Burke with Patience, Believing, and Plan Bs
At this point we are two weeks past the opening of NHL Free Agency, three weeks from the draft, and five weeks from when the Stanley Cup was won. In contrast we are about 12 weeks away from the start of the regular season, assuming it opens on time. For the record, Iím optimistic it will. There is still an awful lot of off-season to go.
With that in mind it begs the question, ďHow come we expect the Leafs to be fixed by now?Ē Recognizing that player movements start shortly after the Cup Finals end, weíve given Brian Burke a month to fix a team that had the fifth worst record in the league. Thatís a pretty tall order.
Granted, Iím as impatient as everyone else. The off season can be an incredibly painful few months if your team isnít making trades or signing players. I would like to see more done for the Leafs than adding some size to the wing, and upgrade the bottom six forward group, arguably what should have been the lowest priorities on team that has obvious issues up the middle, in net, and on defense.
Thatís not to say that van Riemsdyk, Komarov, and McClement do not upgrade the Leafs. Certainly in van Riemsdyk and McClement they do, and Komarov fills a role that has been vacant since Darcy Tucker (though his best Leafs comparable might be Bill Berg since offense will unlikely be a factor). The team has improved, but not to the point where expectations should be elevated beyond last season. And thatís fine at this point.
As the summer progresses and we get further and further from Leafs hockey, there is a tendency to start looking at this team as dramatically improved. Itís not. The last time we saw Ben Scrivens he was standing on his head in the Calder Cup, not fighting pucks in the NHL. As a result heís now viewed as an NHL backup. Similarly, Jerry DíAmigo has been mentioned as a potential penalty killer for the Leafs, van Riemsdyk can be a top line center, Kadri has begun working out with Gary Roberts, and Reimer has announced he is symptom free.
We want to believe that all of this is true. Even a cynical prick like myself has been suckered in to believing that Kadri needs to have a spot in the top six on the Leafs, and I have chosen to believe that a completely recovered Reimer can make a difference for the Leafs next season. Whatís worse is that all of these guys seem quite likeable and you want to root for them to be successful with the Leafs rather than see them shipped out.
This has happened every year. Last year, Franson and Liles were the missing pieces on the blueline, Connolly was going to add a few extra points that Bozak couldnít provide, Lombardi was going to add some needed speed to the penalty kill, and a full season of Reimer was finally going to stabilize the goaltending situation. What happened was a catastrophic failure, coupled with regressions to Kulemin, MacArthur, and Grabovski. Of course, no one expected the out of nowhere success stories from Lupul and Gardiner, either. What was evident was that there were a lot of question marks on the team last summer and perhaps a few more ĎPlan Bí type players needed to be brought in.
ĎPlan Bí is exactly my take on James van Riemsdyk at centre, making either Bozak or Connolly Plan C. I canít imagine that Burke has given up on finding a true top six centre, but if they are looking for other options now is a great time to get JvR thinking about a new position.