This is an off-season? There’s been much activity in the National Hockey League lately: for instance, this week the Nashville Predators decided to retain their cornerstone defenceman and captain, Shea Weber, by matching the 14-year, $110-million offer sheet issued to him by the Philadelphia Flyers. That follows the Minnesota Wild’s dual shocker in early July when they landed both forward Zach Parise and blueliner Ryan Suter with similar long-term, big-money deals.
Given all the prominent names and dollar figures being bandied around, Leafs fans can be forgiven if they’re wondering when it will be their turn to hear good news about the Blue and White. No one should be overly thrilled by the re-signing of Nikolai Kulemin or the signings of Keith Aucoin and (ahem) Simon Gysbers.
Anyone who knows the NHL is aware that the Leafs are one of the most popular teams in the league in terms of attendance: season tickets are passed from generation to generation like family jewels. The Buds have been anything but precious lately: it’s been seven seasons in a row that Toronto has missed the playoffs. They’re the only Canadian team which has not seen post-season action since after the lockout, and the fans must be tired of hearing it.
They need a top-line centre and a front-line goaltender, but Brian Burke doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to fill either hole. Burke just recently shot down rumours that the club is looking to acquire goaltender Jonathan Bernier from the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. The biggest move since April has been to acquire scoring star James van Riemsdyk for defenceman Luke Schenn.
Van Riemsdyk showed what a team player he is by stating that even though he’s a winger, he would be willing to move to centre if head coach Randy Carlyle asked him to. It’s also telling as to how shallow the centre position is on the Leafs. It’s obvious at this point that Tim Connolly is not the answer they’re looking for there.
Maybe the plan is for the Leafs to become a more defensive team, which falls in line with Carlyle’s philosophy. Perhaps they’ll be more focused on developing from within, and players like Nazem Kadri and Ben Scrivens deserve chances to show that they can advance to the next level. That may be more realistic than expecting Burke to announce a huge trade out of nowhere which automatically propels them from suspects to up-and-comers. In other words, Leafs fans may be waiting a while longer for that big deal to materialize — if it ever does.