Jul 022010
 

When Brian Burke makes a trade more often than not he does it by targeting players and going hard after them until he gets them.  He did this with both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.  He identified them as players he needs to fill a hole on the roster and went hard after them.  If Brian Burke is to trade Kaberle he will probably do the same.  He isn’t going to trade Kaberle for the sake of trading Kaberle, but rather for the sake of filling a hole on his roster.  He has on numerous occasions identified the need for a scoring winger, preferably one with size and although he has added Versteeg and Armstrong in the past 2 days he may still be seeking that kind of player, especially if he can’t get Kulemin signed to a contract.  So, we need to ask, who fits that profile and might be available?  To answer that question, lets take a look at all the wingers who scored more than 25 goals this past season.

Ovechkin, Marleau, Kovalchuk, Semin, Heatley, Parise, Burrows, Ryan, Nash, Iginla, Penner, Kane, Jokinen, Samuelsson, Hornqvist, Moulson, St. Louis, D. Sedin, L. Eriksson, Knuble, C. Stewart, Vanek, Stempniak, Gionta, Perry, Bourque, Neal, Selanne, Latendresse, Briere, Cammalleri, Sharp, Brunette, Raymond, Holmstrom, Hagman.

The majority of those players you can immediately scratch off the available list because their teams just won’t trade them (i.e. Ovechkin, Marleau, Heatley, etc.).  Others are probably too old (Knuble, Holmstrom) or not established enough (Jokinen, Moulson) for Burke to be interested in.  There are some interesting names though that might be available.

Certainly Kovalchuk is available as an unrestricted free agent but as I recently wrote, I think he will cost more and demand a longer term contract than Brian Burke is willing to give.  Teemu Selanne is an unrestricted free agent as well and has a history with Burke, but I suspect he ends up in Anaheim or retires and he is outside of Burke’s ideal age range.

The interesting players on the list are Alexander Semin, Bobby Ryan, Loui Eriksson, James Neal and maybe even Tomas Vanek.  Alexander Semin is probably the most skilled forward in that list and for salary reasons it seems almost certain that the capitals will have to part ways with him at some point but they are probably looking more for a physical defensive defenseman on defense than another offensive one like Kaberle.

There has been a ton of speculation revolving around Bobby Ryan.  We can be sure that Ryan is the exact kind of player that Burke would love to acquire.  He is young, he can score, and he plays a physical game.  On top of that, with Scott Niedermayer retiring the Ducks could use another defenseman but Kaberle might be just too much like Lubomir Visnovsky to be an ideal fit.  It would also cost more than just Kaberle to pry Ryan away from the Ducks and the Ducks may in fact be more interested in a young defenseman like Luke Schenn than in Kaberle.

James Neal and Loui Eriksson, both of the Dallas Stars, are intriguing possibilities.  Eriksson is coming off back to back seasons with 36 and 29 goals and 63 and 71 points and is just coming into his prime.  Eriksson is signed long term and has a no trade clause so it is uncertain if the Stars would, or can, trade him.  James Neal, on the other hand, is an unsigned restricted free agent and in his 2 NHL seasons he has scored 24 and 27 goals and should only get better.  The Stars have some depth on the wing with Morrow, Ott, Eriksson, Benn, and others so they may be willing to trade Neal in the right deal.  I also believe that the Stars could use another defenseman because after Robidas there isn’t really much there.  Trading for Neal will probably cost more than just Kaberle but would probably cost less than trading for Ryan, especially if the Leafs were willing to take some salary in return.  I personally think Neal would be a nice addition to the Leafs and would fit in perfectly with their young core.

The final player in the 25+ goal category that might be available is Tomas Vanek.  Vanek if you recall was signed to a big offer sheet by the Edmonton Oilers which the Buffalo Sabres matched but Vanek has not really lived up to his $7 million per year contract.  He has been good but I am sure the Sabres hoped for more.  The Sabres have said goodbye to long time defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman and are in the market for some new talent on the back end.  They have signed Milan Jurcina, but still need a defenseman or two.  Buffalo is also a small market team that probably won’t spend to the salary cap and might be willing to part ways with Tomas Vanek if the return fit their needs but it will take some kind of replacement forward along with Kaberle for them to make that trade (Kulemin?).  Vanek has good size and 40 goal potential and I am sure would be of interest to Burke but a deal like this with a division rival would be a tough one to make.

Wingers with 20-25 goals that might interest the Leafs and might be available are the Blue Jackets RJ Umberger, the Stars Jamie Benn, the Sharks Setogutchi or the Lightning’s Ryan Malone.  RJ Umberger is interesting as it was Burke who drafted him in 2001 when he was with the Vancouver Canucks.   Jamie Benn is on a cheap entry level contract which likley means Dallas has no interest in trading him so scratch him from the list.  With Tampa signing Pavel Kubina today it seems less likely they would be interested in another defenseman and will probably keep Malone.  Setogutchi doesn’t have the size that Brian Burke is seeking but he had 31 goals in 2008-09 and has more pure scoring ability than any current Leaf forward outside of Kessel.  The Sharks are also likely looking for a defenseman to replace the retired Rob Blake and may have interest in Kaberle.  Another Shark forward that may interest Brian Burke is Ryane Clowe.  Though Clowe may not have the goal scoring ability of Setogutchi he has good size and can play a tough physical game.

If I had my wish, I would love to see either Bobby Ryan or James Neal in a Leaf uniform.  Both have good size and have 30+ goal potential (maybe 40+ for Ryan).  Failing that, one of the Shark wingers would be interesting pickups.

Jul 012010
 

So it seems that Leaf fans are extremely excited about the acquisition of Kris Versteeg from the Chicago Blackhawks and to some extent they should be excited.  He is a solid player that will help the Leafs.  But, I think Leaf fans need to keep their hopes for Versteeg in check.  He is a good all-round player, but he is not an significant offensive force or a first line player.

Let me do a quick comparison of Versteeg vs Ponikarovsky over the past two seasons.

Stat Ponikarovsky Versteeg
ES TOI 2078:01 1995:46
ES G 34 25
ES Pts 96 69
PP TOI 390:30 340:13
PP G 10 10
PP Pts 15 17
SH TOI 94:30 235:12
SH G 0 7
SH Pts 0 11

I am pretty sure that Versteeg played with a group of players that were at least as good as Ponikarovsky and probably significantly better though Versteeg did play in a more defensive minded conference.  That said, Leaf fans should not expect any more offensive production from Versteeg than they got from Ponikarovsky.  What Leaf fans can probably expect though is more energy and aggression and hopefully consistency from Versteeg than they got from Ponikarovsky and hopefully Versteeg can help the Leafs PK too which desperately needs help.  In short, Versteeg will look nice in a Leaf uniform, probably playing a second line role and with ample time on the PP and PK units.