The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t exactly been the model of success in the NHL over the past decade. Only making the playoffs once since the 2004-05 lockout, Leaf fans have been filled with disappointment more often than not.
After John Ferguson Jr. took over as General Manager of the Leafs in 2003, it seemed that every trade the Leafs made involved a big piece of the future heading the other way. In his four years as GM, he traded away a total 0f 14 draft picks, including two first-rounders. Of course we all remember the most infamous trade: trading the rights to Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins for… Andrew Raycroft, who is currently playing overseas.
After Ferguson was fired, the Leafs had a short fling with Cliff Fletcher before bringing in Brian Burke. Burke was eventually replaced by Dave Nonis before this past season. What these three men have done has helped restock the cupboards that JFJ left bare.
This has all led to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the Leafs’ farm team, to be performing very well over the past couple seasons. After a trip to the Calder Cup Finals a few seasons ago, the Marlies won the AHL’s North Division Title this season and currently hold a 2-0 series lead over the Milwaukee Admirals in the first round of the AHL playoffs.
What is important about that is that the Marlies are a pretty young team filled with the Leafs recent draft picks. Even more so now with all the junior players that have joined the Marlies after their junior teams were eliminated. They are all now getting valuable playoff experience that will serve them well if they can make it to the Leafs. Just look at how many players the Detroit Red Wings were using that played on last season’s Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins.
Now, not all of the Marlies will make it to the Leafs, or even the NHL. For some of them, the AHL is the highest level of hockey they will reach. However, there are more than a few players on the Marlies roster that suited up for the Leafs during this season.
Marlies captain Trevor Smith wasn’t around much as he played well enough to stay with the Leafs for much of the season. Peter Holland, Carter Ashton and Jerry D’Amigo also had long stints with the Leafs. Petter Granberg, Greg McKegg, Spencer Abbott, Josh Leivo, David Broll and Jamie Devane all played at least one game with the Leafs as well. NHL veterans Frazer McLaren and Jerred Smithson are also the team.
If these young players can help the Marlies get back to the Calder Cup Finals and win it this time, it will definitely help their future. The Leafs will more than likely have a few rosters spots open that could very well be taken by Marlies to save some money of the salary cap. Of course, players that have experience with the Leafs will have a better chance to make the team, but there could be surprises.
As players graduate from the Marlies, more Leafs draft picks will come along to take their spot. If this system works, the Leafs will have a reliable pipeline of players to pull from in the future.