Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Deadlines

With so little going on in Leaf land, I thought I’d post a quick bit on the off-season moves and a longer bit on what it might mean for the future of the organization…

The Good
JFJ redeemed himself by buying out Domi and declining Belfour’s option. He managed to plug the 3 and 4 spots on D although he paid a ridiculous price in the process.

The Bad
There’s a glut of goalies out there and it’s clearly a buyer’s market. The Leafs trade one of their top prospects for…a goalie.

The Ugly (or maybe just confusing)
Wade Belak gets a contract extension.


I’ve been thinking about these off-season moves and how it positions the Leafs for the season ahead.

While the front office appears to have solidified the blue line brigade, I have no idea who’s going to score on this team, especially in five on five situations. Just like last season, goaltending remains a giant spinning roulette wheel that could come up 00 or .879 (one of the worst save percentages in the league for all of you TML scrapbookers out there).

I’ve come to the (common and not so shocking conclusion) that the lack of depth at forward, the question marks between the pipes and the improvements of several teams in the east means the Leafs will once again be life and death to make the playoffs.

Thinking about the overall health and direction of this organization (big-picture stuff here, think JFJ’s dreaded P-word, but with an actual plan attached) the future of this franchise will likely turn on JFJ’s abilities at the trade deadline. Stick with me here.

As far as I can tell, there are three ways* the season can unfold. In all three cases the trade deadline looms large:

  1. The Leafs stink it up and are clearly out of the playoff hunt
  2. The Leafs put up a decent season and are a virtual lock to make the post-season dance
  3. The Leafs play slightly better than .500 hockey, flirt with the 95 point mark and have decent odds to scrape into 8th

In the first scenario, the Leafs should be sellers at the Trade deadline looking to maximize returns on what must clearly be a non-competitive roster. The biggest question in this scenario would have to be whether or not JFJ is still the GM when it comes time to hold the fire sale (and whether MLSE follows the outside the box thinking of the Islanders and hires Tvellquist as the next GM).

If the season plays out as described in scenario 2, JFJ has to decide what the Leafs may need, if anything, to keep up with divisional rivals and to improve the odds of the team going deeper into the post-season. Standing pat here might be the best option.

Scenario 3 is last year’s model and clearly the worst situation for this team to be in. JFJ will be faced with a character defining moment - shore up the team to make a desperate playoff run (likely the only way of keeping his job) or move assets to improve the club’s chances of winning in the future?

The good news is, if the Leafs find themselves on the outside looking in come March, there’s going to be lots of great trade bait on the club as UFAs in-waiting include Sundin (team option); Peca; O’Neill; Tucker; Belak, Antropov and Aubin. RFAs in the last year of their contract include: Ponikarovsky; Suglobov; Colaiacovo; Tellqvist and possibly Stajan (who still hasn’t resigned).

It is amazing to think that, even though training camp is weeks away, decisions next March may define the priorities of this organization and will demonstrate if building a real contender is one of them.

*I guess there is a fourth option – but it’s such a long-shot it really only deserves footnote status: in this situation, the Leafs are the beasts of the east. They must decide what the final puzzle piece may be that will put them over the top and how much they are willing to sacrifice to get it.

3 comments:

  1. A fair and balanced summary I would say. Often a rare thing to come from Leaf land. Kudos.

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  2. what he said

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  3. Welcome back!

    At least if things go tits up we have a lot of assets to build for the future.

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