If there is one thing we know about the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s that they are consistently inconsistent. After going on a 6-1-1 run, the Leafs followed up with one of the more embarrassing weeks in recent memory. The team followed up a Saturday night loss to the Rochester Americ…err, Buffalo Sabres, with the worst loss in Air Canada Centre history, when they fell 9-2 to the visiting Nashville Predators. Players were booed, jerseys were thrown, the debacle had hit epic proportions from which the team, and especially head coach, Randy Carlyle, couldn’t recover. A few days and a couple of wins against good teams later, and everything seems quiet in Leaf Land (for now).
Since he took the job in May, Brendan Shanahan has taken the approach of sitting back and evaluating what he has, much to the chagrin of many Leaf followers. Shanahan has preached patience, but many feel it’s about time that something is done with this current group of players, because this is obviously not a contending team. Now, you’re unlikely to see any sort of move that would shake things up and transform this roster beyond recognition, but for the first time in while, there is a definite possibility that a more significant trade could happen. Guys like Joffrey Lupul, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner and even Nazem Kadri could very well find their way out of town by the trade deadline, and possibly much sooner.
Now all of this works on the premise that Shanahan sees what the rest of us do – that this is not a contending team, and going forward with this nucleus will result in nothing more than the sustained mediocrity Toronto has seen for the past decade. Of the four mentioned above, Cody Franson is the most likely to be dealt this season. He is a UFA this summer, and despite his great play of late (he’s been arguably the team’s best defenseman this season), the team has, in the past, shown an unwillingness to commit to him long-term. With the type of contract we saw this past summer, Franson is in for a huge pay day, which will undoubtedly lead to him testing the free agent market, and the Leafs cannot afford to lose an asset like him for free. As a result, the move at the deadline for futures is all but certain.
One name that has started to surface in the recent week is Joffrey Lupul. He has been seen as a piece of the core since being acquired from the Ducks, but how well does he really fit into this lineup? When healthy, Lupul provides some of the secondary offense needed to supplement the top line, but does his presence really make a difference? The Leafs have looked good since he went down in practice with yet another injury. With the likes of Daniel Winnik, Leo Komarov and Richard Panik emerging on the wing in his absence, some believe Lupul (and his $5.35 million per year salary) has become expendable. Lupul certainly has value around the league, and can be very enticing to a team that has playoff aspirations as well as cap room. Good candidates include the Florida Panthers, the Nashville Predators, the Minnesota Wild, the New York Islanders, or even a struggling contender like the San Jose Sharks. Interested teams could instantly be paired down based on what Shanahan is envisioning for this team. If he wants to try to augment the current lineup and make a push for the playoffs, would San Jose give up a center like Joe Pavelski to strengthen their wing? Who knows, stranger things have happened.
Everyone accepted Shanahan’s desire to sit back and see what he’s got before doing anything to move the Leafs toward the ultimate goal of Stanley Cup contender. Seven months into his tenure, many believe he has a good base to gain that necessary perspective, and it’s coming time to take action. It’s always been said that GMs give their team until US Thanksgiving, So if Shanahan is looking to make a mark, this week could be that opening threshold. As a fan of player movement, I sure hope we see something before the holiday trade freeze. If nothing else, it should be an interesting few months for the league’s most polarizing organization. For a team that has unintentionally based its identity in inconsistency, the one constant is that fans in the city and around the league are always waiting with baited breath for the next shoe to drop. For me, it feels like that time will be coming sooner rather than later.
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