Upon drafting defensive stalwart Luke Schenn fifth-overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs had hoped they obtained a young defender capable of anchoring the blueline for years to come.
Advertised to deliver menacing hits and possess exceptional defensive awareness, it didn't take long for Schenn to crack the Leafs' roster. As an 18-year-old defenseman he donned the Blue and White for 70 games, rarely looking out of place---a rarity for young defensemen in the NHL. He had fans salivating for more, but he regressed in his second campaign, enduring the dreaded sophomore slump.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs wish to avoid another eight-game losing streak to open its regular season, it's vital the players don't let last season's collapse linger in the back of their minds---that's especially important for Mike Komisarek considering the Leafs open the season against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had a game to forget tonight.
This is not exactly the most enjoyable game to share my postgame thoughts, but here we go:
Hopes and expectations are that the conclusion of the 2010-11 season will see the Maple Leafs Â return to playoff action for the first time since Jeremy Roenick ended the Leafs' 2004 post-season run in overtime of game six on May 4, 2004.
Many factors led to the Leafs' demise during the 2009-10 campaign, which ultimately meant theÂ relinquishmentÂ of Tyler Seguin to the Boston Bruins. Inconsistency was the primary issue, as many key players wereÂ ineffectiveÂ or downright useless---I'm looking at you, Vesa Toskala. The off-season acquisitions of Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin had fans salivating at the potential of the team's defense corps. However, things took an unfortunate turn for the worse when both defensemen---it was later revealed Komisarek required season-ending surgery for a pre-existing shoulder injury--- struggledÂ mightily out of the gate. Moreover, the combination of Toskala's horrendous goaltending and Luke Schenn feeling the early effects of the dreaded sophomore slump only added to the nightmarish start to the season. Leafs fans had toÂ endure seven torturous games before the club posted its first win. To put it simply, the Leafs didn't even take a step forward before they crashed and burned.
Yes, those two particular players may not play for those respective teams anymore, but they both provided their clubs with offensive boosts (Afinogenov scored 61 points; Bergeron 13 goals and 34 points in 60 games). The point is that there are plenty of quality players available in free agency if the contract terms are reasonable. Luckily for the Toronto Maple Leafs, they have some breathing room, and options, to maneuver around the salary cap.
And guess what? Kaberle's future with the Leafs does not dictate whether or not the team's short-term goals will be fulfilled. In fact, retaining the veteran defender may prove toÂ strengthen the Leafs' chances at making the playoffs for the first time in the post-lockout era.
While the acquisition of Kris Versteeg certainly helps, and Colby Armstrong could potentially step into a top six role to add a physical presence with some offensive upside, the Leafs are still in need of more pure goal-scoring ability up front. Options are scarce in the free agent market, but the likes of Matthew Lombardi (although reports indicate he is seeking upwards of $4 million per season), Alexander Frolov and Ilya Kovalchuk are still available.
If Brian Burke is contemplating the idea of acquiring Marc Savard, the Toronto Maple Leafs may be on the verge of adding aÂ substantialÂ piece to its rebuilding plan.
That may sound strange considering the playmaking center is nearly 33 years old and is the beneficiary of a seven-year contract, but there are other factors at play that makes thisÂ rumorÂ an enticing one.
Well, scratch another player from the Toronto Maple Leafs' list of potential top-six forwards.
Patrick Sharp is no longer an option for trade with the departures of Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel from the Chicago Blackhawks.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs hope to complete the task of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years, they will need to import some firepower to the forward ranks.
It's unlikely the current group of forwards would provide the necessary boost for the Leafs to vault Â from 15th to eight place in the Eastern Â Conference. Even with the inclusion of Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel and the reliable duo of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson Â between the pipes to start the season (and hopefully a healthy Mike Komisarek), the offence is simply too bare to score enough goals consistently over an 82-game schedule.
Although Nathan Horton has not been linked as a potential target of GM Brian Burke, I believe it is within the realm of possibility. I base this simply from speculation posted at Spector's Hockey.
One of the links quotes Elliotte Friedman discussing the possibility of Florida Panthers' GM Dave Tallon pursuing Tomas Kaberle. What's interesting is that Bruce Garrioch, of the Ottawa Sun, reported that Tallon is believed to be shopping Horton.
It has a nice ring to it when you take into consideration he was eliminated in the second-round by his ex-team, the Kitchener Rangers. Kadri compiled an impressive 9 goals and 27 points in 12 playoff games, giving him the highest points-per-game average among playoff competitors during the 2010 OHL post-season.
However, that doesn't mean his future in the National Hockey League for next season is solidified. Not even close, actually. Fact remains that plenty of promising prospects have fell by the wayside and spoiled untapped potential, and that the manner in which an NHL club handles the transition of a prospect into the big leagues remains of paramount importance in the successful development of a promising up-and-comer into a consistent NHL contributor, especially in a hotbed like Toronto.