Toronto Maple Leafs Have To Focus On The Future


It is time.

Time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to give up on this season. Time to start looking to trade their soon-to-be unrestricted free agents. Time to give their young prospects a bigger taste of the NHL game.

With last night’s shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils, the Leafs are now on a seven-game losing streak. If it weren’t for the point they earned last night, they’d be only three points ahead of the bottom five of the NHL. It’s clear that with the way the Leafs are playing right now that they are more likely to fall down the NHL standings than they are to rise.

So what should the Leafs do? The first step: Start picking up the phone. Unrestricted free agents like Cody Franson, Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli will all be of interest to any contending team. Franson should obviously fetch the most for the Leafs. It looks like the Leafs want roster players that are in the 22-25 range. Franson might get them that. If that doesn’t happen, then the Leafs might be able to at least drive the price up to a first-round pick. I mean, if the Buffalo Sabres can get a first-rounder for Paul Gaustad, the Leafs can surely get one for Franson.

Players like Winnik and Santorelli won’t get the Leafs that much in terms of a return. However, I could see the Leafs getting a second-rounder for each of them. Since the Leafs don’t own their second-round pick (sent to the Los Angeles Kings in the Jonathan Bernier deal), it would be good if the Leafs could recoup that pick and maybe even more.

Could the Leafs work out a bigger deal in which they move one of Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul or Jake Gardiner? It’s possible, but those trades would be made easier to accomplish in the off-season. Out of those four, Lupul seems the most likely player to be moved before the trade deadline.

Of course, trading all these players would leave a hole in the Leafs’ lineup. That would give players like Brandon Kozun, Carter Ashton, Spencer Abbott, and Matt Frattin more of a chance to show what they can do at the NHL level. Higher-end prospects William Nylander and Connor Brown might even get a chance with the big club.

This would all lead to what the Leafs should be aiming for: A higher draft pick. The lower the Leafs finish in the standings, the higher chances that they might win the draft lottery. Now, Connor McDavid would look very good in a Leafs uniform, but even if the Leafs can get the fifth overall pick, they should still come out with a pretty good pick. If the Leafs came out of the draft with a player like Dylan Strome, one of McDavid’s teammates in Erie, I doubt many fans would be disappointed.

The Leafs have done pretty good drafting in recent years. Defensemen like Stuart Percy, Tom Nilsson, Viktor Loov and Matt Finn could all become very good Leafs one day. Forwards like Nylander, Brown and Frederik Gauthier will all fill important roles for the Leafs. If Antoine Bibeau can continue his strong development, he might start pushing Bernier in a few years.

Adding another high-end prospect to that list would help even more. If everyone can fill their potential, the Leafs might be competitive sooner rather than later. Of course, the Leafs need to give them that chance.

The 2014-15 season is now a wash for the Leafs. They need to get something out of it. Piling up draft picks and prospects would help the Leafs in the future and that’s what Brendan Shanahan and company need to care about now.