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Leafs Look To End Playoff Drought

Tuesday, 07.08.2012 / 9:41 AM / News
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Leafs Look To End Playoff Drought
The Toronto Maple Leafs look to get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season, with a roster that\'s largely unchanged from a season ago.

For a team that now holds the unwanted label of team with the longest playoff drought in the NHL, there wasn't a major move made by Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke this offseason.

At least, not yet.

After missing the postseason for the seventh time in a row, the Leafs acquired forward James van Riemsdyk in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn in a trade with the Flyers. The move bolstered an offense that scored the 10th-most goals in the NHL, but depleted the defense corps of a team that allowed the second-most goals.

That's why the Leafs are reportedly interested in acquiring goaltender Roberto Luongo from the Canucks. Luongo has become expendable in Vancouver with backup Cory Schneider signing a three-year, $12 million contract this summer after taking the starting job during the postseason. Last season, the Leafs' goaltending duo of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson (who left for Detroit as a free agent) combined for a .902 save percentage in 76 games.

The 33-year-old Luongo would bring 339 career victories, an Olympic gold medal and 61 games of playoff experience to Toronto. Of course, the Leafs would likely need to ship players with NHL experience to Vancouver to make a deal happen, which would alter a roster that's been left mostly intact.

If the Leafs don't make the deal, Burke has confidence Reimer will rediscover the form of two seasons ago that earned him a three-year, $5.4 million contract. He's also comfortable with using 25-year-old Ben Scrivens as his backup.

"We are prepared to go forward on that basis," Burke told reporters. "If we can upgrade at the goaltending position, and at a reasonable price, we'll do it. But we are prepared (to go with Reimer and Scrivens). I believe in James Reimer. He's young, he's athletic, I believe in this kid. If we have to start like that, we will."

Burke did address one concern this offseason by acquiring van Riemsdyk, who will likely get a shot at playing center with the Leafs after serving mostly as a winger with the Flyers.

The 23-year-old van Riemsdyk is coming off a season in which he posted 11 goals and 13 assists in 41 games. He missed half the campaign with various injuries that included a concussion, a groin ailment and a foot issue that required surgery. But he'll get a fresh start in Toronto that could involve centering the top line with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.

"I have played it a little bit in the past, and any time you can be a little more versatile as a player, it is definitely a good thing," van Riemsdyk told reporters. "I'm excited about that."

But van Riemsdyk, who hasn't played center consistently since his college days at New Hampshire, knows getting adjusted to the middle will be a challenge.

"When you are used to something it is second-nature, so when you are out there not thinking and just playing, that is when you are at your best," van Riemsdyk said. "(It's just) a matter of getting some reps in there and sure I will be fine."

The rest of Burke's offseason moves thus far can be classified as minor. Besides Gustavsson and Schenn, also departed are forwards Joey Crabb, Colby Armstrong and Philippe Dupuis. Crabb, who had 11 goals in 67 games and was tied for second on the Leafs in game-winning goals with four, signed a free-agent contract with the Capitals.

Burke was surprisingly quiet during free agency. His only notable signing during the frenzy was center Jay McClement, who left the Avalanche to sign a two-year, $3 million deal in Toronto.

McClement doesn't possess flashy numbers -- the 29-year-old had 10 goals in 80 games last season and hasn't had more than 12 in his career -- but he has attributes the Leafs need. He was third in the NHL last season among forwards in penalty-killing ice time and will provide leadership while playing bottom-six minutes, as he was an alternate captain in Colorado for four years. He also won 51.3 percent of his faceoffs last season.

"We like the fact that he's an established third-line guy with skill," Burke told reporters. "He's good on faceoffs and can kill penalties. Last minute of the game when we're protecting the lead, he's going to see the ice. Quiet guy, leads by example. He's not a vocal leader. He was a good addition."

Burke also added center Keith Aucoin at the end of July. The 33-year-old forward has been an All-Star at the AHL level six times and will be on a two-way contract with Toronto.

The Leafs haven't made a big splash this summer, but senior vice president and director of hockey operations David Nonis said at the time of the McClement signing that trades (perhaps in addition to the van Riemsdyk deal) will likely be how the team improves itself.

“For us, we wanted to add to the lineup in the way we wanted,” Nonis told reporters. “But we’ll probably add through the trade route. There’s probably more of a chance of doing that. There’s a lot of things that can happen between now and the start of the season.”

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

Author: Dave Lozo | Staff Writer

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