The importance of the upcoming trade deadline and the upcoming offseason can’t be stressed enough. The Maple Leafs organization is at a crossroads – they’re not good enough, they’re out of cash, and they don’t have a lot of assets. The next decade of Leafs hockey largely hinges on whether Brendan Shanahan, President of the Maple Leafs, decides to strip down the roster and rebuild, shake things up a bit and retool, or stick with what he has and attempt to regroup.
We asked our TLN writers what Shanahan should do…
It’s being reported from the trustworthy insiders that the Leafs are looking to move on from Phaneuf, which says to me they’re either retooling or rebuilding. I have a hard time believing they go full-on tank and burn it to the ground, but I think they might keep Kessel and cut it off there, then do whatever they can to ditch guys like Phaneuf, Clarkson, Lupul and Bozak as they’re in decline.
Returns on those players will be minimal, but they really need to get things rolling and see where they stand, so they can try to accumulate some picks in the top sixty of this draft – right now they only have one. Clearing out some dead weight cap hits and bringing in a good haul at the draft this summer would be a nice start to the turnaround, and I think they’re capable of that with Dubas, Hunter and Shanny calling the shots.
The Leafs need to rebuild. At the end of the day, the only goal should be a Stanley Cup. With the way the team is constructed now, they’ll be hard-pressed to turn themselves into contenders. The team has tried to take shortcuts and ignore hard truths, and in the process have wasted away some of the better years of guys like Lupul, Phaneuf, and even Phil Kessel. The team is in a bad salary cap situation with contracts like David Clarkson and to some degree Phaneuf’s holding the team down. The prospect pool is thin with very few players serving as legitimate threats to make an impact for this team one day and the Leafs have only made 11 draft picks in the last 2 years. Only two of those picks were made in the first 2 rounds. And maybe above all else, the Leafs are still largely inadequate down the middle and on the blueline. The Leafs lack a first-line center and Morgan Rielly is the team’s only hope at a franchise defenseman.
Simply put, the puzzle is missing pieces. And given the wavelength that some of the players are on, and considering the lack of young talent coming up through the system, there’s no way the Leafs can scrape a contender together. The reality is that they need to start again from scratch and do this thing the right way. No shortcuts, no panic moves, no boat anchors. Be honest, be critical, and be creative. It won’t be easy, but it’s the road the team needs to take.