It's becoming more and more apparent that the Leafs aren't the perfect team that none of us imagined they'd be. If you're Dave Nonis, who's the one player you target to right the ship, and what do you offer up to get him?
That's right! A trade proposal roundtable! Fun!!!
I wanna start by saying this trade proposal roundtable was my idea, so if you think it sucks, it's because I suck.
Here's the Leafs' problem: They need to improve on defence. I heard one pundit laughing on the radio because people were talking about how the Leafs have "too many" defencemen and can trade one. He was basically saying that's impossible because the Leafs' defence still stinks. Fair point, but it's not the quantity of defencemen that plagues the Leafs, it's the quality. Paul Ranger? I think he'll shape up by the end of the season, but how much? Mark Fraser? He's better when healthy, but he sure as hell shouldn't be Cody Franson's defence partner.
The other problem? The Leafs can stand on a street corner and go "We need a good defenceman!" and almost every other team in the league will shout back "Join the club!"
I wonder what a guy like T.J. Brodie or Kris Russell in Calgary would cost. They've been decent defencemen on a Flames team that everyone thought would finish last. Is there somebody in the Leafs organization Burke would like with him in Calgary? Who would that player even be? A lot of people point to Nikolai Kulemin as a forward the Leafs have with trade value, but for all his scoring troubles, he's a great defensive player. If anything, I'd like to see Kulemin dealt to a team that would actually appreciate him. The Penguins? Well their defence is pretty bad right now. The Ducks? Ben Lovejoy would be awesome.
I don't have an answer. I'm hoping Dave Nonis does. After all, he makes way more than I do.
The problem the Leafs have is that they don't have an awful lot of room to make moves, and even less room to make mistakes, in their current salary cap situation. The team has $42-million committed to next season, with just two defencemen locked up and raises likely coming for James Reimer, Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson (still think he'll turn his play around), plus whatever long-term deal they're going to give Dion Phaneuf.
The other problem is that you can't really add players if they won't fit the system. I admit I don't know the type of player that succeeds in a Carlyle system. The forwards are too low on exits and the defencemen are too conservative. If there's a player the team could really, really use, I'd suggest John-Michael Liles. The cost to acquire such a player is low, and he'd add nothing to the Leafs salary cap situation.
It's not like Paul Ranger or Mark Fraser have magical traits that keep them in the lineup. Neither are right-handed shots, which was the excuse for keeping Mike Kostka around last season. Liles definitely isn't worth his cap hit, but as long as the team has to pay it, why not spend it on the gamble that Liles still has something to contribute at the NHL-level?
I'm stumped. More than anything, I believe the Leafs' current defenders just need to be better and more aggressive in clearing the puck. If I was to go out a get a new guy though, it'd have to be a shutdown-type defender - someone like the Los Angeles Kings' Willie Mitchell. He's old as heck, but he's on the last year of his contract and he's still a serviceable stay-at-home-and-watch-the-kids kind of guy. The issue there is that I doubt that L.A. are itching to get rid of him, and that Willie carries a $3.5M cap hit that the Leafs simply can't afford right now. It'd have to be a dollar-for-dollar move, and I just don't see how that shakes down.
So where do you go from there? What steady defensive-defenceman even available this time of year? Luke Schen? Hahaha, yeah, no. And I can't justify going out and getting another offensively-minded defender. With Phaneuf, Rielly, Franson and Gardiner currently in the lineup, it seems redundant to do so.
The more I think about it, the more I think Cam might be on to something with Liles. Maybe a small shake-up using internal pieces might set things right, or at least improve them a little bit. And just so Steve doesn't get mopey, Ben Lovejoy isn't that bad an idea either.