The latest new era for the eternally struggling Toronto Maple Leafs begins Monday when Brendan Shanahan meets the media for the first time since taking the job as president.
Beside him will be Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Tim Leiweke and Leafs general manager David Nonis. While Nonis has taken his share of shots for the late-season collapse, all indications are that he will survive to sift through the smoking ruins.
Otherwise, there is uncertainty in every other quarter of the organization, from head coach Randy Carlyle, whose survival would be a big surprise, to radio analyst Jim Ralph, who kept fans laughing through their tears for years. An MLSE source said Ralph, who had a brush with the axe a year ago, has already been told he won’t be back next season. Ralph declined to comment.
Shanahan knows full well he is coming into a job where advice rains down from everywhere. So who are we to stand in the way? Here is a list of what should be done with the meat of the Leafs roster, taking into account they have $22.38-million (all currency U.S.) to spend if next season’s salary cap is $71.1-million. There are currently 12 players signed for 2014-15.
Dion Phaneuf – At $7-million per for the next seven years, the Leafs are stuck with him. Take away the captaincy and get him to work solely on his game. He makes way too many mistakes for a 29-year-old NHLer. As with a lot of his teammates, he is higher on the roster (No. 1 defenceman) than he should be.
Carl Gunnarsson – Keep him, as he is a solid defenceman with a decent cap hit at $3.15-million for two more years. But he should be a No. 4 or 5, not on the top pair.
Cody Franson – He is a restricted free agent July 1 and it’s time to trade his rights. After a solid 2012-13 season and playoffs, Franson regressed. Space is needed for a physical, defensive-minded blueliner such as farmhand Petter Granberg, who made an impressive NHL debut Saturday.
Tim Gleason – He did not bring the hoped-for stability to the Leafs defence but was not a disaster either. At $4-million, a tad over-priced for a bottom-three guy but worth keeping for his play in the Leafs’ zone and his work ethic, a rare commodity on this team.
Paul Ranger – Pending unrestricted free agent. If he is willing to take a pay cut from this season’s $1-million salary, he could be a depth player but looking for an upgrade should be the priority.
Jake Gardiner – He is not developing as quickly as hoped and it appears his game will always be all offence. But he finished the season well and will remain part of the team’s core of young players rather than leave as a restricted free agent.
Morgan Rielly – The rookie showed he has the tools to be the No. 1 defenceman the Leafs badly need. But he’s still a few years away. A keeper.
Phil Kessel – He is an important piece of the puzzle rather than a leader, but his scoring skills dictated the team’s fortunes. Kessel is locked up at $8-million a year through 2022 so he’s settled.
Tyler Bozak – Another one who stays, although his relationship with Kessel, rather than his size and skill, dictates his role as the No. 1 centre.
James van Riemsdyk – Solid season with 30 goals, developing well despite quibbles with his consistency. Good value at $4.25-million for four more years.
Nazem Kadri – Fifty points in his second full season looks good but too often he disappeared at key times. Much patience is needed here because he’s too young to discard. He has the talent but has yet to develop a two-way game. Someone needs to read him the riot act and get him in step with whatever program is in place next season.
Joffrey Lupul – His heart seems to be in the right place but injuries weaken his contributions. Four years left on his contract at $5.25-million means someone might be interested so a trade should be explored.
David Clarkson – Yes, an unmitigated disaster at $5.25-million with six years to go. But he didn’t forget how to play the game at 30. He can’t be traded so the Leafs have to get him to hit the reset button. Can still be an effective player.
Dave Bolland – This is a tough one. The pending unrestricted free agent is unquestionably the two-way gritty player the team needs. But not at $6-million a year or more if that is what he wants in a new contract. The Clarkson contract makes this a tough negotiation for Nonis. Keeping Bolland would be nice but it looks like it’s impossible at the right price.
Mason Raymond – Provided decent value on a one-year deal for $1-million but less so as the season went on. Worth a stab at re-signing for similar money but a more physical replacement would be better.
Nikolai Kulemin – His 30 goals in 2010-11 sparked hopes he would develop into a good power forward but it never happened. Could be part of a revitalized fourth line, but if he isn’t willing to take a pay cut from $2.8-million, it’s time to say goodbye when free agency hits on July 1.
Jay McClement – He helped improve the penalty killing in 2012-13 but both special teams fell apart this season. The Leafs are in flux at centre on the third and fourth lines thanks to the Bolland situation, so it’s worth keeping McClement, who is a pending unrestricted free agent.
Colton Orr – A spot on the Toronto Marlies to work off the last year of his contract.
The rest – The Leafs have a group of young players who spent time with them this season and are headed to free agency. Peter Holland and Carter Ashton are the most notable. Holland could play as high as the No. 3 centre, depending on what happens to Bolland. Ashton never got much of a chance under Carlyle but has scored in the American Hockey League. Both should be re-upped. Troy Bodie put in some decent work on the fourth line and should be brought back, too.
Jonathan Bernier – He provided the elite goaltending Nonis and Carlyle wanted. Only question is when does he sign a long-term contract extension.
James Reimer – He is bitterly disappointed about losing the No. 1 job to Bernier and reluctantly realized it is time to move on with restricted free agency approaching. Leafs fans have to realize his trade value was never that great and there won’t be much coming for him.
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