Sunday, August 19, 2012

Expectations for 2011-12: Playoffs vs. Lottery

Heading into this offseason a lot of Leafs fans (including this one) believed that addressing the goaltending situation should be management’s number one priority. This sentiment stems from the fact that both James Reimer and Ben Scrivens have produced very little success, at least over a significant period, in the NHL.

We’re approaching September and it doesn’t appear that any move in goal is imminent. There have been the usual rumblings about Roberto Luongo or Jonathan Bernier and, if you dig deeply enough, even Tim Thomas could be considered an option for the Leafs. The situation in Vancouver has the potential to get volatile, especially if they try to start the season with Schneider and Luongo in a platoon. As of today, however, the Canucks appear in no real hurry to ship Roberto out.  
At first, this seems disappointing. Neither Scrivens nor Reimer has demonstrated the sort of consistency required to be a #1 netminder. I would like nothing more than to see the team enjoy some level of success to rescue the fanbase from nearly a decade long abyss of playoff-less hockey. However, after spending some time reviewing the top draft picks from the coming 2013 class, it’s hard not to wonder if one more lottery finish, and the top 5 pick that comes with it, wouldn’t ultimately be the best thing moving forward.

We’ve written a bit about the cap space and contract flexibility the team will enjoy next offseason, with the majority of the Leafs' non-core player deals expiring. This will leave Burke with a few key players (Grabovski, Kessel, Phaneuf, Rielly, Gardiner...etc) and substantial cap space to make a push at big name UFAs (backing up Brinks truck to the homes of Perry and Getzlaf).
If the team can add another top 5 draft pick with a great pedigree we could be looking at the beginning of a very strong core. This would also prove to be quite ironic, as it would bring Burke's ‘rebuild on the fly’ to a close nearly 5 years after he assumed the GM role, but I digress.

We’ll be following this year's top draft eligible prospects closely as the year unfolds and really closely if the Leafs begin to falter. Below is a quick introduction to some of the notable forwards available in the 2013 class.

Nathan MacKinnon   (Center, 5’11’’ 180lbs)
Playing in the QMJHL last year he amassed 31 goals and 78 points in 58 games on the Halifax Mooseheads. MacKinnon possesses an all-around game, but is known primarily as a playmaker, generating chances and creating open ice for his linemates. This, at least in theory, is exactly the type of player Toronto is looking for – a talented playmaking center that is capable of playing in both sides of the rink.
Sean Monahan    (Center, 6’0’’  193lbs)
Center for the Ottawa 67s of the OHL Sean produced 33 goals and 78 points in 62 games last season. Scouts have pegged him as a great two-way center that can chip in offensively when needed. His nickname in the dressing room is apparently “Monny”. Selfishly I hope the Leafs draft him, if only to afford me countless ‘Swingers’ references after each goal – “He’s so Money and he doesn’t even know it!”. Monahan looked very solid in the Canada-Russia juniors' series and hopes to play a part on this year's World Junior team for Canada.
Aleksander Barkov    (Center, 6’2’’, 194 lbs)
Currently the top rated European skater, Barkov is powerful big bodied center that will no doubt have the Leafs salivating. Last year he played on Tappara of the SM-liiga in Finland, tallying 7 goals and 16 points in 32 games. It’s worth noting that SM-liiga is a men’s professional league, and Barkov is still only 16 years of age, so these kinds of numbers are extremely impressive. He’ll be someone to keep an eye on at this year’s World Juniors in December to see how he fares against the top North American skaters.
Hunter Shinkaruk     (Left Wing, 5’10’’, 165lbs)
Playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL Hunter put together an outstanding year in 2011-12 finishing with 49 goals and 91 points in 66 games. If he can take another step forward this season, his size will be the only thing that may keep him out of the top 5 players off the board in summer 2013.
As the year unfolds we’ll learn more about the players above and other top prospects for 2013. Of course, like most fans, we’d prefer to see a trip to the post-season. The benefits of playoff experience to a young group like the Leafs would provide a good foundation moving forward -- not to mention it would provide reprieve to a fan base starving for success.
By running a Reimer/Scrivens tandem, the Leafs will find themselves in a high risk / high reward situation.  If one of the two young goaltenders takes the reigns and carries the team to the playoffs, then we've likely addressed one of our biggest question marks moving forward.  If, however, they are unable perform adequately and the team slips once again into the lottery portion of the draft the team may actually benefit in the long term. Finding top end talent is rarely easy and nabbing another potential star player under the veil of a quasi ‘rebuild’ could be the best thing.
Assuming the team can avoid the frustrating purgatory that is the 9-12 slot of the Eastern Conference we should be able to call this year some kind of a success. Whether it ends with new playoff memories, or one of the blue chip prospects (pun intended) listed above.


Cole said...

I agree, as much as i like the team now i feel as though adding a new, proven goaltender is key, and i think adding one more talented young forward to the team wouldn't be the worst thing either come next draft. Good post.

Anonymous said...

We'd better make the playoffs. This 5 year rebuild is bullsh*t