Siegel: Leafs could address size, toughness on July 1st

Jonas Siegel

6/30/2012 11:44:14 AM

TORONTO – Randy Carlyle hockey is sure to demand something grittier of the Leafs next fall.
And while the upcoming free agent frenzy does not yield the first-class pivot the organization desires nor the sure-thing in goal, the class of 2012 does boast a selection of potential upgrades, namely to a bottom six lacking in both toughness and size.
Carlyle made it clear when he joined the club in early March that his brand of hockey would be different. The swift offensive attack of Ron Wilson would be dimmed to something approaching a grind while defensively, the strategy would tighten considerably. Much like his boss, Carlyle hockey would also be brash, bold and belligerent.
But as became clear in their second half collapse, the Leafs were not that group or more precisely, lacked the necessary elements to consistently offer such a style. Beyond Mike Brown (and Jay Rosehill in limited action), the lineup lacked thump, was not challenging for the most part to play against and swayed heavily toward skill rather than Caryle's accustomed edge. If the free agent class is missing something in excitement – high-end talents are being locked up to long-term deals with increasing frequency – it does offer a variety of bottom six options, some of whom could stand to make the Leafs a more difficult group to oppose, driving the club closer to a Carlyle brand of hockey.
A terrific faceoff man with a knack for killing penalties, Paul Gaustad leads the group down the middle, joined by 29-year-old Jay McClement, Colorado's leading penalty killer last season, former Leaf Dominic Moore, veteran Jason Arnott, and Ryan Carter, Devils playoff hero and a member of Burke's Stanley Cup champion Ducks in 2007. Grinders who might fit the bill along the wall include John Tortorella favourite Brandon Prust, Arron Asham, American and Stanley Cup champion Jamie Langenbrunner, long-time Nashville agitator Jordin Tootoo, Adam Burish, Daniel Winnik and Joey Crabb, who earned a quick fan in Carlyle with his performance down the stretch. A member of the Ducks for six seasons, George Parros is also available if the Leafs aspire to fill the tough-guy role as are scrappers such as the aforementioned Prust, Zenon Konopka and Guelph native Krys Barch.
With the acquisition of James Van Riemsdyk from Philadelphia – the big, scoring winger they long desired – the Leafs have at the very least four firm fits in their top six with Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, and Mikhail Grabovski joining the 23-year-old New Jersey native. Any additional upgrades to this group – which also may include Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin (restricted free agent), Tim Connolly, Tyler Bozak, Matt Frattin (restricted free agent) and Nazem Kadri – almost certainly lie in the trade market with few high-end options that fill a need (top centre) available in free agency.
The Leafs probably wouldn't mind upgrading their blueline if the right options arose, but again the class on defence is rather thin. Dealing Luke Schenn to the Flyers in the Van Riemsdyk swap leaves a possible hole on defence with Cody Franson (restricted free agent), Mike Komisarek and Korbinian Holzer among the internal options. Beyond Suter, the underrated Matt Carle and ever-popular Justin Schultz are available joined by a group comprised mostly of depth and veteran experience. Jason Garrison, Bryan Allen, Bryce Salvador, Adrian Aucoin, Sami Salo, Scott Hannan and Greg Zanon are among the options, none of which scream of an obvious fit, but could provide some much-needed stability to a club that struggled defensively last season.
An already thin goalie market has shrunken to almost nothing on the dawn of free agency. Martin Brodeur spiced the class up immeasurably with his addition to the pool late this week, but after the future Hall of Famer the group is comprised of back-ups with former Leaf Scott Clemmensen tops in that respect.