Maurice going to need some help

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

Now that the matter of coaching has been settled, it's time for the Maple Leafs to consider the matter of personnel.

After all, even though Paul Maurice is a fine coach, he's not the only one in the National Hockey League. If he's to make the Leafs successful, he'll need all the help he can get.

For starters, he'll need a goaltender. The Leafs made the mistake of riding the same horse for too long and now, the stable has a few empty stalls.

In Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Mikael Tellqvist, they have two goaltenders who might do well, but no real expectation that either will be great, especially in the long term.

They've got a couple of promising draft picks, but the road to the NHL from junior is a hazardous one, and many a goalie with magnificent potential has fallen by the wayside.

But in a way, the Leafs should consider themselves lucky. Throughout the NHL's history, top-notch goalies have been extremely difficult to find. If you had one, you didn't let him go; and if you didn't have one, you were years away from a Stanley Cup because you needed to develop one of your own.

But because of the way events have transpired this season, some first-rate goalies are available. The San Jose Sharks, for instance, almost certainly will part with either Vesa Toskala or Evgeni Nabokov. They've got Nolan Shaeffer in the wings and regard him highly.

Anaheim appears to be in a position to make a deal for Jean-Sebastien Giguere, thereby giving the Leafs the opportunity to set an NHL record for most goalies named Jean-Sebastien.

And the Carolina Hurricanes have Martin Gerber, who had a superb season. It appears that this year, the Olympics wore him down, but if the Leafs were to acquire him, they'd probably have clear sailing until 2010.

Others are available as well, but it's already clear that, for a change, quality goalies can be readily acquired.

The other pressing need for the Maple Leafs is a leader. Captain Mats Sundin does his job on the ice, but behind the scenes, he is not sufficiently forceful to handle some of the personalities who like to impose their will in the room.

In an ideal world, this leader would be able to communicate well with Maurice because under the previous regime, the players who had Pat Quinn's ear were the ones he should have most studiously ignored.

And what if, as an added bonus, this off-ice leader had played with most of the current Leafs? Is the picture becoming clearer?

There is no better acquisition that general manager John Ferguson could make than that of Gary Roberts.

There are drawbacks. Roberts is getting on and it's almost certain that he won't play a full season. But when he's healthy, he's a valuable asset. He can clear the path to the net for Sundin, bang in garbage goals and forecheck ferociously.

And if he can help every other Leaf be more productive, what does it matter if he himself misses 20 games?

Imagine how much better the Leafs would be, for instance, if they had the old Jeff O'Neill back. And O'Neill readily admits that he sorely misses the tutelage Roberts provided when the two played together under Maurice in Carolina.

Maurice too will tell you how valuable Roberts was in that Carolina dressing room, not just for O'Neill but for all the players -- and even for Maurice himself.

Ferguson can't afford to give up too much for Roberts -- who has a year remaining on his contract with the Florida Panthers, because the return is limited. Time waits for no man, not even Gary Roberts.

But knowing the Panthers' ownership, any opportunity to unload a contract will be regarded most favourably.

Ferguson will have to do some nifty shuffling to acquire both Roberts and a quality goaltender without giving up too much of his young talent.

But that's his problem, not ours.

Writers write. Managers manage. No one said it would be easy.


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