The Toronto Maple Leafs have been kicking themselves all offseason. Up 4-1 with just about half a period left in Game 7 of their first-round series with the Boston Bruins, the Leafs blew it. It was a stunning collapse, which, of course, was followed up by the Bruins going all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
Does that mean the Leafs are actually that good (because they should have defeated the team that eventually won the East)? We’re not sure, but they do appear to be a team on the rise. Hopefully our NHL picks regarding the Leafs will be on point.
Biggest Offseason Loss: Mikhail Grabovski
The Leafs biggest offseason loss was Mikhail Grabovski, whom they used one of their two compliance buyouts with. Grabovski had been a top six forward with the Leafs and was a fairly reliable offensive piece…until last year. He had just nine goals and 16 points in 2013 and the Leafs felt he was no longer worth the money. In 2011 and 2012, Grabovski finished top-three in points on the team and that’s when the Leafs rewarded him with a contract paying him more than $5 million per year. Then they saw the drop-off, considered their cap situation and dumped him.
Was he overpaid? Yes. Was he a reasonable offensive weapon? Yes. Would the Leafs have kept him if he was making $3 million per year, like the Washington Capitals will pay him this season? Probably. However, the variables were different and situation didn’t work out. You can’t afford to pay $5 M for 16 points. That’s why the Leafs cut ties.
Biggest Offseason Gain: David Clarkson
The Leafs cleared some cap space and then immediately refilled it by signing Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million contract. But many people are wondering if the Leafs overpaid for a marginal talent.
There’s no question that Clarkson has – at times – been one of the league’s better No. 2 centers. He’s big, strong and will crash the net. However, he’s not a prolific scorer and some of his impact won’t be directly seen in the box score.
Clarkson had 15 goals and 24 points last season, which fleshes out to 26 and 41 in a full season. That’s about what he did in the 2011-12 season when he scored 30 goals and notched 46 points. Technically, you’d like to see more points than that considering he’s going to be making nearly $5.3 million per season.
The difference is that Clarkson is going to open up opportunity for the smaller Leafs. Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri need room to operate and both have been suffocated at times
Now the Leafs have a power center who is going to demand attention and open up space for them. Don’t expect 50 points out of Clarkson. His impact on the ice will be allowing players like Kessel and Kadri to do more damage than they’ve already been able to do. If that plan comes to fruition, the Leafs will gain a lot from this signing.
State Of The Franchise:
The Leafs arrow is definitely pointing up. They came on in the second-half last season, played valiantly in the playoffs and should grow from that experience. They are also a young team that will be improved simply because so many of their youngsters are a year older.
But success for the Leafs in 2013-14 is squarely pinned on the play of their goaltenders. James Reimer played well at times last season but also had stretches where he looked like a backup. That’s why the team traded for Jonathan Bernier in the hopes that out of two young prospects, one can grow into a true No. 1. Whether that’s Reimer because he faces stiff competition from Bernier or whether it’s Bernier, simply because he is already viewed as one of the best young prospects in the game, it doesn’t matter. The Leafs need one of them to become a stud.
When you look at the blue line, the forwards and the coaching staff, everything seems to be in place. With inconsistent goaltending, they are probably a fringe playoff team. With reasonable goaltending, they’re inside the playoffs and probably hanging around for a round. With stellar goaltending, they could be a contender in the East. It all depends what Reimer and Bernier can provide between the pipes.
2013 NHL Odds To Win The Stanley Cup At Bovada: 25/1