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.
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.
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…
Relax. Nobody was thinking about a cup after two wins other than you guys.
Everyone agrees: your content sucks (seriously – read the comments).
Enter the voice of reason in these crazy times…Steve Simmons.
Damien Cox explores the possibility of Franson as this team’s #1 blueliner.
I just want to be celebrating a Leafs win tonight......without any more injuries.....don't really care how we do it.....JUST WIN, BABY!.....GO LEAFS GO!!
I love Kadri and his confidence, but Rielly makes me so comfortable when he's interviewed just because he has such a level head. When he was asked about Fraser's injury presenting him an opportunity, he just said "I'm not taking anything for granted, there could be a trade..." If that was Kadri, he would have talked about how awesome he is and how much he deserves a chance and how he is looking forward to buying a fast car once he inevitably dominates in the nhl. Don't get me wrong, I love Kadri and we need a guy like that on our team if only because his confidence leads to feistiness on the ice. But Rielly already has the attitude of a veteran and he's never even played a game in the nhl.
Anyway, I'm glad we have both of them!
I think Lupul is going to have a big night. Home opener against Ottawa, seems like his kind of night.
@wendelsway1 Yeah . With Optmus Riem in net, I like Leafs chances a lot.
GO LEAFS GO!
Not me. I'll just wait till CBC loses HNIC; won't be long anyways.
Very gracious of her.
May I suggest we NOT pay our taxes instead,and let him go bankrupt :)
Wish him well,but I'll take Ranger over him seven days a week...warts and all
Kassian is tough and a handfull for the Sheriff
I'd like to see Devane have a chance to NOT get jumped this time and revenge his loss.
I think he can do it.
@wiski Think we all saw this coming.
@wiski Good, less skill. Well, a little less skill.
@wiski MacArthur says " this is one of those games every 10 games where i will try"
@wiski I want Clarke MacArthur to score... on his own net.
@TheCanucksnaphook He should be more worried about getting the Govt back to work before they start to drag down other economies, like ours!
@Dougie Wraparound ...When has Kadri ever said ANYTHING even remotely close to those things?
@Jordan29 Chipped bone in ankle. Looks like he's out for 2 weeks.
@TheCanucksnaphook I dont think its smart to sit a kid because he got punched in a fight. Ashton deserved to be here
@TheCanucksnaphook It'll keep Neil busy at least.
@-Keon- If they had left Devane down, and not recalled Abbott, would they have had room for Leivo?
@4evrblue should be Bernier based on performance so far but I keep hearing hints it will be Reimer
@wiski Then I want Orr to concuss him.
I was exaggerating a bit, but he was asked what kind of car he'd want to buy a year or two ago and he actually answered the question. Rielly just doesn't ooze cockiness. What, you think Kadri is a picture of humility?
@-Keon- 7 dollars, I can match that.
@Knights2Leafs Props for that, for sure (Prius)!
I really just wanted to compliment Rielly, not criticize Kadri. Rielly has maturity beyond his years. Kadri acts his age.
Well it's not. If someone asked me what kind of car I would buy I'd probably say something like a Ferrari or a Mazerati but it doesn't mean I'd actually buy one even if I had the money.
At least he didn't say a Prius.
And what was his answer to the question?
@4evrblue @theacs1966 @TheCanucksnaphook You replied to me. And if I want to reply, I will. Tired of people slagging on the media. Some on here think they're better writers,or smarter, if so, they should be doing that, not on here like me, I know I can't write.. I offered the info I had, if you thought it was shit, you shoulda just left it alone.