Toronto Maple Leafs brass needs to nail the depth pieces of the team
The Maple Leafs ‘Core 4’ forwards of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares are every bit as good or better than what Tampa Bay has among its stars. The Buds do not have a Victor Hedman on the blue line or an Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes, which makes team-building much more challenging, but not impossible.
The team does have a very capable top pairing on defence in Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie but there are big question marks still in net, which we will get to eventually. So if you are expanding the definition of the core of the ream to include the four forwards and two defencemen mentioned, you are off to a pretty good start.
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What general manager Kyle Dubas does with the remaining eight forward and four defence spots will help determine if and when this team crashes through what appears to be more of a mental wall now. Dubas tried adding a whole host of grit and leadership last season with the likes of Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, and Zach Bogosian, brought in reclamation project Alex Galchenyuk and deadline acquisitions Nick Foligno, Ben Hutton and Riley Nash.
Thornton looked very much his age as the season wore on and especially in the playoffs, Simmonds and Foligno battled injuries, Bogosian was solid, Galchenyuk was a revelation, while Hutton and Nash just could not fit into the difficult task of joining the team during the playoffs. Overall, the additions did not go as planned and some may call them excuses but a little injury luck may well have changed the script on the 2020-21 season.
The team has already brought Simmonds back on a two-year deal at a tidy $900,000 per season. Jason Spezza returns on a one-year deal worth $750,000 to resume his role as veteran leader and playoff performer. Nash, Hutton and Thornton do not seem like they will be part of the plans moving forward, and justifiably so. The team has decisions to make on Bogosian, Galchenyuk and Foligno.
Bringing Galchenyuk back seems like the right move if it does not cost a lot for a team constantly up against the salary cap. The former third overall selection in the 2012 Draft was on his way out of the league before resuscitating his career with 12 points in 26 regular season games as a Leaf and another four points in six playoff contests.
Foligno seems to tick all of the boxes for the Leafs as a hard-nosed two-way player and seemed like the Coleman or Goodrow addition for the Lightning. Injuries limited the 33-year-old to just seven regular season games and only four more in the postseason. Bringing him back at the right price could be one way to solidify the forward group.