Nov 29, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas (3) skates with the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Blackhawks defeated the Stars 2-1 in the overtime shootout. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Free Agency: Have The Toronto Maple Leafs Improved?


Here we are. Five days after the start of free agency, the Toronto Maple Leafs have made more than a few moves looking to improve on the result they ended with last season.

It all started at the 2014 Draft when the Leafs traded Carl Gunnarsson, one of the longer-reining Leafs, to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for defenseman Roman Polak.

At the onset of free agency, the Leafs lost more players than they acquired. Gone from the Blue & White are Dave Bolland, Nikolai Kulemin, Jay McClement, Mason Raymond and Jerry D’Amigo.

However, the Leafs did not fail to bring in replacements. New to Toronto are Stephane Robidas, Mike Santorelli, Petri Kontiola. Matt Frattin and Leo Komarov are also returning to Toronto after one year absences.

So, have the Leafs improved?

Hard to say, but in parts, yes they have. The Leafs’ defense should be well more equipped to handle the opposition. Not only do Robidas and Polak provide veteran leadership, their presence should allow for head coach Randy Carlyle to divide the time more evenly between pairings. That should take some of the pressure off of Dion Phaneuf.

The other thing the Leafs have improved is their bottom-six. In recent years, the Leafs’ fourth-line has been a rarely-used line made for fighting. The third-line has been primarily used as an energy line that didn’t put that many points on the board. Now, with the additions that have been made, the Leafs look to be a team that is going to roll four lines every game and expect their fourth line to play more than five minutes a game.

So, the improvements might not be the most glamorous, but the type of players the Leafs have acquired should allow them to improve on their result. Only question is, will it be enough for them to return to the playoffs?

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Tags: NHL Free Agency Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Stan Smith

    To me the leafs will be as good as their goaltending. I think they have improved a little in 2 of the 3 areas they needed to, defence and bottom 6.

    The other area is back up goaltending. If they keep Reimer he will at least understand his role and not feel the extra pressure of battling for the #1 spot and maybe that can help him relax a bit more. Hopefully he also works on his positioning, rebound control and glove hand. While they have always been problem areas for him he seemed to struggle more last season. If they deal Reimer they need a good solid experienced goalie that can play 20 games and play them well. I don’t think a 40+ yr old goalie is a good idea, especially if he might have to come off the bench cold.

    They do seem to have a little more depth than last season in case of injuries but that could still end up biting them in the end like it did last season. Everyone seems to forget with two weeks to go in the season they were in 3rd place in the East.

    • Andrew

      Goaltending is the least of their concern right now. They still have need for top end talent down the middle. That has been their weak spot (among others) since Mats Sundin left. Until Reimer is traded, he should be very motivated to perform, as he knows strong play when he is given the opportunity will speed up the process. A decent backup can be found when needed, I am not worried in the least about that. Just get me a number 1 C!

      • Stan Smith

        I disagree totally with that. They have one of the highest scoring lines in the NHL with Bozak, Kessel and JVR. There is no guarantee that if you spend big bucks to bring in another centre that the line would do any better than they are now. To me if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

        At 23 Kadri is just going to keep on getting better. If there is a weakness in their top 6 players right now it is right wing but I think Clarkson will have a bounce back year and cover that.

        That leaves the 3rd and 4th line centres and the leafs have not only made stride to improve there but also have added depth in that position.

        • shamefultofan

          bozak is not a 1st c… look at his stats on one of the highest line in the nhl… stan ur delusional… this team is the same team as last year…probably won’t give up as many shot as last year…just like us leafs fans to over estimate any player to put on a leafs jersey…then when they don’t perform we chew them up and spit them out….at best this is a team that might make the playoff but that is it….to think about a cup is delusional… as long as we continue to fill the acc and tune in to watch games management will continue to put teams like this on the ice…i would like to one day be proud to be a leafs fan again but for now i say i’m a leafs fan with embarrassment… thanks nonis for another shit team and a long painful hockey season..

          • flintonrice

            So, what stat are you looking at? And what is “one of the highest line”?

            And I really don’t think at this point that anyone over-estimates anyone who puts on a Leaf jersey. Do you really think any Leaf fan overestimates Phaneuf or Kessel or Kadri? Three great players that have been shit on consistently for the past couple of years by fans in Toronto.

          • old hockey fan

            According to some of the scouts and managers when going the Toronto 1st line can give any team the hiebi jiebies. Bozak is not your prototypical first line center, but has made his linemates better according to last years stats. So to me he is definitely a 1A if not a first line center.

          • shamefultofan

            has anybody actually look at bozak’s stats…has yet to break 50 points…don’t get me wrong i do like bozak…i think he would make a great 2nd line center… but he is not a 1st line center…and i would think that kessel and jvr would be just as good or even better without him…they look pretty good at the Olympics without him…can anyone really argue that a real number one center like a joe Thornton , not necessarily jumbo joe but someone of the caliber playing along side kessel and jvr…the line would be amazing…

          • Claude Lamontagne

            You’re right Bozak is not a 1st line center second maybe. Toronto problem was and still is the same…the draft. They always trade their draft choices for nobody and since in the last 10 years they are in the bottom 8 they could have had a better choice if they would have keep them. I would have think they would have learn something from the Eric Lindros era…

        • Andrew

          I don’t think we’ve been watching the same team. What do Chicago, LA, SJ, Boston, Anaheim all have in common? Dominant first line Cs and depth down the middle generally. Kessel and JVR are productive in spite of Bozak not because of him. And, though they score a ton of goals they’re also scored on a ton. Any of those aforementioned teams can start their first line against any other first line in the league and be productive at both ends, the same cannot be said for the Leafs.

          You’re also delusional about Kadri. The guy has some offensive gifts, but is head is almost as empty as yours. Half the time he doesn’t know what the hell is going on. If I could get Eric Stahl for Phaneuf and Kadri, I’d do so in a heartbeat, because the team would be much better down the middle and they have prospects on the back end to fill the void within the next couple of years.

          The third and fourth line were problematic, I don’t disagree with that. But if you think that the bottom 6 are the only problem with the Leafs, then I have to question how much beer you drink when you’re watching the games.

          • Stan Smith

            Bozak is the leafs first line centre whether you like it or not. Would he be a first line centre on many other teams, probably not. I stated two things. #1 That line is one of the top scoring lines in the NHL. #2 Even if the leafs did go out a sign a big stud centre he might not make that line any better. It’s all about chemistry.

            If you don’t see Kadri’s potential you don’t really watch him play. Hell one of Kessel’s main criticisms was his inconsistent play. The kid is only 23 years old and he has all the tools. In another post I listed the number of areas where he was top 3 on the team so I won’t do it here. How would the leafs look if they got rid of a good young talent like him, to see him become another Kessel.

            Andrew, all the teams you talk about were built from within, gradually. They didn’t go out every year and try and buy Superstars. They did by developing their core and then building around them.

            The article was about whether or not the team is better this year than last. I replied I thought it was in 2 of 3 areas. There is still a question mark about goaltending.

            They are not going to be a Stanley Cup contender this season, or next, or probably the season after that, but if they stick with a plan, be patient, don’t make any stupid moves to rush the process and some day they will. The goal this season should be to make the playoffs, period. Everyone talks about how bad they are but they forget that they were in 3rd place in the East with a little over two weeks to go in the season this year.

          • Andrew

            Because the only thing that matters is points? They were built from within, but getting a 6’3 C with talent is winning the lottery. The Leafs have a ton of defensive prospects, that is why I’d be inclined to trade for a big skilled C. I do agree that the majority of the team has to be built from within, your 100% correct about that. But, let’s face it, if you’re not picking in the top 5, you have very little chance of getting a franchise C. I don;t think any of the players in this year’s draft will become a franchise C. That’s why I’d try and acquire one through trade. Kadri and Kessel have different responsibilities though. Kadri is a C and as a C you need to be effective at both ends of the ice. I would actually like to see Kadri play the wing, because I think he’d be much more effective if he had less thinking to do. He’s a very visceral player, which isn’t exactly the quality that screams centreman.

            The biggest hole in the lineup, like it or not, is #1 C! Period. It doesn’t matter how you fill the hole, so long as you do. You can’t win without being dominant down the middle.

          • flintonrice

            You need to look at Eric Staal’s numbers for the past few years. While I used to love the guy, he really blows now.

            And Kadri is a very good player. If you had put Crosby between Lupul and Clarkson last year, then he probably would have had 50 points.

            It’s easy to crap on the guy and I didn’t used to be a fan but he is very good – here’s a link for perspective – http://www.pensionplanpuppets.com/2014/4/18/5580946/some-perspective-on-nazem-kadri

          • old hockey fan

            Andrew, I think that some of the points you are making make some sense, like the Leafs not being strong down the center, but that is not a fault of Bozak who has actually done not bad at the position of a #1center. When you make your assessments I find it demeaning that you feel it necessary to also slag the person that you are debating with. Your willingness to trade Kadri and Phaneuf for Stahl is puzzling to me in that you trade away a guy who eats a lot of hard minutes for the Leafs plus a young center for just a more established center.You need to also look at the stats and see the tough minutes that Phaneuf has logged for this team. This guy gets no love from the fans, but keeps handling the toughest opposition of any Dman in the NHL. How are you going to replace those minutes?

      • flintonrice

        I don’t understand the 1C obsession. It’s sophomoric and really indicative of incredibly lazy thinking.

        The Leafs first line is one of the best in all of the NHL at putting points on the board. Further, for those quoting stats on Bozak – he was injured for a good part of the season. In Points per Game Statistic for ALL centers in the NHL, Bozak ranks 17th. Yes, 17th.

        So, if Bozak ranks 17th in ALL centers in the NHL in Points per Game and there are 30 teams in the league, then you would think that he would be a 1C for roughly 14 of 30 NHL teams. (actually 17 because 3 teams had 2 C’s above him)

        Further, he had more Points per game than ROR, Datsyuk, Bergeron, Staal, Backes and was basically equal to Stastny and Kopitar. Yes, Stastny and Kopitar…

        The top 5 in points per game were Crosby, Malkin, Getzlaf, Tavares and Stamkos who are absolute bonafied 1C’s and the Leafs aren’t getting ANY of those players in my lifetime.

        While Bozak is not my favourite player, if you watch him play and look at the stats at the end of the year – and then think that he is the top priority to replace then you need to give your head a shake.

        The Leafs don’t have forwards that play defense. That is absolutely 100% the problem with this team. Kessel, JVR, Lupul and Kadri just do not play defense at an NHL level for top players. That’s the problem with this team.

        • A13276

          We’re short in elite players that play centre – like an awful lot of NHL teams.

        • Andrew

          Your out of your F**king mind making those comparisons. Not even going to dignify the rest of this POS with a response.

          • Stan Smith

            So people stating that Bozak is not a bad a player as you think he is and then backing it up with stats is not something you want to hear. boohoo.

          • old hockey fan

            Actually, he makes a lot of sense with his comparison of how many centers in the league have more points per game. Andrew you have bashed Bozak as not having the talent of a #1 center and flintonrice just absolutely made you with his statistical background. You are the one saying he does not have the talent but the statistics would show that he is quite suited and to follow that then his salary is actually a bargain.

          • Andrew

            Points are not the only measure of success. You need to look beyond the numbers. Any player would have success with those two wingers. When your line mates are putting up over 60 goals, you;re going to get some points. Context is everything. Statistics are only as good as the person interpreting them. I don’t necessarily think that Bozak is overpaid (never made that comment), but when you start comparing him to the likes of Bergeron, Kopitar, et al., you’re out of your mind! To think that you can sum up a players worth solely on points is insane (and points in one season is even more insane) and that is exactly what rice is doing.

            In terms of points, Stahl had the worst season in his career this year, and Datsyuk had his worst year since 01 – 02, while Bozak had by far his best on a PPG basis. Most likely, these players will regress back towards career averages next season and the points gap will widen again. But, beyond looking at points, you need to acknowledge what else these players bring to the game – these are guys who play both ends of the rink extremely well and have been top C in the league for many years. Bozak’s ppg may be above his career average again next year, but it has a lot more to do with who he is playing with than himself. He’s a second line C at best. Surround Bozak with the crap Stahl has around him and see how effective he is. You add an Eric Stahl to that top line and you have a line that can play against the opponents best and not get owned in their own end of the ice, while still being effective in the oppositions end.

          • old hockey fan

            Andrew, I read that actually JVR and Kessel both played more productive minutes with Bozak as their center and that when he was injured the production of Kessel and JVR took a hit. So even though I am not a computer or spread sheet expert when I read those kinds of comments along with what one of the Sportsnet talking heads said about some managers and coaches concerning the game that Toronto’s first line can bring and how it can change a game, that says to me that the center though mot a top 10 center in the league should not be tarred and feathered or demoted to the 3rd line based on incomplete information.

          • Andrew

            Dude that is incomplete information. How long were they without Bozak? Sample size is too small to make any firm conclusions. Who was in his place? I am a spreadsheet guy (I’m a statistician), that’s why I don’t buy 90% of the “statistical” crap that comes from the guys on sportsnet, because when you dig deeper, there are always severe flaws (I do appreciate the qualitative observations, because Kyp and Mc are good hockey guys, but they don’t know stats). The fact that I don’t think he has the skill of a first line C is not disconfirmed by the fact that JVR and Kessel played even worse with a player who was even further from being a first line C (Bozak is the best C on the Leafs without a doubt). I am also not tarring and feathering Bozak as you suggest, I just think he is a second line C. Kind of like in comments above where you assume I do the same with Phaneuf – I actually am one of the few in Toronto in his corner. I think Phaneuf is a very talented defenseman who is severely undervalued. But based on the context (lots of depth on the point, easier to get a very good dman than a very good C, etc.), I would trade him if the correct deal became available. I think the Leafs D takes the Lions share of criticism, but I think their forward groups is more deserving for their lack of defensive play and it starts with the guys in the middle of the ice.

  • A13276

    The reason the Leafs didn’t make the playoffs last season was because the team’s MVP – Jonathon Bernier – got injured. The Leafs were third in the Eastern Conference with 82 points with 14 games left when Jonathon Bernier was lost due to injury. Just the season before last, the young corp of this team, with virtually no playoff experience and without Jonathon Bernier, took a veteran and favorite contender for the Stanley Cup to seven hard fought games, ultimately losing in sudden death overtime in that seventh game with Reimer in the net; not Jonathon Bernier. That Boston Bruins team lost late in the 6th game against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. I mean, how bad can this Leafs team be?!! Think about it – I mean actually think about it. The question some Leaf fans need to ask themselves is whether they want headlines and buzz or do they want a stable regime that can continue to grow this team without constantly trying for the quick three run home run. It took the LA Kings under their current GM ten years to grow that first Stanley Cup winning team; ten years of drafting and development, trading, free agent signings and missed free agent signings (Kovalchuk – Devils; Brad Richards – Rangers), failing to make the playoffs and failing in the playoffs – ten years with no GM/regime change! The Leafs have definitively retooled and upgraded the 3rd and 4th lines, the defense pairings and the penalty kill (Komorov, Polak, Robidas, Santorelli); while still having $5 million in cap space to burn and having Franson (Granberg) and Reimer as tradeable assets. Stay the course Shanahan!

    • Stan Smith

      You are a breath of fresh air A13276 even if you do have a funny name.

      • A13276

        Ya – I was having a problem getting a moniker that wasn’t already taken and needed one I could remember easily so A, Sundin, Sittler, Ellis.