Morning Mashup: A Contender’s Core?

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No, winning the first two games of the season does not make the Leafs contenders for the Stanley Cup.  You would think that goes without saying.  Yet apparently the ever-astute media is under the impression that Leafs fans have been overcome with cup delusions, as they have already felt the need to trot out journalistic diarrhea to talk us down from our delirium. But, we crazy Toronto fans are fairly certain that we have a young, developing team with many high-end pieces that suggest the franchise will continue on their upward trajectory in the near future.

The Core

With the recent signing of Phil Kessel, the Toronto Maple Leafs have solidified their core group of forwards for the next half-decade.  Kessel joins Lupul, Van Riemsdyk, Clarkson and Bozak (sigh) as under contract to the collective tune of $27 million in annual cap space through the 2017-2018 season. Barring an unexpected turn in development or managerial opinion, Nazem Kadri will remain with this group when he is up for a new contract as a restricted free agent in two years.

This gives the Leafs four bona fide top six players in Kessel, Lupul, JVR and Kadri.  Kessel and Lupul have proven (to various degrees and with the caveat of good health) that they are elite scoring wingers.  Van Riemsdyk, at 24, is a legitimate threat for 30 goals this season with still-untapped potential as a power forward.  Kadri is another young, skilled player that has also not finished his development.  While his upside is still unclear, he is most certainly a top six center in this league.  Toronto’s core up front also includes two players that will feature in the top six this season in Bozak and Clarkson.  With respect to their role in upcoming years, both players bring versatility in that they could lineup on what would be a very strong third line.

Can they do it?

With the commitment to these six forwards, Leafs management is clearly of the opinion that this is a core you can build around.  Certainly, with the inevitable money that will be handed out to the Toronto blueline (namely Phaneuf and Franson), there will not be an abundance of cap space to add many more, if any, high-value contracts up front.  Objectively, it seems that they have made (mostly) good decisions in this area.  Kessel, Lupul, and JVR are certainly among the league’s very best in terms of top three wingers.  The franchise’s patience with Kadri has also payed off thus far, with room still left to grow.  Clarkson is a fantastic addition to this team for many reasons other than his goal scoring, with a somewhat unfortunate contract dictated by the realities of free agency.

Tyler Bozak?  He may have been worth the money just to ensure that Kessel stuck around.  Otherwise, his presence in the top six is one of the few notable deficiencies of this group. That’s not to say he necessarily needs to be replaced on Kessel’s line with an ideal “first line center”.  The current NHL landscape makes that situation very unlikely. More realistically, his presence in the top six (and apparently at Kessel’s hip for as long as Carlyle is behind the bench) dictates that Toronto’s other centers will have to be excellent to contend as a group.

The Future

Thus, Toronto’s true path to contention will largely rest on the shoulders of these players up front.  The weight of this momentous task (because you know it will be an extremely begrudging public that ever acknowledges this club as a true contender) will also be shared by the youth making their way into the ranks.  It will also be carried in no small part by defensive specialists and grinders such as Jay McClement and possibly Dave Bolland.

Interestingly, for the first time in years, the biggest uncertainty with respect to this club’s future is not between the pipes.  That title belongs to a blue line that currently features five defenders up for new contracts, including possible cornerstones in Phaneuf, Franson and Gardiner.  With Phaneuf being the only truly established entity among this group, it will be a critical season for players such as Franson and Gardiner to prove their mettle.  A full season of standout play within their own capabilities for both these blueliners will go a long way to making the Maple Leafs a true-blue contender.

Friday morning links…

The atrocious article I referenced earlier – in case you missed it

Relax. Nobody was thinking about a cup after two wins other than you guys.

Everyone agrees: the Toronto Maple Leafs have made some mistakes

Everyone agrees: your content sucks (seriously – read the comments).

Bolland and Bernier have changed the complexion of the Leafs

Enter the voice of reason in these crazy times…Steve Simmons.

Phaneuf negotiations different than Kessel’s

Damien Cox explores the possibility of Franson as this team’s #1 blueliner.

 

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Nikhil has been writing for MLHS since the site launched in 2008. He misses talking about Mats Sundin and is currently entrenched in enemy territory (Boston) pursuing a doctoral degree. Contact Nikhil here: [email protected]
  • Jordan29

    Thats for the read. I did not think the leafs were even a playoff team the last 4-5 years, and I was right until last year. But this year is something different. I feel our window is opening and just like pittsburgh did, they made it one year, then went further, then won the next year. I feel this is our make it further year

  • newkb

    Good morning all. Nice blog Nik, but did you have to include that link to the avowed Leaf hating bloggers? When not one picks the Leafs to make the playoffs, and basically trashes every move the club made….you know that the sole intent of this piece of garbage was yet another thinly veiled ‘objective’ article to give a bunch of nobodies a soap box to crap on the Leafs while worshipping their own teams. Strange that no Leaf blogger was asked……hmmmm.

  • WendelGilmour

    Nice job, Nikhail. I agree with the core you stated, but would also add Rielly. With the showing of some of the kids at this year’s camp it looks like we may be able to upgrade internally in a few areas also.

  • blueandwhite

    If a player like Bobby Ryan or Rick Nash becomes available I can see us moving a D man like Gardiner and a Kuleman to add another significant piece to our top 6. It may seem like the current top 6 are etched in stone but half a decade is too long to speculate that our top 6 will remain the core players you mentioned. Eventually It will depend on our playoff success. Danny Heatly, Horton and Tyler Sugien, Carter and Richards, all who were thought to be cornerstones were moved a result of lack of playoff performances meeting management expectations. I still think we will find the need of a horse to play the playoff grind at center but hope I am wrong or better yet develop that need within the organization. Gauthier or the likes of someone else.
    Excellent article and interesting perspective Nikhail

  • newkb

    Edit…that should read no ‘relevant’ Leaf blogger was asked.

  • Uncle Otis

    newkb 
    Haha…relevant indeed…the name says it all
    Sanchez comes off like the snively, miserable prick he’s sure to be in real life
    Nothing but pure tripe…. served in a dirty ashtray

  • newkb

    Julian Sanchez = a greasy ‘Rico Suave’?

  • Uncle Otis

    newkb 
    Haha…REEEEco….SwaaaavÉ

  • newkb

    Is it remembering, or trying your hardest to forget? Yikes…..hahaha

  • mORRganRielly

    @blueandwhite I think the next step is a legit top six centre.  Kadri is one.  Bozak is questionable.  In more favourable circumstances, Bozak would be on the third line or moved to the wing with a spot on the first unit PK and as a shutdown winger.  
    I think that’s the team’s next step: To find that legitimate top six centre with top line upside.

  • Snots

    mORRganRielly  Kadri has to win faceoffs or he will never get to the next step

  • MaxwellHowe

    Whats the deal with Curtis Rush?  Does he imagine Leafs fans are morons?  Can he permit people just to enjoy the start to the season without talk of a Stanley Cup?

  • GeorgeCastanza

    I see the mainstream media is in a really pissy mood. That’s expected after watching their darling schabs get beat by a Maple Leaf team they were sure would shit the bed out of the gate , missing  Grabovski, MacArtur,  MatFrattin from the lineup.  Missing David Clarkson to suspension is just rubbing salt on the wound.  I guess they  didn’t count on Dave Bolland having a say in all of this. Perhaps seeing Jonathan Bernier committing treason playing elitish for the Leafs  is also adding insult to injury.
     Oh well. Fuck’em!  Count on more negative media when the Leafs beat the senaturds saturday night with Morgan in the lineup. That’ll really rile those assholes up.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Man, that National Post blog is nothing more than a 1000 word crap on the Maple Leafs.  In every way, shape and form.

  • Zep2

    Serious Leafs hate on that NP article. only Leafs make mistakes. How quickly the name Acott Gomez fades when banished to California

  • Burtonboy

    Pretty dam bad when writers like this and TSN commentators actually makes the CBC crew seem like Leafs lovers . Bulletin board material Randy ,as if we never had enough of it already

  • MaxwellHowe

    CanuckUKinToronto MaxwellHowe 
    In this sense (only this sense) Cameron hits the nail on the head; the negative impression people have of the Leafs only exists because the Leafs are the most popular, hyped and overanalysed team in hockey.  The weaknesses are glaring because everyone is talking about them non-stop.  The rfelative absence of chatter about the problems other teams are having does not mean the other 29 teams are walking on sunshine.  It means fewer people give a fuck about the other 29 teams.

  • Zep2

    Its become a mantra among pundits that the Leafs hare a shitty team because they get outshot.
    They are 2-0 have killed of something like 13-14 penalties. Early days sure. But the pundits say they are a mirage
    Last nite, Pens got badly outshot, but managed to win thanks to Cory Scnhneider being a sieve
    Boston did the same, against TB and Lindback
    Most Leafs fans know the team has areas to improve before winning it all . But the antipathy towards the Leafs from the sports media has become reflex
    There are outliers, like Cox, but for the most part Leaf hate has become ingrained

  • Savo43

    Lupul-Bolland-Kessel
    JVR-Kadri-Clarkson
    Raymond-Bozak-Kulemin
    McLaren-McClement-Orr

    anybody think of this as a possibility? Let Bolland somehow turn into Doug Gilmore…*cough* Turn the 9 in 93 upside down you get 63 *cough*…No? LOL.

  • Savo43

    Zep2 It’ll dissipate my brother no worries. We just gotta prove it a little more often, and we know it’ll happen.

  • Burtonboy

    Savo43 Nope

  • Savo43

    Burtonboy Savo43 Aww cuhmahhhhh. Why not, Burts why not!!!

  • Burtonboy

    Savo43 Burtonboy Coach loves Bozak so case closed lol

  • Savo43

    Burtonboy Savo43 I dnoooo, he loves Bollers too. Unfortunately i don’t think he loves Naz enough to put him ahead of Bozak in the lineup though -.-.

  • MaxwellHowe

    If the Leafs continue to play well this year, we should remind each and every one of the those jerkoffs, especially the one from PPP, about their mealy mouthed dismissal of our team.

  • Burtonboy

    Savo43 Burtonboy Not yet …work in progress .

  • mORRganRielly

    It’s kind of disappointing to look at the media landscape and wonder if quality Leafs content from MSM or bloggers outside MLHS will ever exist again.
    I think part of the fan experience is a reason to be a homer.  I’m of the mind that if you don’t have homer glasses for your own team, you don’t really get it. Playing the high and mighty “objectivity” game over what amounts to an entertainment spectacle has always seemed a little rich to me. Without the emotional investment, what’s the point?

  • Knights2Leafs

    Savo43 
    Notwithstanding Bolland’s great junior numbers, I’m not sure he would do any better offensively than Bozak on the top line and if Bozak is flipped to the 3rd line I don’t see him being as good as Bolland in the shut down role.  So switching them might weaken our top 9.
    s

  • Savo43

    Knights2Leafs Savo43 You make a good point.

  • Savo43

    hoolihan Savo43 Hahah no worries i agree. He’s not fast enough to be Gilmour. You can tell he’s got the feistiness to him though. Does the dirty work well, and his positioning is his best asset. I’d at least just be interested to see what he could could do as a pivot in between two offensive beasts like Kessel and Lupul. I also like JVR playing with Kadri i think that combo makes too much sense. Both have ridiculously soft hands, and go to the dirty areas.

  • GeorgeCastanza

    Canadian mainstream media is coloured red.  The lack of quality Leafs content is really just homerism from the other side.

  • Cameron19

    Zep2 It’s not ingrained so much as it’s intentional. The resentment towards the Leafs because of the often overwhelming coverage they receive on CBC and TSN, is palpable in other parts of the country.  The media personalities are just playing to their audience.  If they have to cover the Leafs to appease their largest viewership, fine, but they choose to do it in a way that makes everyone else happy,

  • Burtonboy

    mORRganRielly Excellent point Morgan. I’ve always been a homer and a big one. I’m not taking off my blue and white glasses for no one . I guess 47 yrs have turned many into cynics but if you take one look at Maple Leafs square last spring you realize the Leafs have amazing support from their fans. The media can just go take a flying fuck as far as I’m concerned

  • Knights2Leafs

    Chicago has some premium core forwards in Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa but they had to circumvent the cap to get there and Hossa might be gone next year.  After that their forwards are pretty ordinary.  I would say our core forwards are not far off Chicago’s and overall ours are younger.  I would even say our complementary forward pieces (Clarkson, Bozak, Bolland, Kulemin, McClement) might be better.
    Chicago obviously has a stronger core of defensemen, but we’ve come a long way in closing that gap with a bunch of young guys waiting in line.
    As for goaltenders, all I have to say is there backup goalie is Khabibulin.  Advantage Leafs.
    Are we cup contenders?  This year will tell us a lot about how far we’ve come but one thing that is clear is that as Nikhil says the trajectory is upwards. The next 3 – 4 years look very bright.

  • Uncle Otis

    National Post writer shows his own lack of knowledge by dragging out Dirty Sanchez as though he`s relevant
    This ain`t 2004
    Times have changed and there a new Sherriff(s) in town
    Britain`s favourite son and Sir Alec are now go to for all things Leafs.
    The Queen shall not be amused! :)

  • mORRganRielly

    Burtonboy Here’s the twist though.  I’ve become more progressive about analytics.  I like numbers.  Always have.  They are fun to filter through and pick apart.  The real problem isn’t what the results are, but why or how they are happening.  Since no one wants to explain that to me, I’m just going to observe quietly.

  • Savo43

    Cameron19 Zep2 When we win the cup it’ll all be worth it :D.

  • Knights2Leafs

    After reading the NP craparticle, I learned that Leafs fans are lucky to have one of the luckiest teams in the league, depending, of course, on whether or not the Leafs can achieve the same level of luckiness this year.
    I also feel lucky to have had the great opportunity to read this article.

  • Savo43

    Knights2Leafs If we replaced Raymond with Hossa next year….omg.

  • Burtonboy

    mORRganRielly Burtonboy Sad stat of affairs for me when we start looking at a game via a data base or numbers complied on a spread sheet. The world has changed I guess but for me nothing beats sitting in a rink or in front of my TV with a beer and actually enjoy the game with my own eyes. Not to criticize others for doing this . Whatever turns their crank I always say but its not my cup of tea.

  • Uncle Otis

    Knights2Leafs 
    I`d rather be lucky than good…seven days a week 😉

  • Cameron19

    Knights2Leafs i think they’re going to stick with Hossa now, as they used both their compliance buyouts, I believe. 

    As to our core, well, it would be nice to add another core forward, but as far as our defense goes, I think we’re just waiting on one or both of Rielly and Gardiner to really step into their own.  Although, when I compare our group to the four most recent Cup winners, it does look like it might be nice to add one more nice shutdown piece back there. And our group in general is pretty young compared to the other teams.

    I was thinking about Erik Johnson as a trade target moving forward.  Might be a nice guy to pair with Gardiner or Rielly.

  • Cameron19

    Burtonboy mORRganRielly I think they still enjoy that part of it though, Bboy.  I don’t think they have their calculators out during the game. It’s post game that they enjoy breaking it down.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Uncle Otis Knights2Leafs
    I’ve watched the Habs get lucky in 1986 and 1993.  I’m not about to feel bad if our team gets some luck for a change.  Frankly, after a 5th place finish in the conference, taking the eventual cupo finalists to the brink in 7 games, and a 2-0 start, I’m waiting for someone in the MSM to show a little imagination and outline the actual reasons for the team’s recent upturn.

  • GeorgeCastanza

    Uncle Otis Knights2Leafs 
    Napoleon said that about his generals.

  • mORRganRielly

    Burtonboy You can see from my Twitter feed when I’m watching the game that I’m a giant fucking homer.  There is no fan base safe from my constant barrage of insults and jabs.  
    After the game though, I like to step back and review what I watched and then poke around the stats and see what they are telling me.  What did I miss?  What confirms the eye test?  Who’s showing improvements?  Who’s failing?  
    That’s why I’m hoping MLHS takes a more progressive view towards fancy stats.  I think it will help *US* explore the more nuanced side of analytics.

  • Cameron19

    Savo43 hoolihan He couldn’t do much between Sharp and Hossa.

  • Mind Bomb

    Good morning Folks

  • Burtonboy

    Cameron19 Burtonboy mORRganRielly Point taken Cam . I don’t mind looking at stats to improve my knowledge of whats happening but too many view them as infallible and the only true indicator of whats actually happening on a team and indeed how its managed.. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you can show me a stats that accurately shows compete ,desire and the will to win then you might have something

  • Uncle Otis

    GeorgeCastanza
    When it comes to PPP, Nappy`s line of “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake“ comes to mind
    or preferably:
    “better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt“
    That group is truly laughable.