After yet another tragicomic death spiral, Brian Burke and co. are approaching a pivotal offseason. It is obvious that -yet again- major changes are required to the Toronto Maple Leafs as constituted. One can look at advanced stats to see how far away from real contention the team is, or one can simply look at the rosters of teams like Vancouver, Boston, Philadelphia, or Detroit and realize that, in layperson's terms, they have a lot more good players than we do.
Kim Jorn and I spent a good part of yesterday arguing over email about the Grabovski contract. I thought it was a fair price for one of our few truly irreplaceable players. Kim worries that by the time the next contending Leafs team comes around, Grabbo may be well past his best, a 5.5M anchor on the third line.
That got me thinking - how many players do the Leafs have right now who could be valuable contributors on a championship team in 3-5 years?
I count six. Phil Kessel. Jake Gardiner. Mikhail Grabovski. Dion Phaneuf. Nikolai Kulemin, as a quality third liner. Carl Gunnarsson, I guess. After that, you have a few aging maybes (MacArthur, Liles, Lupul) a total question mark (Luke Schenn), and Tyler Bozak, who's an alright player. Six.
There's also some good depth being developed in the minors - Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri, Jesse Blacker, Stuart Percy, Carter Ashton, Greg McKegg, etc. all show real promise, but to think more than a couple develop into major contributors isn't realistic. None of them have superstar potential. As a comparison, teams like Vancouver, Boston, Detroit, and Philly have around a dozen championship quality players right now - and many of them are not just contributors, but elite players who are among the best in hockey at their positions.
Six championship quality players and some solid - but not spectacular - prospects. After 3.5 years of Burke's tenure, and all the money, assets, and draft picks he has expended, that's nowhere near good enough, is it?
There are six major tasks facing Burke and the front office this summer:
1) Fix the goaltending
2) Get an elite prospect in the draft, or if trading the pick, get excellent value
3) Acquire an elite defender, or significantly improve the defensive unit through a couple of smaller additions
4) Acquire a top-six fwd who can drive possession/help Kessel
5) Clear some deadweight like Matthew Lombardi, Mike Komisarek, Tim Connolly
6) get more grit and defensive ability in the bottom 6
If most of these aren't addressed this summer, it will be very apparent that Burke and co. lack the capability to get this franchise where it should be, considering its fan support and resources - consistently at the top of the NHL.