Saturday, May 30, 2015
Authors Posts by Michael Cuttell

Michael Cuttell

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Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

Part 1: Goalies | Part 2: Defence | Part 3: Bottom 6

The Leafs’ top-six forwards of 2010-11 were a mix of pleasant surprises and bitter disappointments. Most notable among the surprises was the emergence of a not-so-second line consisting of Grabovski, Kulemin, and MacArthur. This line produced at a clip well above last year’s expectations and will now be expected to repeat that success in 2011-12. The team’s best line in 2010-11 almost certainly will be held together, barring a complete collapse, and should see much stronger support from other forward lines, and the defence core, in terms of secondary scoring and a spreading out of opposing defensive specialists. Though the skill of this line has somehow managed to slip under the radar of media analysts around the league, the statistics put this trio among the more dangerous units in the league and opposing coaches have definitely noticed.

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Photo: Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

Photo: Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

The Leafs’ 2011-12 defence core boasts nine NHL-ready defencemen, not counting any of the three or four prospects who are on the verge of being ready and are hoping to challenge for a job with the big club at training camp. With a maximum of seven spots available, the competition at D will be the fiercest of the camp, and easily the most interesting.

The top of the depth chart features the only two defencemen guaranteed a top-four position next season: Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn. After that, however, management has set the stage for a tooth-and-claw training camp battle, with a paper-thin margin between the top four and a trip to the AHL Marlies. Keith Aulie, J.M. Liles, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Komisarek, Matt Lashoff and Jeff Finger round out the NHL-experienced players on the defensive depth chart, while Jake Gardiner, Jesse Blacker and Korbinian Holzer are all legitimate NHL-calibre prospects looking to make a lasting impression on coaching staff and management.

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Photo Credit: The Star

There is no doubt many Leafs fans are disappointed that the off-season has passed without the “elite first line center” void filled. Despite an uncharacteristically quiet first day of free agency, however, Maple Leafs’ General Manager Brian Burke has not been silent this off-season; having added depth at both defence, already a team strength, and at center, where the Leafs had been notably anaemic. Though Burke did not succeed in filling the team’s single greatest need, he has – as a result of the many moves he has made during the course of his leadership in Toronto – managed to supply the team with extraordinary depth at almost every position; creating an atmosphere of fierce internal competition for NHL, and even AHL, spots. Since Burke’s model builds from the goalie out, this analysis will evaluate the team in the same order.