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A Few Thoughts on the Team and the Deadline

By: Brodi Craddock

With the Leafs slowly but surely removing the gap between themselves and the eighth and final playoff spot, the team seems to have found it's stride and despite several key losses, is showing a lot of character in it's seemingly hopeless bit for a playoff berth. Special teams, which have been a non-factor in most games for the Leafs are now finally starting to improve, which is a direct result of the team finally buying into Wilson's system (On the PK take away shooting and passing lanes, on the PP get shots through traffic from the point).

It can't be understated that this team needs one more tier 1 talent to make the step from marginal playoff threat to legitimate playoff contender. I remember about a month ago I wrote in a blog that Wilson should try Grabovski and Kessel on a line together, and although Kessel was held pointless in 40 minutes, the line was quite dangerous through the second two periods in Toronto's 5-4 victory over Atlanta. During the second intermission, however, Doug Maclean made an interesting comment in stating that although putting your two best offensive guns together makes sense, Grabovski has developed into a shoot-first type of player, and as such Kessel's skill set goes uncomplimented. At the end of the day, we've learned through almost two seasons that Kessel needs two things from his linemates: a guy who can get the puck, and a guy who can pass him the puck. It was true in Boston with Lucic and Savard, as well as down the stretch last season with Kulemin and Bozak.

I don't expect to see an overhaul at this years deadline, rather one or two key moves. I truly hope that Versteeg is still a Leaf on the 1st of March. He's arguably the most versatile player on the roster, can play in any situation, and is instrumental as a checking forward playing against opponents top lines. With his best years still ahead of him, I can't see why Burke would move him unless the return was a young top line centre. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I would like to see Kaberle re-signed and finish out his career in the Blue and White. He's our best playmaker, and throughout his years has remained loyal to the badge on his jersey despite constant scrutiny from fans and media alike. Players like this don't come around often, and if you think his best years are behind him, look at other puck moving defenceman around the league in his age bracket. Vishnovsky, Lidstrom, Pronger, and Rafalski are all older than Kaberle and maintain great offensive numbers. If I'm Burke, I offer him 3 million for three years(most believe he's worth 5 million) and if Kaberle really is a loyal Leaf, he will take the pay cut to play with the team he loves.

This leaves stalwart defender Francois Beauchemin as the only logical bargaining tool. Although his offensive numbers are nowhere near where they should be given his skill set, Beauchemin logs big time minutes in key situations and is great teammate, not to mention ample playoff experience. San Jose looks like it would be a great fit, but unless GM Doug Wilson was willing to part with struggling young forward Devin Setoguchi, there are no other players who Burke could pry from the Sharks elite roster. If you are in the large cohort of Leaf supporters looking to see a top six forward in a Leafs jersey by the 28th, I wouldn't hold your breath.

Follow me on Twitter! @brodicraddock

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