By Shane Button
This years free agency was never highly regarded as being a very deep one. But even still, it’s been a little slow and disappointing. In the first 2 days there were over 50 contracts handed out. Since then, there’s been less than 10 total. And to top it off, the years top Free Agent, Ilya Kovalchuk STILL hasn’t signed. But I’m going to leave that one alone, because I’m sure your just as annoyed by it as I am.
So let’s talk Leafs. Brian Burke wasn’t as active as a lot of people had thought he would be, however you can’t blame him since there wasn’t really a lot for him to go after. The only 2 “significant” signings are Colby Armstrong and Brett Lebda. I say significant in quotes because I don’t think Lebda is really a significant signing, but is a name people might know since he won the cup with the Red Wings.
Going into the off season the Leafs’ needs were a good centre who can help Phil Kessel. Unfortunately, that need it still out there. Yes we got some more scoring with Kris Versteeg, but our centre position is still very young and inexperienced. Tyler Bozak looked very good last year for the most part and hopefully Nazim Kadri can adjust quickly, but neither of them is going to be a superstar centre this year. They may develop into one, but they need to get some NHL time under their belts first.
The one big signed Burke made was of course getting Colby Armstrong away from Atlanta. Colby isn’t exactly an offensive threat, but he can add some when needed. He is a VERY good forechecker and brings a lot in terms of pestiness and physicality. And he is a great locker room guy, hence the reason he was an assistant captain in Atlanta (I know it’s an “alternate” captain, but I grew up when it was “assistant” and I stick by it). Burke’s teams are big, physical and hard to play against. And when he brought in Colton Orr, Mike Komisarek, and Dion Phaneuf last year, he proved it. But it never hurts to have a bit more physical presence on a top line every now and then. And that’s exactly what Colby Armstrong can do. He won’t be a permanent player on the top 2 lines, but he also won’t hurt the lines if he is placed there for a shift or 2. I’m really excited about this signing because it just further helps the Leafs get tougher without sacrificing offense. Colby is very similar to Darcy Tucker when Tucker was in his prime with the Leafs. And I’m actually quite happy to finally see another player like that coming to the team. And strictly because of it, Colby is going to become a fan favourite very quickly.
Brett Lebda isn’t exactly a necessary signing and I’m actually a little confused by it. The Leafs already have:
Those are just the guys who are on the team already, plus there is a few shut-down guys still in the system like Keith Aulie. That brings us to 8 that could play some minutes in the NHL so bringing in Lebda give us 9 guys…I guess you would only count 8 since Aulie is likely to only play in the AHL right now. But even still, 8 guys is a lot. When Burke signed Lebda it got the rumour mill tourning again about Kaberle. And to be honest, I don’t care whether we keep him, or trade him. He is a VERY good asset to have. He is always composed, calm, and puts up good numbers on a bad team. Getting rid of him will of course mean getting something very good in return, which is good. But keeping him means we also have one of the better offensive defensmen in the NHL still on the team, and I’m happy with that too.
The Leafs ARE a better team with the signing of Colby Armstrong…and trade for Kris Versteeg. And I think they will do better this season but the playoffs are still doubtful for me. We added some scoring with Versteeg and will be better in the back end with everyone healthy and no adjusted to Toronto. The defense started to pull it together near the end, and the addition of Dion Phaneuf really helped that. So I believe that they will be a better back end this year. And with Toskala gone we have a bit more stable goal-tending in Giguere and Gustavsson. However I don’t think it is quite enough to get us to the post season. I’m predicting a 10-11 seed finish this year. And a finish that high yet out of the playoffs is actually a good thing. Since we don’t have a 1st round pick we don’t have to worry about losing out on a top prospect, and since Boston has our pick, we aren’t giving them another high pick.
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