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Maple Leafs Watch: Defense overfloweth in T.O.

It’s funny to think of Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher as having a pressing issue on his plate during what is, by all accounts, a rebuilding season where all eyes are on the future.

But here we are after a dozen games and there are problems with the roster. That is to say, there’s too many defensemen for not enough spots and if the Leafs don’t rectify the problem soon, they will have missed a golden opportunity to aid the rebuilding process.

The fact of the matter is, the Leafs need to find new homes for both Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo and they need to do it sooner than later.

The reason for the urgency is simple; with Colaiacovo, there is the persistent worry he will get injured again, thus nullifying any trade value he has. In White’s case, his value will continue to drop as more rival GMs realize a team with one of the most statistically poor defenses in the league (23rd overall in goals allowed per game) is playing the blueliner at forward – not exactly a vote of confidence.

And of course, there’s the obvious observation that with a defense corps of Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Luke Schenn, Jeff Finger, Mike Van Ryn, Jonas Frogren and Anton Stralman, the Leafs are deep enough, even if they run into injuries. On top of that, “showcasing” White at forward is taking away a roster spot that could go to the recently demoted Jiri Tlusty or one of his Marlies brethren.

The return for Colaiacovo and/or White needs to come in the form of draft picks. The Buds aren’t going to land prospects for either and a rebuilding team traditionally does so via the draft (I say “traditionally” because the Leafs have never bought into that argument in the past).

With every passing season, the trade deadline becomes more of a minefield for the league’s GMs and the pressure from fans and the media increases accordingly. If Fletcher could capitalize early on a team bereft of healthy defensemen, then maybe that fourth round pick becomes a third-rounder. Similarly, if the GM waits too long, when tastier assets are available from around the NHL, then that fourth-rounder turns into a fifth or sixth round selection.

Both Colaiacovo and White have useful qualities. Colaiacovo is a puck-mover who has an almost preternatural ability to keep the puck in the offensive zone when it comes dangerously close to leaving, while White’s ability to play both forward and defense is a very trendy skill right now.

This year’s draft is deep and though coach Ron Wilson has instilled a great work ethic that does not include tanking for a shot at John Tavares or Victor Hedman, there are prizes a-plenty should the Buds enter the draft lottery and not have one of the top picks. A highly-skilled forward is what Toronto most needs and, as it would happen, Ontario boy Nazem Kadri will be on the board, as will a polished center out west by the name of Brayden Schenn. He’s got an older brother you might have heard of: Luke something…

This article also appears in the Toronto Metro newspaper.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect-watch feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.

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