Thank God (or Brian Burke) for Phil Kessel. The season’s most dangerous scorer not named Alex Ovechkin is having a career year in a career full of great ones. Together with roomie Tyler Bozak and trade steal James van Riemsdyk, they head up one of the league’s most dangerous top lines.
You already know the head-scratching story of the Leafs’ confounding season: they give up more free shots than your buddy the bartender, but score key goals from a cadre of game-breakers and get difficult saves when they need ’em. A significant investment was made into forward David Clarkson, and he’s been suspended, hurt and underachieved; a minor commitment was made to camp tryout Mason Raymond, and he was critical to the club’s hot start out of the gate.
As streaky and infuriating as they are, Toronto is a few points up on the wild-card pack coming out of the Olympic break and should qualify for its second straight Stanley Cup tournament. Thus, the Leafs will be looking to add stability to their porous defence.
Click player positions to see depth chart
Areas to address
De-fence. Toronto led its division in goals at the Olympic break (albeit, with a slight edge in games played), and goaltenders Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have already shown stretches of greatness. No tandem has seen as much rubber as these guys. Sure, Toronto would like to upgrade at centre, but Tyler Bozak is working on the top line, Nazem Kadri is now in gear after a spotty start, and valued depth man Dave Bolland (Achilles) should be healthy for the stretch run.
So we look long and hard at a mistake-prone defence. The Leafs seem to be pleased with Tim Gleason’s grit, but they’ll be looking for a shutdown top-four defenceman, a difficult commodity to come by. The best defencemen known to be out there might be Andrew MacDonald and Dmitri Kulikov.
To make any real noise, GM Dave Nonis — who is pressed up against the salary cap — will have to part with a significant player. Perhaps pending UFA Bolland, if the player — beloved by coach Randy Carlyle — and the club can’t agree to an extension before the deadline. Teams would love a Jake Gardiner or Nazem Kadri, but MLSE has publicly stated it won’t abandon its young players to win right now. Nonis would part with them for the right price, but that price is too high for us to see fireworks on Mar. 5.
Possible trade targets
Dmitri Kulikov, Florida Panthers
Andrew MacDonald (Traded to PHI)
Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers