The Toronto Maple Leafs roster looks very different than it did on Opening Night back in October.
Last summer, Brendan Shanahan made it known that the team planned on creating a fresh, new platform that will eventually become a Stanley Cup contending team with hopes of one day reclaiming glory that was last seen almost 50-years ago. The frame is set and now, it’s time to decorate this Original Six franchise the right way.
It all starts with the front office, which is orchestrated by Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan pleaded patience with Leaf fans as this is a full-out rebuild. This season Shannahan introduced a new, modern, and classy Maple Leaf logo for their upcoming centennial season next year that brings back the true roots of the Maple Leaf franchise and the logo itself. General Manager Lou Lamoriello, who managed to not retain salary of the majority of the trades he made this season, has done well with not rushing the young guns. Then it’s top tier coach Mike Babcock, who established a new system to this rebuilding team and players are buying into the system.
The most important component to properly building a team is to have a solid foundation. While players were expected to dealt over the course of the season, some of the trades surprisingly came out of nowhere. The Leafs were able to move out captain Dion Phanuef, Nick Spaling, Roman Polak, Shawn Mathias, and Daniel Winnik. The most shocking move was the beloved goaltender James Reimer, who was traded to the San Jose Sharks just days before the trade deadline and days after Polak and Spaling were also traded to the Sharks. All the deals and signings that were short lived provided the Leafs with what they wanted to achieve all along.
In fact, after making these trades, the Leafs now have the most draft picks for this upcoming draft. A total of 12 picks, two first round picks (thank you Pittsburgh) with a possible chance that the Leafs could potentially win the draft lottery and could potentially draft Austin Matthews first overall this summer.
Now what’s left is transitioning players from developing with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL, to playing full-time with the blue and white. During the final stretch of the season, fans saw the debuts of William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, and Nikta Soshnikov. A few other players, including Connor Brown, Viktor Loov, Frederik Gauthier, Tobias Lindberg, and Brendan Leipsic made short lived NHL appearances who will be key parts to the puzzle. What’s missing is a top goaltender and some physical edge. More pieces will be filled all thanks to the numerous deals that saw the Leafs mainly acquire picks, free up some cap space, and additional prospects to add to their already deep prospect pool.
Right now, the core of the team is Nazem Kadri, JVR, Leo Komarov, Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner. Adding free agents in a smart, decisive way this off-season will make sure that they have the proper value and the Leafs have a lot of freedom to spend the money wisely.
The 2015-16 Leafs season is also a significant step away from the Brian Burke era. Burke had two paths to choose from and sadly, he chose the wrong one. Trading away picks and adding a core the lacked consistency, and leadership. Not to the mention, no true number centreman or defenseman asthey separated themselves from Kessel and Phaneuf. It’s the beginning of the dismantling. It’s smarter management decisions that the Toronto Maple Leafs have lacked in this salary cap era of hockey.
If done right, Leaf fans will see this team be formed with elite talent, and working collectively to win one step at a time that will put the horrors of the past behind them for good.
Be patient Leaf fans, the glory days are coming.