By Dominic Lancella on June 26, 2014
Last season the Toronto Maple Leafs looked poised to make the playoffs with ease until a collapse of tremendous proportions caused them to miss the postseason. Collapse is an understatement; the Leafs lost 13 of 16 games and collected only six points in the final month of the season. It included an eight-game losing streak in an ending that the Leafs never would have imagined. Here are five players the Leafs should build around in 2014.
Gunnarssson led the Leafs last season in plus/minus ratio, posting a plus-13 and averaging 19:25 of ice time per game. He doesn’t score much, but he’s a good player to build around in terms of solidifying the defense. Gunnarsson will help captain Dion Phaneuf and the rest of the defense bounce back from a horrible season in which the team gave up the fifth most goals in the NHL.
There have been vague rumors of Toronto possibly trading Kadri, but that wouldn't make much sense as Kadri has a bright future. He’s a valuable player to build around; a 23-year-old that got 50 points last season. The Leafs also don’t have great depth at center, something that Kadri will help bring in the years to come along with Tyler Bozak. Trading Kadri would be a mistake; building around him is the better option.
Gardiner and the Leafs are currently in negotiations to get the 23-year-old defenseman a new contract. What he means to the organization will show in whatever deal they end up striking, but he could be a valuable part of the team in the future. Gardiner was tied for second among Maple Leaf defensemen in points last season with 31 and first in goals with 10. Gardiner’s showing the potential of a high ceiling and the Leafs should lock him up.
JVR is coming off a fantastic season in which he set career-highs in goals and assists. His 61 points was second on the team and he’ll surely be a big part of Toronto’s future plans. His creativity and skill with the puck is amazing in the offensive zone, which usually keys the Leafs maintaining pressure on the attack. If Toronto can have a bounce back season, van Riemsdyk will be a major reason why.
Kessel tied a career-high and led the Leafs with 37 goals last season. His chemistry with van Riemsdyk has developed into a dangerous duo on offense. His No. 1 talent is scoring of course, something that he’ll need to continue doing at a high rate in order for the Leafs to become contenders once more. Despite last season’s disastrous ending, the team has a lot of young talent moving forward.
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