April 07, 2008

A Long, Long, Long Off-Season

The season is finally, mercifully, over. For the first time since the 1997/1998 campaign the Toronto Maple Leafs finished with fewer than 90 points. We're in for one long off-season my friends, and I've got a ton of questions that need to be answered.

It hasn't actually set in that the season is over. It feels a little bit surreal, even. Like I'm trapped in this three year nightmare, with a playoff game nowhere in sight. I guess it'll hit home once the second season begins and I'm cheering for the Washington Capitals instead of my Leafs.

These are difficult times, indeed. The franchise is in dire straits. It's impossible to know whether the Leafs can pull a Montreal or Philadelphia and be competitive one year after missing the playoffs. There are simply too many questions to be answered.

In honour of that beautiful segue way, lets do this: 20 Questions, Toronto Maple Leafs excruciatingly long off-season edition.

1. Will the Leafs target Brian Burke as their new general manager? The search for a new president and GM, in typical Leafs fashion, doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Perhaps the Leafs are waiting for the playoffs to end so they can approach Burke with an offer he simply can't refuse. Or perhaps not. Who the hell knows.

2. Like those "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, the questions surrounding Mats Sundin's future will loom large over the franchise until the Captain makes his decision. So, what will Mats do? It's a question that has caused many restless, sleepless nights. Will he retire a Maple Leaf, even though he enjoyed a tremendous personal season? Will he sign another one-year contract with Toronto? Will it include a no-trade clause? If the Leafs stink, will we go through the entire process again next year? Will he sign as a free agent with another team, after refusing to be traded at the trade deadline and costing the Leafs valuable draft picks? Oh dear, pass me the TUMS. I'm going to have severe indigestion for the next four freaking months.

3. When will Paul Maurice be fired? It's no longer if, but when. The Leafs finished the season with one of the worst home records in the league, and the NHL's worst penalty killing rate - 78%. The players will be held accountable, but so should the coaches. Maurice is finished, and should be canned sooner rather than later. Which means he'll be fired in August, a couple of weeks before training camp; you know how we do!

4. Who will the Leafs select in the entry draft with their top-10 pick? Unfortunately, it certainly won't be Steve Stamkos or Drew Doughty. With Vesa Toskala signed through 2010 and Justin Pogge already dubbed the future in net, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the Leafs drafted a goalie.

5. Andrew Raycroft has one year and $2 million left on his current contract. No general manager, unless drunk out of their mind (and even that's a stretch), is going to trade for him. Will the Leafs take the hit and buy out his contract? Will he be banished to the minors next season? One thing is for certain, if Raycrap is still a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs come September, I'm going to have rethink this whole Leafs fan thing.

6. Will Bryan McCabe accept a trade to the New York Islanders? More importantly, will the New York Islanders actually trade for him? One of Pavel Kubina or McCabe's salary must come off the books, and most will agree McCabe should be the one to go. Even I've given up on him. The Islanders are our best hope as McCabe's wife still calls Long Island home. At this point, I'm willing to take back a single prospect, or even a second-round pick, for #24.

7. If McCabe refuses to leave town, or no team is willing trade for him, will the Leafs bite the bullet and buy him out?

8. Sundin can probably fetch $6.5 to $7 million on the market. If he stays with Toronto, will he give the Leafs a discount? If he wants the team to be the least bit competitive, we straight up cannot afford to pay him in the $6-to-$7 million range. I'm thinking more like $4.5 million, and I don't think that would go over too well with Sundin. Excuse me, I said pass the TUMS!

9. Can we throw in Jason Blake if we trade McCabe to the Islanders? Perhaps they would like to have him back. After all, Owen freakin' Nolan scored more goals than Blake this year.

10. I know it was a great body check - probably the best of the year - but is Mark Bell really worth $2.5 million next season? Like McCabe, no one's going to trade for the guy, so will his contract be bought out?

11. Will the next general manager of the Leafs entertain any thoughts of bringing back Pat Burns behind the bench? That would be a whole lot of fucking awesome.

12. If the Leafs do find a suitor for McCabe, how about bringing back Danny Markov? Markov spent the past year in Russia and will be 32 in July. I doubt he'd cost much ($1.5 or $2 million), I think he's still got some hockey left in him and, boy, was he ever a beauty during his first stint in Toronto. What do you think about a defence of: Kaberle/Kubina, Markov/Colaiacovo, Stralman/White?

13. Will Matt Stajan and Kyle Wellwood still be in the blue and white come September? Both are restricted free agents. I think it's a sure bet that Stajan will be back. I hope the case is the same for Wellwood, but I'm not too sure. After another surgery on his groin, who knows what his conditioning will be like. I'm still of the opinion, however, that he's too young and too skilled to simply be given up on.

14. What about John Pohl, Scott Clemmensen, and Dominic Moore? Other than Sundin, they are the only unrestricted free agents of note on the club (Andy Wozniewski is unrestricted as well and here's hoping he, well, goes straight to hell). I think Pohl is done with Toronto, while Clemmensen might be re-signed for another go with the Marlies. And I think Moore has played well enough as a waiver pick up to merit another contract with the Leafs. Dude works hard and should be rewarded.

15. What to do with Darcy Tucker? He finished the season with 18 goals but barely existed for the first four months of the season. He also looked slow out there all year. He was never the fastest skater to begin with, but it seemed like he lost a step. While he does have a no-trade clause, I think Tucker's got too much pride to stick around if he's no longer wanted. And I definitely believe there is a market out there for him. It would be extremely painful to see him go, but it may be time for the Leafs to turn the page.

16. Where have all the twenty goal scorers gone? Other than Sundin who always does it, only one other Maple Leaf scored more than 20 goals this season. It was Nik Antropov, probably the last guy you thought would do it. Sure, the Leafs did have seven players with 15 goals or more, but they need better finish in and around the net. They need a sniper who can get the job done. Blake was brought in to score goals and, while he did put up a respectable 52 points, I was expecting at least 25 to 30 goals from him.

17. Will our new general manager be shopping on July 1st when the free agent markets opens? The crop isn't the greatest, although I definitely wouldn't mind seeing Daymond Langkow in a Leafs uniform as the team's second centre behind Sundin. Other big offensive names on the list are: Kristian Huselius, Markus Naslund, Ladislav Nagy, Brendan Morrison, Sean Avery (imagine him in a Leafs uni?), and Brendan Shanahan. None are guys you can build around, but the Leafs need some proven goal scorers.

18. Who's ready for a full-time promotion from the farm? Are guys like Jeremy Williams, Robbie Earl, Staffan Kronwall and Kris Newbury ready to contribute to the big club all year long? Kronwall hasn't looked all that great and it doesn't seem like Newbury will be much more than a fourth line guy who plays only a few minutes per game. While Williams and Earl looked alright, I'm not sure they are ready for prime time.

19. Are Jiri Tlusty and Nikolai Kulemin sure fire prospects? Tlusty had a decent rookie season all things considered. From his nudey glamour shots to limited fourth line duty, his 10 goals were a pleasant surprise. Will he find himself a fixture on the top two lines come next season? And will Nikolai Kulemin, the best prospect the Leafs have, be ready to play in the NHL in September? Will he be the sniper the Leafs so desperately need, or will he join the long list of Maple Leaf entry draft busts?

20. Will Wade Belak return to the Leafs? Belak's rental experiment didn't work out too well in Florida as he couldn't lead them to the playoffs, and he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Without Wade on the roster, no one on the Leafs can fight. God knows I could go without seeing Bell and McCabe ever drop the gloves again.

I wasn't lying folks. We're in for one hell of a long, and definitely most interesting, off-season. I say bring it on. After a season like this one, we can only go up from here. At least I hope so.


Jaredoflondon said...

I'd love to see Belak back, the guy was just so entertaining, plus he loved his job.
Sean Avery though? The only reason I'd want to see him in Blue and White is so he'd have more opportunities to cross my scope...wait was that my outside voice?

Chemmy said...

We need to start a "bring back Belak" petition.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be great if B-Lack came back....he is funny...

Anonymous said...

also the leafs will draft the next available scorer....Nikita Filatov, he is ranked in the top5 but he is russian and that will likley drop his rating down (Cherapanov Style)....but if they go for anything less than a top 6 forward, it will be dumb, as we have goaltending and Defence (i think), and lord knows we have enough 3rd and 4th liners....so logically a top 6 forward, but than again...it is the leafs...