April 8, 2012
Job security casualty of Leafs train wreck
By Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
About all that’s certain regarding the Maple Leafs’ roster is that we know it will be different in September when training camp starts.
No teams, whether they’ve won the Stanley Cup or crashed and burned and missed the playoffs, stay the same one season to the next.
“You know changes will be made, regardless of what happened,” Leafs forward Matthew Lombardi said. “It’s always tough at the end of the year, saying goodbye to guys. But most hockey guys, everyone gets along pretty well and everyone can adapt. I have got to know that over the last couple of years.”
Though it’s hard to know who will stay and who will go, we’re going to take a look into the crystal ball. Remember that for now, it’s cloudy at best.
General manager Brian Burke’s plan involves building from the net out, so it makes sense that he will try to acquire a veteran goalie during the off-season. We figure James Reimer and Ben Scrivens will be back, and will battle for the No. 1 job with whoever Burke brings in. Jonas Gustavsson, an unrestricted free agent in July, has had ample opportunity to prove himself in Toronto.
On defence, captain Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, John-Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek probably are safe. Burke wouldn’t trade his captain, Gardiner is a cornerstone and Liles won’t be going anywhere after signing a four-year extension during the season. Komisarek’s no-movement clause ties him to the Leafs, but there are some who figure he could be a candidate to be bought out.
Luke Schenn could be gone if the Leafs re-visit a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers involving forward James van Riemsdyk. Some observers think the deal stands a good chance of happening. Carl Gunnarsson represents just a $1.325-million US cap hit, something that could make him attractive on the trade market. Cody Franson is a restricted free agent, and if he is back, you can imagine coach Randy Carlyle will do all he can to convince Franson to start throwing his 6-foot-5, 213-pound body around.
The Leafs think Korbinian Holzer is ready to make the step from the Marlies for a full-time job, but anything more than a depth spot probably is asking for too much.
At forward, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul should be untouchables. Like Liles, Mikhail Grabovski got his hands on a sweet new contract in recent months and is here for the foreseeable future. Burke favourite Mike Brown is staying. Centre David Steckel is affordable at $1.1 million US. Tim Connolly, Colby Armstrong and Lombardi have hefty contracts.
Nikolai Kulemin and Matt Frattin are restricted free agents. Joey Crabb and Jay Rosehill will be unrestricted. Crabb has impressed under Carlyle, but Rosehill likely will be replaced.
None of Kulemin, Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur should feel safe.
The problem for Burke is that he will be handcuffed by the contracts some of his players carry around. None are as egregious as Connolly’s $4.75-million cap hit. That would be the third-highest among Leafs forwards after Grabovski and Kessel next season, and we’re talking about someone who found himself playing the wing on the checking line by the time the season ended.
One advantage for players such as Scrivens, Frattin and Gardiner, and it’s a small one, is they have an opportunity to make a further positive stamp with Carlyle and management now that they have been assigned to the Marlies. If the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate has a long playoff run, presumably each of them will have a hand in that.
Scrivens, a restricted free agent when the season is done, would have the most to gain.
“For the most part, I am happy with my body of work,” Scrivens, who won four of his 11 starts with the Leafs, said. “You always want your numbers to be better, but for my first kick at the can, I think I learned a lot, and that’s the main thing.”