Filling out, rounding Up(shall)


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What a terrible title, no? I don’t care, I’m going with it.

With the NHL free agency period finally arriving this coming Friday, the list of needs for the Maple Leafs isn’t too extensive. But the routes available almost seem endless.

While we anxiously await Brian Burke’s solution to the team’s top line problem, it may be smart to explore some contingency plans. One of which is simply upgrading at the forward position in any way shape or form.

Something that Burke made clear upon his arrival in the hockey mecca, is that he likes to put forward a team formed with top six, bottom six group of players up front. What this basically translates into is a team with skill on the top two lines, and pugnacity (or whatever the hell Burke is talking about) on the bottom two lines.

The only trouble with the Leafs thus far is that Burke hasn’t established enough talent on the top two lines to warrant throwing a bunch of dusters on the ice with the other two. And without addressing this issue in a big way over the coming weeks, the Leafs may have to employ a different mentality going into next season.

Of course a big trade or signing (or two) could completely turn this around, but it’s better to be prepared for the worst.

If Toronto want to ice a team without a major scorer on the top line (besides Kessel), it might be in Burke’s best interest to round out the top nine forwards with as much talent as possible.

It goes without saying that the top of the list for this team’s needs is not another 40 point scorer. But without any real elite scoring help, Burke may want to take a look at rolling out three lines that can effectively put the puck in the net.

Is it the ideal? Nope. But it’s better than the sinkhole the Leafs have found themselves in for the past two seasons.

Going about this is the tough part. How do you fill the gaps? There are probably a few guys out there worth signing that could chip in 30-40 points on the third line, and those are essentially the types of players you’d have to look for.

Mislav mentioned Maxime Talbot this morning. A twenty-five point scorer, he can bring it on the third and fourth lines, while also adding some character to the dressing room. Though, with the terrible UFA market he may command a little too much salary for such an unskilled player.

I’m thinking a little bit more in the ways of scoring, like Scottie Upshall.

Again, the overpayment in salary may not be worth it. But he’s probably worth throwing an offer at.

Upshall is a career 0.48 point per game player, isn’t afraid of the physical game, and can be a bit of an agitator from what I’ve read.

Of course, like Talbot, the same rules apply in terms of potentially inflated salary. With the weak UFA crop and the cap floor being the new topic of discussion, teams may be willing to throw a few extra bucks his way. And for that reason it’s tough to predict what kind of salary he’ll be looking for.

Coming off a season that seen his production take a dip, Upshall just made 2.25 million against the cap. Even with the decrease in points, he’ll likely still see an increase.

If the Leafs do in fact go the route of rounding out a better group of forwards through three lines, they would also need a center to push Bozak down to becoming third on the depth chart. This is where the Laich debate probably comes back on to the scene.

But there are options outside of overpaying a guy like Laich (Laich Laich?) to become a top two center.

Dubinsky and Weiss are names that will never go away until the Leafs figure out what they’re doing up front. And if a player like that was brought in to the fold, the team could ice a solid group of forwards that are quite versatile.

This is another one of those ideas where you can really just find a comparable to Upshall that you happen to like and plug in the name. But rolling out three lines with an ample amount of skill seems like a viable option if Burke fails in bringing in the big name that everyone wants.

Do I personally think the Leafs will need to explore this type of route? I’m not sure, at all. The whole Richards thing is starting to wear on me, and I’m beginning to lean more toward the epic blockbuster trade idea if anything worthwhile is going to happen.

Otherwise the team should try and fill out the lineup in the best way possible, and provide some scoring depth if the big name signing/trade doesn’t come to fruition. It’s something that I’ve discussed a few times with the folks on twitter, specifically 67sound, among others.

Even with a big name coming into the fold, at a reasonable cap hit, a player like Upshall could fit into the lineup regardless. If he commands too much? Walk away.

A move like this doesn’t ensure a playoff spot for the Leafs by any means. But any improvement at this point is welcome, and Burke should be at least looking for help in any way he can.

The “top six, bottom six” idea doesn’t work unless you have a real top six. So maybe it’s time for a “top nine, bottom three” mentality if the Leafs want to give themselves the best chance at achieving anything next season.

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