While Brian Burke and our Toronto Maple Leafs have made some positive acquisitions this off-season, there is much more to be done before any Leafs fan can be confident that a playoff birth is even a potentiality in the upcoming season. Trading for Kris Versteeg was a way of adding what may prove to be some top 6 skill to the team. Then, with Colby Armstrong we can see some added grit from a player TSN has called the Brian Burke prototype. Earlier this summer Burke brought in Mike Brown who, if he makes the roster will give Toronto supplementary strength. However, for the sake of solidifying a quality right wing, Toronto sacrificed Viktor Stalberg’s speed and offensive hockey sense on the left side.
From many of the Leafs blogs I've read and from the conversations I've had with Leafs fans, most have argued that Toronto’s major need is a top line centerman. Many still have a desire to make a trade for Marc Savard, risking his long contract and history of injuries. Personally, I think the Leafs have a much larger problem on the left wing than the center position. Tyler Bozak is closer to being a number one centerman than Kulemin is to a first liner on the left.
From the players we brought in this offseason, only Marcel Mueller is a conceivable LWer and I say that very cautiously. Listing our players by position, I can illustrate the Leafs' strength on the right wing and its weakness of the left. The center position, while still a problem, is less dire and thus can be addressed afterward.
RW: Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong, Mike Brown, Colton Orr, Joey Crabb...(ha.)
C: Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Mikael Grabovski, John Mitchell, Brayden Irwin, Christian Hanson (if he is resigned), and Mike Zigomanis...(ha.)
LW: Nik Kulemin, Freddy Sjostrom, Luca Caputi, and Marcel Mueller.
From what I can see, Toronto only has one NHL caliber left-winger. Kulemin, who played first line minutes for much of last season after robbing Alexei Ponikarovski of his spot, has proven himself to be a good two-way player who will help Toronto in the long run. Unfortunately, a Kulemin type player ought not to be on the first line, nor should he play first line minutes.
An argument can be made that Freddy Sjostrom is a second NHL caliber LWer in the Maple Leafs’ roster, but only as a fourth liner who is mostly used for the penalty kill and defensive situations.
Put frankly, Luca Caputi was a disappointment last year. While 9 points in 28 career games is not a horrible statistic for a 21 year old, last season was supposed to be a tryout and he did not prove himself to be good enough for an NHL roster. That being said, this season is a new opportunity. Viktor Stalberg blew us all away last pre-season and was awarded a spot on the team based on that performance. We can all hope Caputi will do the same but it's likely he will need more time to develop.
Finally, we come to Brian Burke's newly acquired Marcel Mueller. There isn’t too much information out there about him, but I do know that he was signed to a two-way contract. This will give Ron Wilson some flexibility, giving him the opportunity to spread out Mueller’s time between the NHL and the farm.
As we can see, Toronto is temporarily troubled on the left wing. However, there is one player I would love to see help solve this problem. Because of the fiscal difficulties in Dallas, James Neal is available for trade. Whether this is where Burke decides to trade Kaberle, a multi-player deal could send some of our lower salary contracts over as well for some additional offensive skill. Toronto has a superfluity of players under contract between the Leafs and Marlies and could therefore put together a package good enough to land a player skilled enough to play alongside Phil Kessel.
Another development in the Kaberle rumors has turned towards LA and Brayden Schenn. As a left wing prospect, he could be a potential player to fill this void. It’s widely speculated that Burke was trying to move up the draft order in 2009 to get Luke’s younger brother on the team. Whether this is an available means to such an end, time will tell.
Personally, I would rather Neal in a Leafs uniform next year since he is older and a proven scorer. Because of Neal’s low salary, a second round pick in 2011 would give Burke the opportunity to offer-sheet James Neal against the financially vulnerable Stars. This would be the best case scenario in acquiring a quality LWer to play with Phil Kessel. It may be a harsh move but at the end of the day, business is business.
Next we can turn to center