I really wanted to write a wrap up notebook, but I wasn’t going to subject myself to watching that game again, nor do I particularly want to write about it. I mean, the only time I watched that Bergeron game winner was live and that’s how it is going to remain, so I wouldn’t be much of a source for insight or analysis.
It really was a great year for the Leafs, though. At the beginning of the season I didn’t think they would make the playoffs, and at the beginning of the first round I wasn’t sure they would make it much of a series. They proved me wrong both times. They proved a lot of people wrong.
In order for the Leafs to get better, though, they’ll need to have a strong offseason and smooth out some of their rough edges.
There’s an old saying in Toronto when it comes to the Leafs that goes “wait until next year.” I couldn’t wait though, so here are five questions for every level of the organization to address throughout the summer, one way or another.
Is the mandate this summer going to be to add veterans to this group, integrate Marlies, or maybe a bit of both?
Whether Nonis decides to fill gaps with veterans of Marlies will tell us a lot about how he views this team in terms of their readiness to seriously contend. The Leafs are already a very young team but they have some spots available in the bottom six, possibly at 1C, and on their third defensive pairing. They could fill those spots internally by bringing up guys like D’Amigo, Blacker and Rielly, or they could bring in established pros and veterans to lend experience to the depths of their roster.
How aggressive is Nonis going to be?
Nonis has been known to be a methodical GM, so it will be interesting to see if he goes out and makes a big splash during his first summer at the helm. There will definitely be some big names – and contracts — available, and the Leafs have quite a few young assets plus cap space to work with. The first thought is probably that he’ll be conservative, but his pursuit of Miikka Kiprusoff doesn’t really fall in line with that modus operandi. Perhaps the Leafs’ surprising season and playoff run will spark him into action.
Use the cap space, or keep the cap space?
The Leafs have nearly $20M in cap space, but Franson, Gunnarsson, Kadri, Komarov, Colborne and Fraser are all RFAs while MacArthur and Bozak are notable UFAs. None of those guys are going to command marquee deals, but signing most of them is going to add up quickly. The following year Kessel, McClement, Kulemin, Phaneuf and Reimer are up for new contracts. Also note: That ~$20M in cap space doesn’t consider potential buyouts of Komisarek and maybe Liles, so that figure could be much higher.
What’s going to happen with Dallas Eakins?
Whether he stays or goes we have no idea, but what we do know is that he’s had a notable impact on this organization. Kadri, Gardiner, Fraser, and Komarov are a few examples of players that have grown under his tutelage. If he does leave – which I’m not sold is as much of a lock as others — they’ll need to replace him somehow. That would represent the first real hire of Nonis’ tenure as head GM. Note JFJ bringing Maurice in to coach the Marlies before promoting him.
What are the expectations for next year?
Nonis has said before that he expects continued improvement, and to pass the first round he’s probably going to have to make at least one notable addition to this group. If the expectation is another year of internal growth with the kids, they can stick mostly with the status quo. If the expectation is playoffs, it would be wise to add to this roster. If the expectation is to win a round in the playoffs, then he’s probably looking at a few acquisitions either this summer or during the year, and possibly even moving some youth for a roster player.
Scouting and Drafting
Are they going to keep the first round pick as is?
The Leafs have drafted four times in the first round in the last four years. Those picks became Kadri, Biggs, Percy, and Rielly. In other words, with two of those picks the draft team swung for stars, and with the oter two picks they swung to get on base. This is a deep and talented first round, but the Leafs are drafting in the second half of it. Are they going to consider trying to move up in the draft to get their guy – which they’ve done to get Schenn and Biggs in the last five years — are they going to stand pat, or are they going to consider moving that pick altogether for a roster player?
Will there be more of a premium on skill?
Other than Colborne, McKegg, Leivo and maybe Abbott, there isn’t much in the way of NHL-calibre skill on the Marlies right now, which is a reflection on what type of players the Leafs have been drafting. The top two picks in each of the last four years were Rielly, Finn, Biggs, Percy, Ross, McKegg, Kadri and Ryan. With that in mind, is there going to be more of an emphasis on skill this year, or will the Leafs continue to draft safer NHL projections?
Will they draft a goalie?
Dave Morrison conveyed to me that they have a select list of goalies and they try to draft from it whenever they can, as long as it makes sense. The Leafs have a really good young starter in Reimer, but their youngest goalie in the system is Garrett Sparks and he could very well be in the AHL next season. Meaning, the Leafs wouldn’t have a single prospect playing junior or college.
Are they going to work the draft floor?
In recent years the Leafs have done things like trade up to draft Sondre Olden and trade a pick for Mike Brown. Is there going to be more manoeuvring throughout the draft now that they have picks in every round? The Leafs haven’t drafted once (or more) in every round since 1998.
Will there be any sort of notable difference in the Leafs drafting now that Nonis is the GM?
Morrison told me that it’s business as usual no matter who is in charge, and I believe him, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.
Will there be a mandate for a full-time enforcer?
Colton Orr is an UFA and Frazer McLaren is an RFA. Last summer hybrid fighters like Tootoo and Prust got signed to decent deals, but they can also play a regular shift. Is that the direction they go in? Fraser is also an RFA. Although not really fourth liners, Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres are notable options that could potentially fill a hybrid physical/fighter role.
What’s the direction going to be with some of the players miscast throughout the year?
This season, Grabovski was asked to be the shutdown center and to put up points in that role. As discussed here ad nauseum, there are few players in the world that can fulfill that ask. Frattin was scratched for not putting up points at the end of the year while Gardiner was a healthy scratch, too. These guys all showed that they can contribute in the playoffs, meaning they need to be put in a position to succeed.
How are they going to manage James Reimer?
Reimer’s great, there’s no question there. However, he has an injury history and playing him 65+ games might not exactly be prudent, especially when Scrivens is more than a serviceable backup. Carlyle consistently platooned goalies in his time with the Ducks. The most a goalie ever played in one season under Carlyle was JS Giguere’s 60 games in 2005-06.
Can the Leafs use the first round as a learning experience?
The Leafs are either going to learn from this experience, or it’s going to weigh down on them all year. There isn’t much of a middle ground.
Are the Leafs going to create a true shutdown line next season?
As noted above on Grabovski, he was tried as the shutdown center and the road was rocky. Is McClement going to be handed that role this year? Will they bring in someone else? The Leafs could not stop the Lucic line in the playoffs and they really just mashed players together in an attempt to stop them. It would be nice if they had a reliable unit to put out there to settle things down.
Who will be the first line center?
There are so many potential answers here that I’m just going to list them all out and let you have fun with it. They could simply move Kadri up there, they could resign Bozak for it, they could try and sign a UFA like Weiss or Roy, or they could explore the trade market and try to add a guy like Stastny.
What to do with Clarke MacArthur?
MacArthur seemed to be in and out of the doghouse this year, but he was great for the Leafs when Lupul got hurt and he was paired with Kadri, plus he came up big in the playoffs. Apparently he doesn’t want a ton of money and he wants to be a Leaf. Toronto isn’t exactly crawling with scoring wingers in their pipeline.
How are they going to approach the bottom six?
From my view, McClement, Komarov, Frattin and Kulemin should all be locks for the bottom six. That leaves two spots open. This goes back to the management question of filling spots with youth or bringing in veterans. Colborne, Ashton, D’Amigo and McLaren could all factor in here, so too could potential signings.
Where will Joe Colborne factor in?
Colborne showed flashes in his limited time with the Leafs, which is probably enough for them to give the 6’5 forward a shot at the NHL full-time next year. He could factor in at center behind Kadri and Grabovski, or if the Leafs bring in another center or resign Bozak, he could play on the wing.
Are there going to be any big acquisitions?
Dreger linked the Leafs to David Clarkson, so he’s one possibility. Toronto boy Stephen Weiss will almost certainly be linked to the Leafs as well. There are a few other names that could make sense, but I’m not going to start listing every possible UFA that could help the Leafs at this juncture.
Who is going to pair with Phaneuf?
Gunnarsson was hurt for most of the year but he has played well with Phaneuf. They might choose to keep that going. Gardiner also got some time with Phaneuf and Rielly was playing with the Captain a bit in camp. They could always try and acquire a partner for him, too. No matter what though, the top pairing was leaned on far too heavily to close out games and it needs help from the rest of the group.
Do we go into next season assuming Rielly is on the team?
Rielly has played a ton for various team this season and has acquitted himself well. The fact that he’s already played 19 games and counting with the Marlies this year helps his cause, too. Either the Leafs are going to stack the odds against him to make the team, or they’re going to leave an opening that’s his for the earning on the bottom pairing.
Will Liles get bought out or traded?
Liles is making $3.875M for each of the next three seasons, and he’s either been on the third pairing or in the press box. With Rielly and Percy moving up the pipeline, they might try to trade him or just buy him out altogether.
How much money and how long of a term will Franson and Gunnarsson net?
They are both firmly top four defensemen for the Leafs, and they are both young but reasonably established. Are the Leafs going to lock these guys up long-term, or are they going to try and sign them to bridge contracts to prove their worth? The Leafs did have trouble signing Franson last summer, and then he went and had the best season of his career this year.
What happens with Fraser?
Fraser was a good soldier for this team all season. He was obviously in over his head as a top four, but he was a battler and contributor on the third pairing and he adds some much needed physicality to the Leafs. If the choice is between Fraser at D as our enforcer or McLaren at forward, I’d rather Fraser. But if Rielly is on the team, is one of he or Fraser going to play right defense when both are lefties?
Keep or trade Scrivens?
This question isn’t being asked because I have something against Scrivens, but he’s a UFA after next year and chances are he wants to be a starter. Nonis must have taken notice of Murray grabbing Conacher for Bishop, and if he could swing that kind of move chances are he would jump at the chance. Everybody knows Nonis was looking for a veteran to backup Reimer, and moving Scrivens would obviously open up a roster spot.
Here’s an exercise that hopefully helps you look forwards after Monday – what are your answers to some of these questions?