Apologies for the terrible title. I've been up for almost 24 hours and that, unfortunately, was the best I could come up with. Might serve as a warning for the rest of this post. Anyway:
The two main topics about what the Leafs need to gain are, obviously, a number one centre and, after that, another puck-moving defenceman. I haven't spent the time crunching the numbers or looked into who needs re-signing in the next couple years and how much of a raise they'll need, I just know the general amount of cap space we've got now.
The point being, for the sake of argument here, let's all put on our Imagination Hats and our "Everyone Wants To Play For The Leafs" Cloaks and pretend we've signed Brad Richards for roughly $8 million per over the next four or five years. That's 1C locked up till Joe Colborne matures into the role (haven't seen any Marlie games or anything so I can't say if that's too long a time to have him waiting in the wings or not) or someone else vaults to the front of the class. Either way, on to the puck moving d-man and where I look at two names from the recent past that should maybe warrant a bit of discussion and consideration.
With Richards taking up a large chunk of the available cap space, let's go with "cheap" but still "awesome" on the first one:
Ian White. I think we can all agree on the awesome here (a good portion of it is the moustache, granted). He's not going to really wow anybody with his points, but aside from the 07-08 Leafs (who were awful) and the early part of this year with the Flames (who were awful at the time), he's been consistently a + player. Even given the flawed nature of that stat (and again, I haven't looked up any of the advanced stats you guys throw around to know any better way of judging), that at least has to be taken a bit into consideration since only four of our "regulars" managed to do that this year,. Two of whom, by the way, only played roughly half to two-thirds of our games. Plus, at his price, we'd only be paying him to be better than Lashoff and Lebda. Which he is. By a lot*. And then some*. Seriously, were we trying to find someone to take the title of "Worst Leafs Defenceman Ever" away from Aki Berg? 'cause Lebda sure seemed to play like that was his goal most nights. So yeah, Ian White; good stuff to anchor our bottom pairing and/or passable mid-pairing come injuries or what have you.
[* I don't know Lashoff that well, I meant these about Lebda but the few games I saw of Lashoff I saw I'd still put White ahead of him and Lashoff playing the 7th D-man but I have nothing to back that up aside from personal view]
Maybe, on the other hand, we want to take a bit of a bigger step. Now we've got Richards and a solid (though not spectacular) top six. Now we've got a pretty damn good third line of, for the purposes of this, Kadri (time to step up, kid), Bozak (screw the lot of you, I still believe in him and this gives him a great spot to develop away from the pressure of 1C), and Armstrong (yes he's over-priced to be a third liner, but he's awesome and I'm a bit of a dick too so it's great to watch how much everyone else in the league hates him and he just keeps going). Now we've got a goalie who I will have blind faith in until the Hockey Gods decide to remind me that I'm a Leafs fan and exist solely to be mocked. Now we've got a fourth line that has Mike Brown's moustache. Maybe we're looking for a bit of a bigger fish to compliment the top four of our defence better than Ian White can. Maybe we want a puck-moving defenceman that has always wanted to play here. Maybe we want a Stanley Cup champion that led his team's defence in scoring without ending in the minus side of the column. Maybe we want someone that shoots the puck with average frequency. Maybe we want Tomas Kaberle back.
Think about it. Kabs not only helps the team by gaining us Colborne and picks but he gets his long awaited Cup ring and then comes back to the Leafs as a champion and gets back to the business of being awesome. How great does that trade look in retrospect if he does sign back with us? Yes Boston won the Cup so they're happy too, but we end up with all the assets. Plus it might shut people up about the Kessel deal that's not as bad as people think anyway.
Does Kaberle have his failings? Yes, we've all heard them. A bit soft defensively? Alright, sure. He's not going to rub anybody out or clear the crease, but we have guys to do that in Aulie, Phaneuf, Schenn, and (we all hope and pray) Komisarek. He doesn't get along with Wilson. Who does?
Kaberle is great at what he does. Move the puck and set up others. I've screamed at him to shoot the puck from out here in Saskatchewan so loud I'm sure some people have heard me in Toronto (unfortunately, not Kaberle himself, but that's another story) but fan frustration is not only not important to this, it's been proved statistically wrong. Even if he's not a "Burke-type" player, he's an upgrade on both Lebda and Komisarek plus gives some flexibility to the top four if one of the young guys takes a step back or gets hurt. Plus you have to have the feeling he'd take about the same deal money-wise (or at least less than market value) to be part of the Leafs again. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, but he always seemed like he genuinely wanted to be here and play for the Leafs even when some people didn't want him. Plus, Leaf-tinted glasses aside, this team seems to have the making of something more than the sum of its parts. Kaberle was on the last Leaf team that was like that defied expectations and made a run into the playoffs, why not give him the chance to do it again now that he knows what it feels like to have it all pay off in the end?
Now, signing Richards and anybody else eats up a bunch of payroll down the line that we'll probably need for other people, but for the moment, what do you think? Would you be willing to gamble with the future payroll on bringing either of these two into a Richards-led group for right now? Are my points nothing but sentimentality and belonging more to the Quinn-era school of thought than the current team? Who else out there would you bring in for right now or would you let the current group gel another year before trying to jump start things? Is this post ridiculously too long or just too long? Discuss.