Leafs might as well start planning for next season now
Well the Maple Leafs remain in 14th place in the East and nine points out of a playoff berth. So it's about time to forget about how well you do this season and look to making next season end better than this one. That means stop fretting about how high the draft pick that goes to the Bruins for Phil Kessel. Watching the standings isn't really going to help.
The Leafs have a boatload of restricted and unrestricted free agents including Gustavsson (RFA), Toskala (UFA), White (RFA), Exelby (UFA), Van Ryn (UFA), Hanson (RFA), Mitchell (RFA), Wallin (UFA), Primeau (UFA), Mayers (UFA), Kulemin (RFA), Stajan (UFA), Ponikarovsky (UFA), and Stempniak (UFA). Those you do not plan to keep or may price themselves too high (as was the case with Moore last season) you see if you can pick up a draft pick at the trading deadline. They might include Primeau, Mayers, Exelby for teams looking for some more toughness going into the playoffs. For those looking for scoring depth maybe Stempniak might help. The tougher decisions are on players like Ponikarovsky and Stajan. Statistically both are doing well enough to earn significant raises next season -certainly in excess of $3 million per season. But are they the types of players you want to build around. If not then an offer of a second round pick will find them on new teams in March.
The endless analysis of this Leaf team runs from coaching, to penalty killing, to shaky defense. But the Leaf lineup is not much different than 20 other teams in the league with the exception of goaltending. It has been abysmal. Had the goaltending held out, I have no doubt that the team would be fighting for a playoff spot. Both have shown to be no better than an adequate backup. You can get rid of both as the Flyers did in the offseason and start fresh. Though re-signing Gustavsson makes some sense. It has had a difficult season with his health and deserves further consideration. I think that Toskala will return to Europe to find his game. So the search for a bona fida starter continues. I would have rather handed over all those draft picks it took to get Kessel in order to acquire a top goalie.
Most young players have not developed as far as we would have liked. The only exception has been Kulemin who has shown a combination of speed, physical play, defense and offense this year. However, Schenn, Bozak, Hanson, Gunnarsson, Gustavsson and Stulberg are going to take some time still. The problem is that there isn't much else in the system right now. Kadri will be given a shot at making the team next season but there isn't much else for a while.
Trading for draft picks
It's always a good idea to pick up draft picks when you're rebuilding but the Leafs have little to offer. When Stajan and Hagman were scoring they might have tempted some managers although neither would get you back a first round pick. But if they continue to play as they have in the last few weeks, second round picks may also be out of the question. Tomas Kaberle is the only player that might get back a first round pick. However, getting back a low first round pick from a contender is not going to provide much return. As well, he is the offensive catalyst on this team for some time to come. There is likely more value to the team by keeping him than by moving him.
Big name free agents
The Leafs will likely have some dollars to spend on free agents this summer. I'm sure everyone is thinking about Kovalchuk in a Leaf uniform. Without goaltending he isn't the cure and he will be very expensive. Burke's signings to stabilize the defense last summer were expensive and not very effective - though I think Bobby Orr couldn't cure the Leaf's goaltending. Rebuilding has to be through youth and cannot happen through free agency under a salary cap.