Photo Credit: Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports
Rumours have been swirling around the Toronto Maple Leafs and their top players since February, and that sort of talk is only going to get louder as we get closer to draft day and the opening of the unrestricted free agent market.
We strongly suspect that Toronto will move out as much of their “core” as possible, and even the vets who are left over after this summer will likely be subject to trade talks leading up to next year’s deadline, but after it’s all said and done, what will the next core look like?
The Leafs are currently in the tear down and accumulate phase of the Shanaplan, but in the next phase, “the build”, I suppose, we should get an idea of who they want to prop up.
Here are a few players who should be around to see things shake out.
2014-15 – Toronto (NHL): 81GP-8G-21A-29PTS
I think it goes without saying Rielly will be a core piece for the Maple Leafs over the next decade.
So many of the successful teams in the league are built from the blue line out, or at least have one guy back there who can run the show. Having a do-it-all player like Subban, Karlsson, Doughty, or Keith blatantly tilts the ice in your favour, and while those names present a high bar, Rielly’s ability to get into that stratosphere isn’t out of the question, at least not in my view.
This upcoming season should give us all a much more informed opinion of Rielly as he enters his third full campaign, a contract year to boot. Don’t be surprised if Babcock runs everything through him.
2014-15 – Modo (SHL): 21GP-8G-12A-20PTS
2014-15 – Toronto (AHL): 37GP-14G-18A-32PTS
No doubt a bigger question mark than an established guy like Rielly, but Nylander is an elite prospect by essentially all accounts and measures. He’s widely considered the best player drafted last summer who isn’t in the NHL.
If you’re looking for prospects who performed comparably in their draft plus-one season, you’re out of luck. Nylander’s SHL production was basically unheard of for a player his age, and it’s so rare for an eighteen-year-old to even play AHL hockey (because of the NHL-CHL transfer agreement) that his only real comparable is Nikita Filatov. When you’re performing at a level that breaks tools developed to compare prospects to one another, you’re probably a pretty special player.
There’s a very real chance Nylander is going to be a – if not the – key piece of these Maple Leafs.
2014-15 – Toronto (NHL): 79GP-4G-20A-24PTS
Now we’re starting to reach a little.
Gardiner is a player with a lot of skill, and now that he’s escaped Randy Carlyle’s backwards systems, he should perform much better in a consistently big role, especially if the Leafs ship out a guy like Phaneuf. But in terms of really being a player you “build around” he might still be a tough sell.
Even for folks who view Gardiner as a valuable piece for the Leafs, not many see him as truly untouchable, and he’s turning 25-years-old in a few weeks. I’ve always been a fan of his game, but in his first season under Babcock we should get a much better sense of what he really brings to the table, and the team can go from there in deciding how available he is to potential suitors.
I’d be floored if they move him this offseason, however.
2014-15 – Toronto (NHL): 73GP-18G-21A-39PTS
Again we’re in “is he or isn’t he” type of territory.
Kadri’s had a bit of a tough year, with questions about his off-ice behaviour given the highly-publicized suspension handed down by Shanahan in March. On the ice his boxcar numbers were down a little – he didn’t crack 40 points – so on the surface his perceived value has definitely taken a dip. However, I still think he’s a player who can make those around him better, one of maybe two or three forwards on the current roster who I’d argue fit that bill.
Kadri is a restricted free agent this offseason, and he’ll need to be re-upped. His down year could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Maple Leafs, if they’re willing to make a bold bet on projecting his future value.
Anyway, where the Leafs go with money and term on his new deal might signal how they feel about him as a building block.
Top Pick in This Draft
There’s an interesting – albeit fun – debate that will likely arise if the Leafs stay in their draft slot at fourth (their highest selection in nearly three decades) to select a high-end player next weekend: “Who is the organization’s top prospect?”
If, say, the Leafs nab Mitch Marner – a player who notched 126 points in the OHL this season and would arguably be in the conversation for first overall in other draft years – most would put him ahead of Nylander, and the same likely goes for Strome or Hanifin. Even if you don’t agree, this is a good thing. Most organizations aren’t operating with three elite prospects (I’m including Rielly here because he’s still developing) in the pipeline. This will be the most important pick the team will make in Shanahan’s effort to bring them into contention.
The Maple Leafs will look to add to their projectable core on the draft floor later this month. If you want a chance to witness this year’s draft in person, the Virtual League of Hockey will be flying two lucky virtual GMs down to Sunrise Florida to watch it all unfold from June 25th to June 28th. By registering for a free account you will automatically be entered for your chance to win. The VLH lets you create your own team, develop players and challenge a community of hockey fans from around the world. Now you also have the chance to learn from the world’s best GMs at the entry draft! Join today for your shot at the grand prize.