The wreckage of the Maple Leafs’ post-season campaign is no longer a smoking, stinking hulk. The cleanup is well underway, and unless you’re at home replaying the final 90 seconds of regulation and overtime over and over and over in morbid fascination, some measure of perspective has probably lessened the horror. After all, neither the New York Rangers nor the Pittsburgh Penguins have had more luck so far with the Boston Bruins than did the Leafs. So Leaf Nation should be done with grief and denial and be fully into acceptance, wondering where this team goes next. To many, the logical move would be to look to add some veterans, the type of experienced hands that would have helped stem the tide on that terrible Game 7 night in Boston. You could trade assets to get those players, or you could mine free agency for possible help and chew up precious cap room. That’s one way to look at it. Here’s another. If the idea is to build a champion, and new CEO Tim Leiweke insists that’s the goal, then the play here isn’t finding short-term help. It’s to try to build a championship-quality core, something along the lines of what the members of this year’s Final Four — Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Chicago — have been able to assemble. By that measurement, the Leafs aren’t halfway there. Their core would consist of winger Phil Kessel, defenceman Dion Phaneuf and winger Joffrey Lupul. Good, not great. Quite possibly James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri are poised to join that group. Maybe James Reimer. Beyond that, there’s blue-chip defenceman Morgan Rielly, who finished the year gaining pro experience with the Marlies and, according to any number of scouts, was probably the most talented defenceman selected out of last year’s NHL entry draft. If you look at the Bruins, Kings, Pens and Hawks and compare their rosters with Toronto’s, there’s an obvious discrepancy up the middle. Moreover, there’s unlikely to be a Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar or Jonathan Toews available for trade or as a free agent this summer. The only other way to get such a player before his past-due date is the entry draft. What the Leafs really need, it’s clear, is a high pick in the 2013 draft to follow up on last year’s selection of Rielly. Somebody like, say, Sean Monahan. The six-foot-two Ottawa 67’s pivot has drawn comparisons to the great Ron Francis, and will be a top-10 pick on June 30. He’s the type of two-way, gritty performer that fits the kind of big, physical club the Leafs are trying to build. Put Monahan alongside the existing pieces and now you’ve got the kind of core that might contend for a championship one day. You want a future? That’s the kind of player you pursue even if it sets you back in the short term. Right now, of course, getting their hands on Monahan is a fantasy for the Leafs as they sit with the No. 21 pick.
Team should go for gold in upcoming draft
Toronto Star | Jun 6