Part 15 in my "State of the Franchise" series. Halfway through!
Feel free to leave comments; I'm always willing to take feedback and I readily accept that I'm not the next Charles Dickens, so any constructive criticism would be great.
Current Rankings List:
20. Tampa Bay
22. Los Angeles
25. New Jersey
30. San Jose
#16: Toronto Maple Leafs
Top Fws: Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski
Top Ds: Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles
Top G: James Reimer
Top 3 Under-23s:
1. F James van Riemsdyk (23)
2. D Jake Gardiner (22)
3. F Nazem Kadri (21)
Top 5 Prospects
1. D Morgan Rielly (18)
2. F Joe Colborne (22)
3. F Carter Ashton (21)
4. D Stuart Percy (19)
5. D Matt Finn (18)
Prospect Pool Rating:
Bluechip Talent: C
The Leafs have a promising group of forwards, led by wingers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. They're joined by players who offer some depth behind them in Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin, and Matt Frattin. The defense, while lacking in top pairing, high-caliber players, has 6 NHL caliber blueliners, including young stud Jake Gardiner.
While the team has depth down the middle, none of the centermen are true number 1s. The defense is either slow, soft or makes poor on-ice decisions, sometimes on the same night. The Leafs are currently relying on James Reimer in net, but he isn't a sure thing and is not yet of starting quality. Inconsistency among all players is a major issue.
The Leafs have amassed a decent group of young prospects. The defense has a couple of high-quality blueliners in Rielly, 2011 first rounder Stuart Percy, and 2012 second rounder Matt Finn. Up front, the team has a few wingers of note in Biggs, Brad Ross and Carter Ashton. The goaltending prospect pool is deep. The Leafs overall have a few prospects at every position that possess good pro potential.
Morgan Rielly looks like a potential diamond in the rough, but beyond him none of the prospects are likely to become top-line players anytime soon. The team's goaltending prospects do not figure to be high quality players and are unlikely to amount to anything more than a backup netminder. Most of the high-quality prospects have become NHL regulars and the ones that aren't seemed to have hit snags in their development.
The Leafs are the only team to have not made the playoffs in any year after the NHL's work stoppage. Despite the best interests and attempts of Brian Burke, many believe that his head may be on the chopping blocks if his team cannot find a way to make the playoffs next season. A combination of poor goaltending, brash words and seemingly insurmountable mountains of bad luck have conspired to relegate his team to the NHL's doormats.
That isn't to say that he hasn't done anything right. The team has a bona fide scorer in Phil Kessel (whether he's a franchise forward or not is another story), an apparent linchpin in Dion Phaneuf on defense (if Phaneuf can ever fix his habit of on-ice brain cramps) and he's surrounded them with a cast of players that, while not fantastic, should help keep the team competitive. The prospect pool has been rebuilt and the team has seen young players such as Carl Gunnarsson come up and flourish in a Leafs sweater.
The Leafs, for whatever reason, have been unable to coax a winning season out of its team. Even though they'll be in the playoff mix next season, it's going to take a lot of things going right for the team to make the playoffs, whether it be next year or even beyond that.