter.

  2. Michael,

    Boy do I wish I had a clue what was/is going on in the management offices of the Leafs. I saw very little need to get Bernier. I am not surprised given their pursuit of Kiprusoff, as well as Luongo, just puzzled. Not that the management trust of the Leafs doesn't believe in Reimer, just a question of why don't they?

    Bolland is a more defensively responsible centre than anyone who played here last year with the possible exception of Jay McClement. He doesn't score much as a rule. So I don't really see that much gained when you factor both offense and defense into the equation. A nice enough player, and a proven winner, in need of a contract extension, and of course looking to get a raise. This is very similar to the Versteeg acquisition, in my mind and many others.

    I have to give the media some credit for sniffing these things out, so I do believe our captain is being shopped. Is this an issue of setting the market for extending him, or trying to get as much as you can and letting him go? Despite his deficiencies, contract included, he does play huge minutes every game against the best players the opposition has. That has to be valuable, as well as his ability as the year wore on to hit the net regularly. If they trade him, they clearly need two top 4 d'men instead of one. It would seem that teams are hesitant to trade them away, not really sure why Toronto is so eager to do so.

    As of today, Vinny has signed with the Flyers. Another team out of the playoffs last year that is going to make a big push to get back in. Is there a team you have heard of looking to unload a big, talented, two way, number one centre? I haven't heard of teams that do that, but maybe I fell asleep during the entry draft listening to what an impact player such and such team was getting with pick #64.

    With all the picks that Nonis has given up, he needs to be careful, in my opinion on the trade front. If he continues to give up prospects and picks, not sure what the next GM will have left to rebuild with. I am not suggesting that Nonis is on the way out, just that these guys have a shelf life and we have already gone through the Burke bashing the JFJ bare cupboard problem.

    I hope that Nonis can pull off a big move. Get someone via trade that no one believed would be available. He certainly didn't wow me with his big moves so far. Perhaps the blockbuster is just around the corner.

  3. Thanks for letting me know about Lecavalier, Jim. I don't believe the deal had been announced when I was working on this post earlier, but if he's off the market, that's one less 'name' available. Not that he was the answer to our prayers. (Maybe the Vinny of a decade ago, or even a few years ago...)

    The Phaneuf thing is interesting. Big salary, for sure. But that's what teams pay (or even more nowadays) for big-time defensemen- for those who believe he is one. The thing is, while the cap is a factor, clearly, just trading Dion means we have to find, as you say, other guys who can take his minutes. Like those who suggested trading Kessel a year ago, it doesn't move the needle if we have to turn around and acquire someone similar to him to score goals.

    Remember when I wrote a while back that I just felt Nonis would be doing something big...just a feeling I had. Since then he has made two major trades. We'll see if there is more to come. I think there is. Thanks Jim.

  4. My predictions:

    Tyler Bozak is gone. Kadri is our first line center with Kessel and sometimes JVR or Lupul.

    We get Clarkson and he plays with the often knocked about Grabovski on the second line with JVR or Lupul. Clarkson pounds those who knock Grabo about and Grabo has a good year.

    Kulemin moves down to the third line with Bolland and McClement...a true Randy Carlyle shutdown line.

    Joe Colborne gets more NHL time centering a beastly big fourth line with Orr and McLaren. When Joe is playing well, he bumps up to the third line and McClement shifts down.

    We don't get a stud defenceman, but our pairings change somewhat. Phaneuf and Gunnarrson remain the top pairing with Gardiner and Franson as the second with increased minutes. The third pairing will be Fraser and Liles with Morgan Reilly replacing Liles by the trade deadline.

    Matt Frattin gets his first of consecutive 20 goal seasons and it leaves a bitter taste in our mouths even though Bernier and Reimer play well.

    1. Yes, I'm interested to see where and how Colborne fits, as you allude to, DP. I"m not sure if Kadri is a first-line guy, though he certainly has the skills and an edginess to his game.

      That lineup (and therefore your projections) could change, too, with more roster moves in the days ahead- thanks DP!

  5. I am encouraged by Nonis' initial moves during this offseason. I did not like the Bernier acquisition at first but on further rumination it makes perfect sense. Think back to the beginning of the 2011-12 season; the Leafs were flying out of the gate (4-1, I believe) behind Reimer's great goaltending. All it took was one Gionta hit and ineffective backups to turn the season into a broken dream. If Bernier is as good as purported then they have purchased a giant insurance policy against a repeat of the above scenario. I don't think Nonis and Leaf management doubt Reimer's abilities but I think they are extremely nervous, given his past history, of another debilitating injury.

    I like the Bolland trade for many reasons. He is an excellent defensive centre who is capable of checking and shutting down opposition big guns. He was injured last season and I believe his scoring will pick up if he is healthy. Most importantly, he is one of the better penalty killers in the league and will fill a big hole created when Komorov left.

    It is all speculation at this point on how Nonis will fill the two obvious needs of a number one centre and an improved defense. Obviously we can only guess (and hope) on how Nonis will address these problems but part of the fun of the offseason is playing GM and coming up with our own (hopefully logical) solutions.

    I believe that the trade route is the best way to proceed. There are two teams that I would look to as trade partners. Each has a surplus in one of our areas of need.

    Team 1: Colorado - They have a surplus of quality centres and Paul Stastny seems like the odd man out with the drafting of Nathan MacKinnon. Colorado has needs on defense and if Phaneuf is indeed in play then a swap might be beneficial to both teams as their salary cap hits are comparable.

    Team 2: Nashville - They have a surplus of defensemen and a definite need of offence. If the Leafs sign a #1 centre then Grabovski would be available for trade although the Leafs might have to eat part of his salary.

    I am pretty optimistic when it comes to the Leaf defense. They have a number of quality up and comers in Rielly, Percy, Blacker and Finn. Gardiner looks to have regained his form. Franson improved tremendously last season. Gunnarsson should be recovered from his injury. If they could sign Paul Ranger I believe they would have an above average defense even without Phaneuf.

    I am optimistic about the Leafs chances next season. I like the roster as it stands and can only feel that Nonis will further strengthen it. I think sometimes we magnify our own weaknesses and lose sight of the fact that every team in the NHL has holes in its roster.

    1. The Stastny name has certainly been out there, Pete Cam (though, did I hear this week that the new management team in Colorado may want to keep him now...?).

      I do wonder if it would be a shock at this point if Phaneuf was traded. But as you note, there are players on the roster who seem (stress on seem) ready to take on added responsibility with the Leafs. Can any of them play 30 minutes a night or close to that effectively? Hard to say.

      I well agree about teams and roster flaws. It's a point that needs to be made, especially in the Eastern Conference, where every team has roster holes that need to be filled, and never fully are, including the Leafs. Thanks Pete Cam.

  6. Young, affordable and controllable. These are the qualities Nonis will be looking for. Yes, the playoff experience was thoroughly enjoyable but it should not detract Nonis from doing what's right and that's draft and develop. However,I'd be interested in a player like Briere for a number of reasons. First, he will be on a short term, he is going to be a very motivated player and he will provide some more leadership to a young team. Yes, it goes against what I just preached but he will be here for a short time until the prospects in the system get developed. I hope Nonis stays the course and resists the impulse to go for it all too quickly. I believe he will.

  7. The young, affordable, controllable approach you cite, Dave, reflects what the Blue Jays did in years in baseball. When they felt the time was right this past off-seaosn, they added some experience and spent money. It may work out for them yet.

    Whether it's Briere or someone else, I'm of the view that good young teams need (at the right time, maybe we're not quite there yet...) leadership and playoff experience to get to that next level we always talk about. Unless you are like Chicago and your young stars are in fact leaders, teams generally look to guys who have been there before. Gary Roberts was a leader on a veteran team. My sense is someone like that would/could do wonders with a young Leaf team like this one. There are some interesting names out there that might fit what you are suggesting- short term, but valuable. Thanks Dave.

  8. There are so many variables when it comes manager performance in relation to roster moves that it becomes difficult to assess. This year in particular, with the falling cap, there appears to be a lot of available free agents, many of whom will come at reduced prices. I guess Tyler Bozak will soon know if his salary expectations will be met by another team, but given the current situation it is far from certain that another team could.

    I would like to see the Leaf management target players with experience, even if they are younger players. One player that comes to mind is former Leaf Viktor Stalberg, who is UFA I think and certainly comes with successful playoff experience. He might be able to fill the void created by the unfortunate departure of Matt Frattin and might not be able to command the raise he deserves.

    Along these lines, it might be prudent to wait out the initial “frenzy” and see which players remain. Because several teams appear to be tight against the cap, there may well be several bargains out there once the dust settles. It also might be wise to avoid rushing in some of the evolving Marlies. Consequently, they might look to some seasoned veterans who almost surely will be available at reduced cost, given the salary pressures the new CBA has created.

    1. My guess is that, as you suggest, there will be some solid veterans available at reasonable salaries after the initial flurry, Bobby C.. Those who buy on "day one" usually pay a ton, though I think McClement signed last year for what turned out to be a workable salary on the first day of free-agency. We all agree that was a nice pick-up.

      Stalberg is an interesting one. He had to fight for his ice time in the playoffs, but he has developed into a useful player on a good team.

      Thanks Bobby.