2014 – 2015 Toronto Maple Leafs Need To Embrace Scorched Earth Concept

There are opportunities abound for the Toronto Maple Leafs to take advantage of over the next couple months that may very well define the relative success or potential failure of their pending rebuild, their ability to restock the prospect cupboards and finally the acquisition of additional draft picks. By the trade deadline this year there should be a significant focus on acquiring as many draft picks and prospects via trades for current roster players as they are able, of which there should be no question however there are two additional ways management should explore to assure the rebuild goes as smooth as humanly possible. That would be cap space management while acquiring influential veteran leadership with the potential to be turned into assets during the next trade deadline and professional tryout invitations at training camp.

With the number of Toronto players that are rumored to be on the trading block, one can hopefully assume that the Leafs will have a lot more cap space available to them before the end of the year. Any available cap space the team manages to generate in the near future will be absolutely vital in their rebuild efforts as it will open up a number of new avenues for the club to explore, especially if they attempt to acquire younger players from cap maxed teams. This space could also be used to potentially absorb other teams less than desirable contracts, an asset which if properly negotiated could yield additional players and picks.

Off-loading current players will also require the team to start plugging positional holes, which if properly approached, could be used to their advantage. Taking a more in-depth look at the potential UFA market for older veteran defensemen as an example, perhaps there is a player or two available that could be had at relatively low cap hits and/or short term contracts that could aid the team two-fold. If for example Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf is dealt over the summer, it would immediately open a roster spot on defense and there should be some focus on signing a player to a contract who has the potential to be trade bait by the next trade deadline AND is capable of lending a veteran hand in developing current Leaf prospects. Players like Robyn Regehr (34 years old), Johnny Oduya (33), Scott Hannan (36), Carlo Colaiacovo (32) or Keith Ballard (32, depending on whether he chooses to retire after suffering another concussion back in December). They may not be the best defenseman available to the team and all have slowed a step to be certain however they are all veteran NHL players who could be signed to inexpensive, short term contracts and depending on their personality, may also be the influence needed on such a young defense core.

Although the main stream media recently made mention that the Maple Leafs are now rumored to be considering retaining Roman Polak’s services due to his mentor-ship qualities and relatively low cap hit that does not expire until next year, this would be a significant mistake in my opinion. Given how well Polak has been playing as of late and paired with the agreeable cap hit will make him enticing to teams looking to make a playoff push. Unless the potential returns are really poor, the Leafs should not hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal that lands them additional future assets especially if you can find an inexpensive serviceable veteran leader for next year that really just costs you money, something the Leafs have plenty of.

This thought process could also be applied to UFA forward’s over the summer with a focus on obtaining teachers and mentors who are also capable of filling holes in the lineup; who could potentially develop into trade-able assets by next years deadline. For example, if the Maple Leafs were to part ways with center Tyler Bozak, perhaps there should be focus on obtaining the services of a veteran player like Brad Richards over the summer who is a pending UFA and although has slowed over the years, still put up 31 points in 57 games to date or perhaps Daniel Briere who before his buyout still looked to be good for 20 goals a season.

On the flip side if management were able to part ways with players who have high cap hits perhaps the focus with available cap space should shift to potentially absorbing the likes of Vincent Lecavaliere’s contract from the Philadelphia Flyers who has three years left on his contract ($4 million next season and $3 million for the remaining 2) or perhaps Mike Richards who the Los Angeles Kings currently have buried in the AHL playing for the Manchester Monarch’s (paying him $6m next year and $5.5m, $4.5m and $3m over the next 3 years). The team would be essentially buying the draft picks or prospects that came along in the trade but the veteran player coming over could be the mentor this teams youth will so desperately need over the next couple of seasons which will undoubtedly be trying at times.

Thinking outside the box, one other potential adjustment Maple Leafs brass should consider making over the summer is their approach to training camp. They really should consider rolling the dice and extend a significant number of pro invitations to former NHL players currently plying their trade in Europe or elsewhere. Players like Peter Mueller who has expressed an interest in making a return to the NHL in the past (attended the St. Louis Blues camp but was not signed) who at 26 still might be worth investing in or perhaps the likes of Ryan Malone who’s agent I would get in touch with yesterday and tell him to start getting prepared for potentially his last shot at the NHL. The college free agent market should also be re-explored. Under Brian Burke the Leafs were fairly active in this area which really faired no worse in producing NHL caliber players (like Ben Scrivens and Tyler Bozak) and if you are further able to sign some of these players to AHL only contracts it would allow you to further build up your prospect pool.

Hopefully the team will continue to support the concept of a complete tear down while implementing some out of the box thinking no matter how uncomfortable the processes may be, anything else will just have them revisiting the past.

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2014 – 2015 Newest Toronto Maple Leafs Member and Current Toronto Marlie Brendan Leipsic

With respect to the trade announced recently between the Nashville Predators and the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the more interesting pieces of that deal coming back to Toronto that will have an immediate impact on the Toronto Marlies was prospect Brendan Leipsic along with a late first round draft pick and veteran centreman Olli Jokinen in exchange for Leafs defenseman Cody Franson and versatile forward Mike Santorelli. As far as a rental transaction goes both teams made out pretty well. The Predators come away with two solid players that will definitely bolster their roster for a lengthy playoff run with coveted right handed and offensively minded Franson who has a previous history with the team and versatile winger and center Santorelli who can slot up and down the roster. The Maple Leafs on the other hand come away with a coveted first round draft pick in a really deep draft year and a veteran centerman that may be another asset to trade away if his audition with the team goes well; with rumors the Leafs would seek a lower round draft pick for his services, which would make perfect sense for the team and a veteran player who would love nothing more than going on a lengthy playoff run. The remaining piece was prospect center Brendan Leipsic which at first glance appeared to be an undersized agitator with upside but upon further investigation revealed that he is much, much more.

Leipsic was originally drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round, 89th overall in the 2012 draft and looking at his statistics (via HockeyDB.com) they paint a much more interesting picture:

leipstats

The 20 year old Leipsic put up some solid numbers on a dominant Portland Winterhawks club during his last two years of junior and in his rookie AHL season has been impressive, putting up a solid 35 points in 47 games while keeping his PIM’s down, which is equally impressive given some of the situations he found himself in back in the WHL, including a personal favorite, ‘bottle gate’:

While going through some of the highlight videos available on Leipsic, he appears to be a solid passer that has good vision while being quick and agile on his skates. His stats indicate a pass first mentality which could be pretty dangerous is you pair him with the likes of Connor Brown, William Nylander or Matt Frattin. Many thanks to SEER Video via YouTube for throwing this one together:

The talent analysis at HockeysFuture.com lends to our assumptions made above, although it is interesting to note they have him listed at left wing. With the Marlies current lack of depth up the middle it will be intriguing to see where he plays for the rest of the season and even more so next year when the likes of centers Frederik Gauthier, Carter Verhaeghe and Tony Cameranesi make the professional jump and join the Marlies ranks and who will end up slotting where.

“Leipsic is a small, energetic winger who hits everything that moves and makes life miserable for his opponents. The speedy forward is offensively skilled, a gifted finisher, and can produce on the power play. He needs to add strength, more consistency throughout the season, and play on the edge without going over the line. The physical winger could project into a top-six forward at the NHL level but at worst, a checker with some offensive upside.” HockeysFuture.com

At the end of the day the Leafs managed to acquire a top 100 projected prospect who while on the smaller size (conflicting reports have him at 5’9″ – 5’10” between 165 – 177lbs) has all the remaining tools to make an impact. Even more importantly for the club right now is influence Leipsic may have on the Toronto Marlies, a young club decimated by call-ups this year and who are thin down the middle at the moment. If you have to applaud the Leafs on one thing, they finally seem to have changed their antiquated view on the types of prospects they acquire and who they draft, electing to focus on overall skill level more than anything else. Would be curious to see if Leipsic’s advanced stats had anything to do with this as well. Looking forward to seeing who else joins the club before the end of the year.

2014 – 2015 Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Deadline Moves Will Open Up Opportunities

It really is no longer a question of if but a question of when. The Toronto Maple Leafs should, by now, be steeling themselves for an uncomfortable and complete ground up rebuild if Brendan Shanahan wants to make his mark and bypass the failures of his predecessors with the patch job mentality they applied to the team. Coaching changes only ended up further exposing that this particular team was poorly constructed; if your best offensive threats are putting in 100+ goals a year BUT are on the ice for 300+ against, that is a serious problem; regardless if a weak d-core was partly to blame. Combined with the wrong mix of offensively minded defensemen who were unable to turn the tide when facing other teams top lines, it really was only a matter of time before the final straw broke this camels back…in two…bits of camel flying everywhere.

A number of traditional media points (newspapers, radio, tv) are now throwing out odds of players being traded either before the trade deadline or over the summer and it appears that most are in agreement that a number of players are going to be traded away before the start of next season and I am sure most of us are all for it at this point given how the team has been playing. There has to be a parting of ways with the bromance we have with this particular collection of players; they haven’t been able to get it done and it’s time to break up with them. If the Leafs attempt to retain any players at this point in time they are kidding themselves. Any player over the age of 25 will be on the downturn of their career by the time this club is truly competitive again and more signings will only signal that Shanahan is taking the same route as his predecessors. The team should be Shanna-banning themselves from signing any player over the age of 25 for the next year or two (keeping the likes of Van Riemsdyke, Kadri and Reilly) unless there are UFA projects available on short team deals a la Mike Santorelli, David Booth and Mason Raymond; players the team may be able to turn into draft picks later on down the road.

Hard to say at this point who will actually be traded in the next couple of weeks but outside of the almost certain Cody Franson transaction (who they guestimate might be worth a late first round pick and a prospect, umm yes please) and Tyler Bozak who I still liked as a Leaf, just never in the first line roll he was pushed into (which was not his fault) the rumours the possible departures of Daniel Winnik, Korbinian Holzer, Mike Santorelli and Joffrey Lupul. Now if the Leafs are truly and I mean truly going to start from the ground up and stock pile both picks and prospects they should really also consider trading the following.

Listen to trade offers for Jonathan Bernier. The romantic notion held with Bernier needs to be ditched and one needs to look no further than the facts surrounding his tenure with the team. Bernier is 26 years old and by the time the Leafs are contending again he will be in his 30’s. He has shown signs of being a stellar goaltender but has also been derailed by nagging injury. Has put up decent numbers but perhaps we are at a crossroads, could his current trade value be enough to warrant parting with him? The Leafs have some young prospects in the pipeline and we really didn’t give up all that much to acquire him in the first place.

Roman Polak has proven to be everything we could have hoped for since the Leafs acquired him in the Carl Gunnarsson trade with the St.Louis Blues last year. A solid 5-6 defenseman with speed, heart and a daily axe to grind. For a team making a deep run into the playoffs he could be an asset that could draw some attention while being relatively affordable.

Jake Gardiner is sporting a pretty awful -21 this year. He is truly aggravating to watch while playing defense but sucks you right back in with a talented play in the offensive zone to the point where you are actually left wondering if he should just take a page out of the Brent Burns playbook and play forward for awhile. Unfortunately for him Morgan Reilly is a player of very similar style, younger with a higher upside and less expensive which may make Gardiner expendable. It might take some salary absorption to get a trade done but it may still be worth it if you land a high value, lower cap hit prospect in return.

Dion Phanuef was retroactively added to the IR but was slated for return before the March 2nd trade deadline and there is almost a palpable buzz surrounding him these days; it sounds like a couple teams are going to make serious inquiries about the Leafs captain to bolster their roster for a playoff run and it is rumored that the LA Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars have all expressed interest in the 29 year old. In true Maple Leafs fashion, if anything, they have overvalued Phaneuf in terms of playing him as a number one defenseman and realistically he is more of a 2-4 and was never really comfortable as captain HOWEVER he is a solid asset and fans should not be surprised there is interest and a possible deal struck before the deadline. If a deal could be consummated that finds the Leafs saving cap space, any deal for Phaneuf could be the solid start to a rebuild the Leafs so desperately need.

If the Leafs are able to move a significant number of players before the end of the season for draft picks, one could expect that this could potentially work out in their favour. Firstly, it gives them a much better shot at drafting future core players for the franchise. For example, in the first round of the upocoming draft (at least at this time given the Leafs have the 6th worst record) this could very translate into the Leafs being able to draft a future core defensive defenseman they so desperately need like Ivan Provorov, who I believe Craig Button mentioned on TSN radio the other day may actually be the best defender available in the 2015 draft.

One of the other positives about stockpiling mid and low range draft picks right now for expiring UFA’s is that Mark Hunter now works for the Maple Leafs. This is the same Hunter who was successful in bringing players to the London Knights organization and building an incredibly dominant OHL club. Paired with Thommie Bergman in Sweden who has found high potential in a number of late round picks (Viktor Loov, Tom Nilsson, Andreas Johnson), it will be very interesting to see how these two men will make their mark on the Maple Leafs and potentially turn the teams draft fortunes around moving forward.

So with all the potential bodies moving out of the organization either by March 2nd or over the summer, the Maple Leafs will most likely start playing their prospects; if you are going to find a positive in this mess, that could very well be it.

In terms of forwards, the Leafs should bring up Matt Frattin immediately and play him for the rest of the year, no question. He appears to have rekindled his game again with the Marlies and the Leafs need to get him into the roster promptly to determine where he actually sits; he does currently lead the Marlies in goals. Josh Leivo has the size and speed to play at the NHL level and combined with a lethally accurate wrist shot should also be brought up and given a lengthy look. Brandon Kozun essentially made the Leafs out of training camp and brings a ridiculous amount of speed to his game and is another threat on the PK; injury derailed his season but adding him to the team could fill the void left by any potential departures and brings some additional bite to the PK. Troy Bodie and Jamie Devane should also be considered for the added grit they would bring that Don Cherry seems so desperate to add to their roster and both have upside if you compare them to Orr and McLaren, adding some bulk to the fourth line.

If the Leafs do indeed end up parting ways with Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson and even Jake Gardiner then the team should considering promoting both Stuart Percy and Petter Granberg, there is no better time for these two to get NHL experience without it having an overly negative impact on the club. They are already at the cusp of breaking into the NHL and the extended look may actually bolster their development. One other player that Leafs management should consider for promotion for the remainder of the season if a roster spot becomes available is Andrew MacWilliam, a solid stay at home defenseman plying his trade with the Toronto Marlies. Hockey’s Future has MacWilliam’s peg as a mobile defensive defenseman who has the innate ability to anticipate plays quite well, given that he is currently a +13 with the Marlies and logs large minutes is no coincidence. At minimum the 24 year old 6’2″, 220lbs could be returned to the Marlies and Viktor Loov could take his place.

For all the doom and gloom surrounding the team these last 12+ games, there are some honest to goodness positives to take away from this rather disgraceful season. At minimum, the team is going to stock their cupboards with some new prospects, add some valuable draft picks for this and next years draft and call-up some of their prospects for the remainder of the season (long overdue in my opinion). At best the team will be able to find homes for some under-performing and lengthy contracts giving the team more cap flexibility for the future and rid the team of core players who have been as a group at least a disappointment.