Written by: Eduardo Razo (@eddie91razo)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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The saying when it rains it pours could not be more accurate in describing the state of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have lost 10 out of their last 11 games. Currently, the Leafs sit 13 points out of the final wild card spot, so barring any kind of miracle run, it appears that they will be sellers come the trade deadline and the excitement to see who stays or goes has the fan base on pins and needles.
Depending on who you ask, Leafs fans have different opinions on how President Brendan Shanahan should go about fixing this situation. The possible options range from firing everyone to going on a full rebuild by trading key pieces like Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel. The problem with rebuilding is that there is no need for a rebuild! What Leafs management should do is retool because they have some key pieces such as James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, and Morgan Rielly who are relatively young and can help with the team moving forward.
Now, of all the young pieces to build on, none are more important than Morgan Rielly who can become a number one defenseman if he stays the course on his development. This is also why the Leafs need to acquire players this trade deadline and in the off-season that can grow with Rielly. With the idea of acquiring players to grow with Rielly, it is crucial that when trading these assets the Leafs need to acquire prospects that are on the cusp of reaching the NHL in the next few years and acquiring as many draft picks in the process.
The first step in this retooling plan will come March 2nd when the Leafs should sell off players like Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik, and Joffrey Lupul. As for the captain, Dion Phaneuf, it is best to wait and trade him at the draft which is where big contracts like Phaneuf’s are usually traded, not to mention there will be more teams interested. As for David Clarkson, well, Leafs fans would have to spend every night praying to the hockey gods hoping a team will take a chance on him even if the Leafs have to eat some of his contract.
Building a strong farm system is a must in this retool so they should not rush any of their prospects that are already in their system, that they acquire in these deals at the deadline, and prospects that they draft. In other words, patience must be preached in this retool because they cannot throw any of their young players to the wolves before they are ready. When Leafs fans look down the pipeline in the not so distant future, there’s hope in William Nylander who was ranked as the number one prospect by ESPN.com. Now, it does not mean he is a sure thing and will save the Leafs from mediocrity, but he has a shot to be special since Craig Button of TSN compared Nylander to Patrick Kane in his scouting report. Along with Nylander, the Leafs are starting see the fruits of their labor with the Toronto Marlies since prospects like Stuart Percy and Josh Leivo are about NHL ready and have had their cup of coffee in the NHL.
In addition, they have a few diamonds in the rough like last years Swedish Hockey League’s rookie of the year, Andreas Johnson, who was drafted in the 7th round in 2013, and according to Hockey's Future is one of the best scoring threats not in the NHL. Another diamond is Antoine Bibeau who last year had a magical run winning the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Val-d’Or Foreurs where he was named MVP of the playoffs and leading them to the Memorial Cup. What’s more surprising is that he is duplicating his success this year as well with the Marlies as he is set to break the Marlies single season shutout record since he has already tied the teams shutout record with four. The Leafs aren’t in as bad of shape as many think since their farm has depth, but do they lack blue-chip prospects like William Nylander? Yes, but they will be able to add to the blue-chip cup since they are headed towards another top 10 selection (maybe even top five) if they continue losing at this current pace.
Although the Leafs are really bad to watch right now and as constructed are not winning the Stanley Cup anytime soon, it does not mean they trade everyone and start from scratch. There are some decent building blocks with this team, so it isn't total doom and gloom. Now I understand that the Leafs have a history of screwing things up, but if they can string together good trades for their assets, properly develop players/prospects, and avoid throwing money at high priced free-agents, they can be a team that surprises next year. Much like the Calgary Flames have this year. All Leafs fans can do is hope that this new regime of management knows what they are doing and can finally give us Leafs fans something to be proud of.