When looking towards next season, I see a lot of teams like the Rangers, Buffalo, especially Philadelphia, all of which were extremely active during or prior to July 1st, struggling with major questions. How will Jagr’s 50 KHL points transition to the NHL? Will he be a 60 point producer playing wing on a line with more talent than his Omsk one, or will he find the pace of the North American game a tad too much at this late stage of his stellar hockey career?
Is Ilya Bryzgalov the answer in goal? With an NTC and $5,666,667 per year until 2020, he has to be. Undoubtedly, whatever conspiracy theories exist in Philly, cool Bryzâ€™s paycheck (or a change in Holmgrenâ€™s hockey philosophy, be it one highly directed by Ed Snider) is the main reason behind the two trades that shocked the hockey world not even 2 months ago, trades in which two â€œcornerstoneâ€ pieces of that franchise were moved to LA and Columbus.
Will Philadelphia drop from being a perennial Cup contender and one of the leagueâ€™s highest scoring teams to making the playoffs from the bottom of the pack in the next couple of years? Is struggling to make the playoffs a possibility? Holmgren/Snider gambled big time, and it could pay off big time, but it could also be a failure of epic proportions. So what does this exactly have to do with the Leafs you say, other than maybe having to fight Philly for the 7th or 8th seed next season?
Well, the point Iâ€™m trying to make today is the Leafs do face similar questions, but most of them are nowhere nearly as vital to the future success of the franchise, though a couple of them are. Will James Reimer continue to grow and establish himself as a bonafide NHL No1? Will Dion Phaneuf finally have a good offensive season? But the answers to most of the questions wonâ€™t make or break Torontoâ€™s mid term to long term future. Answers to – will Tim Connolly be any good for the Leafs? Will JM Liles pan out as a good puck moving option on defense? How good is our bottom six depth? Those kinds of questions only seem vital for the short term. If we donâ€™t like the answers, weâ€™ll be â€œbummed outâ€ because we didnâ€™t make the playoffs next year, but it wonâ€™t handicap the teamâ€™s development plans for the next half decade. And if they do pan out, the future will look even rosier.
I for one am glad that Brian Burke finally put this team into a spot where nothing has to be set in stone (contracts and NTCs) and everything has to be earned (roster spots and a competitive squad). And it doesnâ€™t matter how much I might admire Holmgrenâ€™s guts for trusting his instincts (if indeed thatâ€™s what he wanted) but Iâ€™d rather have short term plugs or leaks than a potential long term flood.