Although he missed the first twelve games of the season, the offense revolved around right wing Phil Kessel. At first, critics thought the Leafs lacked an appropriate playmaking center to compliment Brian Burke’s shiny new toy but at season’s end Matt Stajan and Tyler Bozak proved to be just good enough to keep Kessel producing. The latter figures to play a full season pivoting Kessel, which immediately places him on all fantasy radars.
Both Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky were jettisoned from the lineup in separate trades but left the team as the second and third point producers at the time, respectively. Burke seemed intent on fielding a younger roster and shipping out his veterans as he also moved Jason Blake, Lee Stempniak, Jamal Mayers, Niclas Hagman and Ian White.
Going into next season, this lineup will continue their growing pains as only Nikolai Kulemin, Viktor Stalberg, Mikhail Grabovsky and Colton Orr started the season on last year’s roster. Time will tell if prospects like Brayden Irwin, Luca Caputi, Stalberg or Christian Hanson will contribute on a consistent basis. Perhaps the biggest question regarding the offensive core would be, is Nazem Kadri ready to play NHL hockey next season.
Taking a look at this past season’s Colorado Avalanche could inspire confidence, however in every fantasy pool, I guarantee safer options.
Tomas Kaberle appears to be the talk of the trade market as he enters his final year of his contract. Sources claim he wants to stay in Toronto but if offered the right package, Burke will likely pull the trigger. This past season, Kaberle led the Leafs defensemen with 49 points, good for second on the team and remains the leader on the blue line.
If the Leafs do move Kaberle, blueliners Carl Gunnarsson and Francois Beauchemin can handle part of the offensive load while midseason acquisition Dion Phaneuf seems poised for a leadership role. Those quality players combined with former first round pick Luke Schenn make for a fantastic group both on paper and down the road.
However, with inconsistent goaltending and lack of true offensive scoring, the defense will continue their growing pains. A step forward from both Gunnarson and Schenn is not out of the question.
The Leafs started the season with Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson fighting for the starting role. Unfortunately, neither netminder showed fully capable of a full-time job leading Burke to trade for former Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Netminding made all the difference between this past season and the year before as Toskala lacked the ability to steal games two years in a row.
Once acquired, Giguere performed above expectations with a couple of shutouts before settling back into mediocrity. To be fair, this past year should be seen as nothing more than a rebuild and one full year under the belt of the young Gustavsson.
On the Bench:
Through scrutiny coach Ron Wilson will remain behind the bench for the Leafs. Just like in the Olympic games Burke stuck with Wilson as his coach and proved that with a talented roster, the coach can succeed on a larger platform. The former Shark bench boss coached through consistent veteran player turnover and now will continue to help build his team. Entering his third year of a four-year contract he may be criticized more often even though his roster may not be as talented as his aforementioned past clubs.
When Wilson first came over to the Sharks, he coached a young team long on talent but short on direction. In less than one year he transformed their team from last in their Division to a perennial 100+ point team. At this point it seems obvious Wilson will need more time if this team is even the right fit for him. This current group assembled holds a significantly less amount of skill than what he is used to.
The Bottom Line:
This season marks the second in a full-blown rebuild meaning the standings simply did not matter. Burke assembled some excellent long-term pieces in Kessel and Phaneuf while mortgaging most of his young, valuable assets. Both players fill the role as cornerstones to build around going forward. In summary, things will remain interesting in Toronto regardless of winning and losing– but don’t expect much winning just yet
|Number 30||Edmonton Oilers|
|Number 29||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Number 28||Florida Panthers|
|Number 27||Columbus Blue Jackets|