September 20, 2013 by andymisek
After missing the playoffs for the last nine seasons, the Maples Leafs snapped that streak in 2013. Despite a rather successful playoff run (taking the Bruins to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals and losing a 3 goal lead in the 3rd period), the Maple Leaf’s made some revisions during the summer. Additions of David Bolland and David Clarkson should further push the Leaf’s towards becoming serious cup contenders. That is why we have the Maple Leafs at 11 in the NHL Season Countdown.
After a great 2013, the Leaf’s weren’t satisfied and made a few trades before and during the Entry Draft. Jonathan Bernier went to Toronto in exchange for Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens. Bernier will fight with James Reimer for the starting goalie job. They also bought-out Mikhail Grabovski‘s contract. During the draft, cup clinching goal scorer Dave Bolland was sent to Toronto in exchange for a couple draft picks. Bolland will anchor Toronto’s third line.
With the 21st pick in the draft, Toronto selected center Frederik Gauthier. He is a jack of trades. He s large and plays well at both ends of the ice, and has a great hockey IQ which makes him lethal in the offensive zone. Gauthier will need another year in QMJHL to develop.
The big free agent acquisition was David Clarkson. He tallied 30 goals in 2011-2012 and was on pace for 30 more in 2013. He will be lined up with sophomore Nazem Kadri and budding star James Van Riemsdyk. Expect another big year from Clarkson.
No offense to Tyler Bozak, but Toronto is a first line center away from being much higher on this list. Phil Kessel is an elite goal scorer and Joffery Lupul proved in 2011-2012 (26 goals and 42 assists) that he too could bury the puck. Bozak is a solid center, but he doesn’t have the elite skills to be a threatening first line center; he never scored more than 18 goals. Bozak won’t complement Lupul and Kessel well. However, the 2nd line of Clarkson, Kadri and Van Reimsdyk should mesh for a great deal of offense.
The addition of Dave Bolland should assist the depth of the bottom six. Bolland will be flanked by Nikolai Kulemin and Joe Colborne. Colborne would be playing his first full NHL season after totaled 16 games over the past three years. He could be a bit of a question mark because Toronto doesn’t have a fourth liner or prospect who could fulfill a checking winger role regularly. Jay McClement will be centering the 4th line and is a great penalty killer. I’d be foolish to finish the offense section without mentioning how well Colton Orr is as a fighter. Toronto’s 4th line will be tough to play against.
Dion Phaneuf is a very solid number one defenseman, but until Jake Gardiner or Cody Franson develops into a top pairing D, he doesn’t have a partner up to his caliber. Carl Gunnarsson is a decent top four defenseman, but he might hold Phaneuf back. Despite Gunnarsson, Phaneuf will still contribute offensively with his powerful shot and power play time. As for now, Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Gardiner and Franson are a strong top four. Franson and Gardiner are still extremely young and, if all goes well, will develop into dominate defensemen. Unfortunately, Franson still hasn’t received his next contract. He is a restricted free agent and contract talks are still ongoing.
John-Michael Liles, Korbinian Holzer and Mark Fraser will be fighting for the remaining two spots in the opening night roster. Liles should make the team; he is a reliable bottom pairing defenseman. Holzer played 22 games last year and wasn’t impressive, however, he might be the better option over Fraser. Paul Ranger is also having a strong camp, and could steal a 6th or 7th spot.
Even with a crowded group, the most interesting piece to the defensive puzzle is 2012 5th overall pick, Morgan Rielly. He could steal a spot with a strong training camp. He is an extremely fast skater who is reliable in his own zone, and will contribute offensively. Rielly is a bit small at 190 pounds, but he will build up with age. Toronto may want him to develop one more year, but if he proves he is ready during training camp Rielly might make the roster on opening night. He has up to 9 games for the contract slide (must play 9 game in a North American professional league for it to count against one of the years remaining on his contract), whichever is best for the Maple Leafs.
Jonathan Bernier goes from being a backup goalie in Los Angeles to potentially being a backup goalie in Toronto. It is quite a shame as Bernier has starting goalie potential, but Reimer proved last season he could handle the starting duties for the Maple Leafs. It should be interesting to see what kind of drama unfolds in the net for the Leafs.
After breaking a nine year playoff drought, looks like Toronto might start streaking in the other direction. Building around a young, promising core and some prospects with great potential promises that Toronto will be in the hunt for the playoffs for a while. The young defense has great tutelage with Dion Phaneuf. He and Kessel will be the keys to whether Toronto is first round fodder or will go deep into the playoffs.