The Leafs search for a Centerman

It seems like most things have stayed the same after the 2012 NHL entry draft as far as the Toronto Maple Leafs are concerned. With the exception of a long rumored trade taking place after the 2nd draft day in Pittsburgh, the Leafs by in large stayed the course. There was talk though apres draft that the Luke Schenn for JVR trade was just the beginning of Burkes wheelings and dealings this offseason.

As for the draft itself there was one major trade that occurred with Jordan Staal, a studly center for the penguins, going to Carolina to play with his brother Eric in exchange for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the 8th overall pick in this years draft. Lauded for this deals parity of value exchanged Pittsburgh got rid of Staal a cornerstone to their franchise over the last 6 seasons and got back a somewhat lesser version of Staal in Brandon Sutter but with potential to grow behind Crosby and Malkin, they got a defensive prospect and a top 10 draft pick this year that they used to get Kris Letang's heir apparent, Derrick Pouliot. The fourth thing that the Penguins got out of this deal was cap space to chase either Parise or Suter if they get to free agency. They also unloaded Zbynek Michalek to the Phoenix Coyotes presumably to free up cap space for one or more high profile UFA signings this summer.

How will this trade affect the Leafs this summer? Well it erases one of their options to trade for a big number one center in Jordan Staal and it also get rid of a secondary option for the Leafs by Sutter going back to the Burgh. It means that if Ryan Suter is willing to come east he will probably sign in Pittsburgh, so 1 less option for Burke in free agency this summer. It should make it less likely that the Leafs will be able to sign Parise this off season but I still don't think that is in the cards for either team. 

Burke said that he was in on Jordan Staal but wasn't willing to offer what Carolina was because he wouldn't be able to sign him after this season without a Staal brother on the roster. He was able to address one weakness on Saturday by getting a bit of size upfront in the form of James van Riemsdyk a much coveted American born winger from Philly. Burke said that it is possible that JVR could return to Center where he played before he was in the NHL but he acquired JVR to fit in as a winger. So the search continues for the Leafs top line Center.

I am of the school of thought that thinks that this top line center is not intended to fit between Kessel and Lupul but to rather use those two as a 2nd line scoring winger tandem. I think that Burke doesn't see Kessel being able to handle all the load upfront in a physical Randy Carlyle puck possession offense at least not as the primary option on the top line. This was evidenced by the fact that Steckel was getting alot of playing time under Carlyle last year. I think Carlyle is looking for a large and in charge top line the likes of Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry that he had in Anaheim under Burke. Kessel should fit in as a Selanne type sniper lighting things up after the top line tires everyone out. JVR is the first piece in the puzzle that is a Carlyle top line as he is big, fast, has good puck skills and can shoot.

That leaves a few options for the Leafs when it comes to top line centers. The easiest solution is to fill the position from within by hoping that big Joe Colborne can step up this year to play with JVR and maybe Matt Frattin on the other wing. This is a patchwork solution and it is hard to see them eclipsing Kessel, Lupul and Bozak for top line minutes even with Carlyle at the reins. 
The other options could be acquired through trade the most enticing of which would be Ryan Getzlaf from Burkes old team, the Anaheim Ducks. It would be an understatement for me to say that Brian Burke has experience trading with his former team as we have seen many trades between the two since Burke has come to Toronto. He has acquired Joffrey Lupul, Jake Gardiner, Nicolas Deschamps and picks in the past from his former team and stands to pick up Justin Schultz through free agency this summer. If in fact he does acquire Schultz this summer via free agency this could be a sticking point between the Leafs GM and Bob Murray the duck GM. Burke being the self proclaimed great guy, will most likely offer up a bit of compensation in any deal going forward for sneaking Schultz away from his former team, and if not any deal between the two could be dead in the water. 

If Burke is serious about addressing the Leafs need for a large Center this year then Getzlaf is really the only option and may not even be available. If Bobby Ryan's comments this week about him wanting out of Anaheim are true then he might get included in the package as Murray's hand will be forced on the issue. If a deal between Toronto and Anaheim comes to fruitition between the two teams including Ryan and Getzlaf it would almost certainly have to include Kessel +++ going back to Anaheim which would be a steep price to pay as Kessel was by far the Leafs best player last year. Of course Burke would prefer not to give up his star winger in return but would address his size (or lack there of) issue upfront. 

The deal would likely be Kessel, Grabovski, Percy and a conditional 1st round pick for Ryan and Getzlaf. A steep price to pay but a return that would likely better suit the new Leafs coaching staff. The new Leafs top line would include JVR, Getzlaf and Ryan with either JVR or Ryan playing the off wing or potentially Lupul playing with his former teammates. Not necessarily a more lethal top line then the current makeup but definitely a harder line to play against physically and better at a puck possession style. 

The second line would include either JVR or Lupul along side Kadri if he can prove this year that he is NHL ready and even if not he will be showcased in the top six for a trade if he doesn't stick long term. The issue now will become a second line center with the departure of Grabovski and can be filled either by Bozak, Colborne, Connoly, through trade or someone like Adam Burrish through free agency.

Stay tuned for more on the Leafs. I will be posting more soon on Trades, Free Agency and a draft review coming up soon.

Also follow me on twitter @LeafsDeals19  

Click here to see how the Leafs could possibly look come game 1 of the 2012-2013 regular season.


Leave a Reply