Jan 7, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk (25) celebrates a goal against Montreal Canadiens with forward Tyler Bozak (42) and defenceman Jake Gardiner (51) in the second period at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Pierre Lebrun reflects on his takeaways from his interview with Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello, Doug Weight talks about trying to build a winning team heading toward the final year of John Tavares’ contract, a look at draft prospect Juuso Valimaki, and more in the links.

Leafs Links

LeBrun: Upgrades on defence is the theme of the offseason (TSN1050)
TSN Hockey insider Pierre LeBrun joined Leafs Lunch to chat about his sit-down with Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello and weigh in on the activity heating up heading into the expansion draft.

“When I asked [Lou Lamoriello] about the amount of teams that are looking for an upgrade on defence, which he acknowledged… without tipping his hand too much, it’s clear that they’ve got a few ideas up their sleeve. But at the end of it, he did add that if they go to camp in September and they haven’t been able to accomplish that trade, they’re okay with it. They’re in this for the long haul and that is not a make or break situation in terms of getting that top-pairing D. They’re going to try, but it’s clear that it’s not the be all end all for the Leafs. They’re still looking at this as a long-term project here.”

Weight: Islanders have to put Tavares “in a position to win right now” (TSN1040)
Islanders head coach Doug Weight readily admits the Islanders want to keep John Tavares, but also says they have to put him in a position to “win now”. Weight feels the Islanders have one of the deepest defense corps in the league but readily admits he needs another top-3 or 4 forward.

“John is huge for us. He’s a wonderful leader and captain. People say All-Star and people say generational. He’s generational. He’s that good. We’re going to make him better. I want him to be here and our organization wants him to be here. Our owners want him to be here. John knows we want him here.

John is a genius but a simple genius. He wants to win, and that’s it. He wants to be a Hall of Fame player and he wants to win. Those are two great things. As an organization, he’s been here eight years and we’ve got to put him in a position to win right now. I love John and he lived with me for two years. He’s a wonderful guy. I want to win a Cup, too. I want to be a team that you guys are talking every year.

I understand the doubt and what you have to do to get the naysayers and the people who talk about the Island… before I played here, I felt the same thing. I want to take that out and bring it back to a franchise that is respected and I want John to be the captain raising that Stanley Cup one day. We’re going to do everything we can to keep him.”

[Paywall] Dellow: Leafs should table huge offer sheet for Parayko (The Athletic)
The most obvious need that the Toronto Maple Leafs have as they get ready for next season is a right-handed defenceman. There are other ways in which the Leafs can improve if they can’t find a right-handed defenceman but that’s the place where they’re weakest. In theory, this means that it should be the easiest spot to upgrade. It’s easier to go from bad to average at a position than it is to go from average to good or good to great.

Juuso Valimaki – 2017 NHL Draft Profile (MLHS)
In terms of offensive production, Valimaki produced one of the best seasons of any draft-eligible player in 2016-17 with 61 points in 60 games (19g, 32a), including 14 even-strength goals. Among first-year eligible CHL defencemen in the 2017 draft class, he’s the only one to finish over a point-per-game. On the list of CHL defencemen selected in the first rounds of the 2015 and 2016 drafts (a list that includes Ivan Provorov, Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachev, Jakob Chychrun and Thomas Chabot), only Provorov achieved that feat.

Lamoriello on draft combine, BPA vs. positional need, backup goalies (MLHS)
First of all, I think it’s a very important position. I thought [Curtis McElhinney] did an outstanding job for us. No decision has been made at that position at this point. Certainly, not much can and will be done I don’t think until July 1. We are going to certainly fill that position, whether it’s with Curtis or whoever we feel is the right person that is available.

Devils GM: Ilya Kovalchuk ‘drives the bus’ regarding NHL future (PHT)
“If tomorrow he decides to stay in Russia, OK, but who knows?” Shero said, according to NHL.com. “That’s his call in the end. Right now nothing, according to [Grossman], has changed and he would like to pursue [NHL] opportunities.” Shero notes that “Kovalchuk kind of drives the bus on this in terms of talking to teams or where he could want to play.”

Four expensive players Vegas should consider taking in expansion (Sportsnet)
McPhee knows how good Varlamov can be; his Capitals team drafted, developed and ultimately traded the goaltender to Colorado for first- and second-round draft picks. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s coming off a miserable 6-17-0, .898 save-percentage performance, or that his cap hit is a hefty $5.9 million. The Knights have other goalie options, so they aren’t likely to take on such a pricey reclamation project without a substantial bribe coming the other way.

10 who might star in another summer NHL blockbuster (Sportsnet)
Tavares has one year left on his deal, meaning he could sign an extension as early as July 1. Does he want to commit to the Islanders for the long term? He might — this has been his only NHL home, after all. But after yet another playoff miss and with questions looming about the team’s future home, it’s possible Tavares would rather go elsewhere, or at least make it to free agency to hear what other teams might offer. If so, the Islanders wouldn’t want to risk losing him for nothing.

Peter Laviolette won’t name Game 3 starter (Puck Daddy)
On Thursday, at a press conference in Nashville, Laviolette was asked again. His response? That the Predators had a policy about discussing potential lineup changes – such as when Mike Fisher was questionable for Game 1 of the series – and so “to stay consistent” he would not name a starting goalie for Saturday night’s Game 3. When asked if his goalies knew who the starter would be, Laviolette paused and sighed and said, “yeah.”