James Mirtle's views on how to fix the Leafs?
Well, we’re well into Day 6 of free agency, and the Toronto Maple Leafs have easily been one of the league’s quieter teams.
Especially if you look at all those that finished near the bottom of the standings alongside them.
The Carolina Hurricanes, for example, finished two points ahead of Toronto, dealt for Jordan Staal and are working to add another top six forward.
The Blue Jackets traded for Nick Foligno (and are working on a Rick Nash deal), the Oilers signed Justin Schultz, the Ducks added a pair of defencemen (and are looking for good return on Bobby Ryan) and the Wild may have hit a homerun in adding Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
There is, of course, still a lot of off-season to go, and Leafs GM Brian Burke insists he isn’t close to being finished. He’s listed his team’s top three priorities as (a) getting bigger (b) adding a veteran goaltender and (c) adding another top two centre.
Those aren’t easy holes to fill, even with some $12-million in cap space. In one case, it’s probably not even the right one.
Here’s the Leafs roster as currently constructed, with James Van Riemsdyk a bit of a wild card given we don’t know where he’ll slot in (there’s talk he’ll be tried at centre, but here’s betting he’ll ultimately end up on the wing):
Lupul - Bozak/Connolly - Kessel
MacArthur - Grabovski - Van Riemsdyk
Frattin - McClement - Kulemin
Lombardi - Steckel - Brown
ex: Kadri, Komarov
Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
Liles - Franson
Gardiner - Holzer/Komisarek
What this Leafs team needs more than size – where they were actually about league average last year – is more top end talent at all three positions.
That push to get bigger (mainly up front) certainly fits with Burke and coach Randy Carlyle’s philosophy, and if there’s a way to fulfill it while also making the team better, that’s fine.
But the Leafs problem was hardly their forwards’ play in the offensive zone last season: They scored more goals than all but nine other teams, and the addition of Van Riemsdyk should help offset whatever drop off players like Joffrey Lupul may have.
Where they really struggled was keeping the puck out of their net, a category they finished second last in and which has been the franchise’s weakness essentially since the lockout.