With a healthy lineup and two confident/competent goaltenders, this Toronto Maple Leafs team has been impressive and successful. Â They have wedged themselves back into the playoff picture and have a squad that could finish anywhere from fourth to eighth in that bracket. Â While the Leafs still need that big bodied forward in their top six, there is a very likely possibility that asking prices, injuries, or the team’s current play may negate the chances that Brian Burke orchestrates a significant deal.
This is a Toronto team with a deep defense and many fast forwards, a number of which are proven scorers. Â The plethora of blueliners has fueled the common assumption that the Leafs will ship one out as part of a package for a forward with size. Â While there is no doubt that Burke is exploring this option, certain factors such as the JVR injury or contract details of possible targets (Carter) could have made this an impossible venture. Â Instead, the Leafs could use their surplus of defenders as insurance against injuries, or in a lower-value trade for an improvement on the third line.
In the end, it will come down to management’s views on the current Leafs players. Â Do they see themselves signing Mikhail Grabovski to a contract? Â Will Nikolai Kulemin be a fixture on Toronto’s wings in the next few years? Â And of course, most importantly, are these players good enough to give us a legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup?
While we can be assured (based in no small part on the length of their contracts) of Phil Kessel’s role in the top six and Mike Brown’s in the lower ranks of the lineup Â for the near future, the identity of the rest of the forwards is an unknown quantity. Â Brian Burke and his team will begin making important valuation decisions in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. Â In the end, these decisions will likely have a defining effect on the composition of this team’s forward corps over the next few years.