Clarkson Gives Maple Leafs Lineup New Look
The Toronto Maple Leafs finally returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after nearly a decade, but the ending of their first-round series with the Boston Bruins will be remembered for much longer than that.
General manager Dave Nonis had a pretty interesting summer as the Maple Leafs try to build on what was a successful regular season and move past the remarkable collapse in Game 7 against the Bruins.
Two decisions inevitably will be linked and already have been analyzed and scrutinized aplenty: Center Mikhail Grabovski was bought out, and center Tyler Bozak was given a five-year, $21 million contract. Another center, Dave Bolland, was added in a draft-day trade with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The most expensive move was adding forward David Clarkson on a seven-year, $36.75 million contract. Clarkson could be a prototypical power forward, but he’s scored more than 17 goals in a season once and never has had more than 46 points.
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: LEAFS
Under-valued: Joffrey Lupul -- Because he played in 16 games last season (11 goals, seven assists), Lupul might slip in some drafts. Don't let him. As long as the forward can stay healthy, he should produce to at least a third-round-caliber fantasy player with about 30 goals and 60-plus points.
Over-valued: Tyler Bozak -- He might be the first-line center and just received a hefty contract, but he's not exactly the most valuable fantasy player. His best full season (2011-12) saw him post 18 goals, 47 points, 22 penalty minutes, 12 power-play points and 109 shots on goal. He could reach 20 goals and 50 points, but no other category will help you.
Sleeper: Jake Gardiner -- Many drafters will be eyeing Cody Franson, but don't forget about Gardiner. After posting four points in 12 regular-season games last season (due to injury and American Hockey League time), the defenseman erupted in the playoff series against the Boston Bruins for five points in six games. A first-round pick from 2008, Gardiner could outproduce Franson from the blue line this season.
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Nonis also traded for goaltender Jonathan Bernier, a sought-after commodity who could push James Reimer for playing time. The defense corps could look similar, though someone could be moved to free up salary-cap space because two key players (Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson) remain restricted free agents. Paul Ranger, who looked like a promising defenseman before giving up the sport in Tampa Bay, decided to try a comeback and is an intriguing depth signing.
Those who have embraced advanced statistics in hockey have been highly critical of the Maple Leafs' moves this offseason, and this was a club that already was a candidate to regress in 2013-14. Maybe Clarkson can become a more consistent scorer and either Reimer or Bernier can become an elite goaltender. Maybe the players with high shooting percentages last season don't regress.
Either way, there will be plenty of focus on Toronto in 2013-14.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Maple Leafs:
NOTES: There is plenty of statistical data to show that Kessel does not actually play better with Bozak, but the team believes in the chemistry they possess. Kadri is an undeniable talent, but he's also a prime regression candidate. Playing more meaningful minutes might help curb some of that.
Someone needs to lock down a spot on the third line next to Bolland and Kulemin. Colborne is a natural center, but it could be him. A young player -- Jerry D'Amigo or Tyler Biggs -- could surprise during training camp.
Gardiner had a frustrating season in 2012-13, but late last season he began to look like the player who was a revelation as a rookie in 2011-12. Reimer had a strong season and played well in the first six postseason games against the Bruins, but now will face a real challenge for his job from Bernier, long considered one of the top young talents at the position while waiting his turn with the Los Angeles Kings.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22