Feb 282012
 

I was somewhat disappointed in the lack of Maple Leaf moves made during yesterday’s trade deadline.  Not because Burke didn’t trade for anyone who can help us make the playoffs this year (though I though a trade for Ben Bishop would have been a useful gamble both short and long term) but because he didn’t do more to set up this team for the long term.  From my perspective this team is unlikely to make the playoffs this season and even if they do there is little chance they will win a round.  Their defense and goaltending is bad at best and physical defense oriented teams have the ability to shut down the Leafs offense.  The Leafs overall have a dreadful record against playoff teams.  So, Burke had an opportunity to take a team that had very little to be optimistic about this season and set it up for a better future.

Forwards

The way the team is currently set up we have the following group of forwards:

Kessel-Bozak-Lupul
MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin
Lombardi-Connolly-Frattin
Brown-Steckel-Armstrong

The six players I have listed in bold are the only six players that I believe have a chance to be on this team playing the same roles they are currently in 2-3 seasons when the Leafs really should plan on having a competitive team.  And even with those six players Brown and Steckel are not core players and may or may not be kept around and Frattin still has to prove himself.  Let me address some of the guys I haven’t listed in bold.

Bozak – I kind of like Bozak, but lets be honest, he is not a first line center and he especially isn’t a first line center between Kessel and Lupul.  Neither Kessel nor Lupul are quality defensive players nor exceptionally big and putting a small and weak defensive center between them that doesn’t have elite level offensive skills is just not a recipe for success.  It’s possible that Bozak could be a second line center with the right wingers but if we are giving the second line role to Grabovski he doesn’t fit there.  He isn’t good enough defensively to be a third line center so I have a hard time to see where he fits in long term.

MacArthur – MacArthur is the left wing version of Bozak.  He has some nice offensive skills but really isn’t much more than a 50 point one-dimensional player.  He isn’t big, doesn’t play big, isn’t anything to write home about defensively.  He is a nice place holder until we get something better but nothing more.  I don’t see MacArthur playing a significant role on a Stanley Cup contender.  He just doesn’t bring enough of a complete package to play a significant role on a contending team.

Kulemin – Being realistic and setting last seasons career year aside, Kulemin is probably a defensively responsible 15 goal, 35 point player.  While he is no doubt a useful 2-way player he is probably more suited for a 2-way third line role.

Connolly – I like Connolly and I think on the right team with some big wingers he can be a quality second line center but he is really just a place holder on this team and probably doesn’t have a long term role in Toronto.

Lombardi – Lombardi was just acquired as a way to get Cody Franson and has no long term role in Toronto.

Armstrong – If Armstrong could stay healthy I think he can be a useful player.  Unfortunately he cannot stay healthy.

So, looking forward I think this could be the lineup when we are ready to compete including the holes we are looking to fill.

Kessel-????-Lupul
????-Grabovski-????
Frattin-????-Kulemin
Brown-Steckel-????

Needed are a first line center, preferably one with size and a defensive presence.  Two second line wingers, preferably at least one with good size to offset Grabovski’s smallish stature.  A 2-way third line center who can kill penalties.  At least one fourth line role player.

The plan, I presume now, is that at some point Colborne can be plugged into the first line role and Kadri and newly acquired Carter Ashton can be plugged into the second line winger roles.

The question I have is, why couldn’t we have started this process right now?  Speculation is that first round draft picks were offered for both MacArthur and Kulemin.  Would it really have hurt this team that much to have flipped MacArthur for a first round pick and seen what Kadri could do on the second line for the remainder of the season?  Kadri hopefully has a long term role with the Leafs, I am not certain MacArthur does.  With the Leafs ever get another chance to flip MacArthur for a first round pick?  I am not so sure.  The price for players was extremely high yesterday (see Gaustad, Paul) and I don’t think you get a first round pick for MacArthur in the summer.  Same goes for Kulemin, though I do think Kulemin could have a long term role with the Leafs, just not necessarily as a regular top six forward.  Wouldn’t it be nice going into this summers draft with two or more first round picks and the opportunities that provides either in drafting quality prospects for the future or packaging them in a trade?  Wouldn’t it be nice going into this summer with some kind of indication as to whether Kadri is ready for a regular role the NHL?  I can argue the same for Bozak.  If Bozak could have been flipped for a draft pick or a prospect, wouldn’t it have been nice to see if Colborne is ready for regular NHL duty?

I realize it is tough for Burke to admit to fans that this is more or less a lost season from this point on, but I don’t really think fans would be unhappy had he traded away Bozak and/or MacArthur and/or Kulemin and/or others for first round picks and prospects and said “we thought that we had a playoff team that could possibly even scare someone in the first round but it has become clear that the group was not coming together as expected so we decided to make some changes and give some of our quality prospects a chance to show they will be ready for the NHL next season.”  Some fans might be angry that they have on some level ‘given up’ on the season but I think the majority of them will see that as being far more realistic than what Burke actually said: “we still believe in this team.”

So, as far as I am concerned, yesterday was a lost opportunity to trade away some players that may not (or probably do not) have a long term future with the Leafs (MacArthur in particular) while the prices were as high as they may ever be for those players.  It is also a lost opportunity to give some NHL ready prospects such as Kadri and Colborne an opportunity to show their abilities at the NHL level.  Instead have to watch a bunch of guys who won’t be with the Leafs when they are ready to be serious contenders fail to make the playoffs and generally continue to disappoint with their underwhelming performance.  Mediocrity without optimism is not fun to watch and lets be clear, this team is mediocre and there aren’t many players on the team we can be optimistic will be better a year or two from now.  They are what they are and there isn’t much hope this group will get any better.

 

Mar 032009
 

Some interesting non-trade moves have taken place today that might shed some light on trades and player value for tomorrows trade deadline.

First, Niklas Backstrom has signed a four year contract extension in Minnesota. That means, if there was any doubt, that Backstrom will not be traded. But what it does mean is that quite possibly young backup Josh Harding could potentially be used as trade bait for the Wild either leading into tomorrow’s trade deadline or in the off season.

A number of intriguing players have been placed on waivers today. The list included Miroslav Satan, Gary Roberts, Brendan Morrison, Martin Gerber (re-entry waivers) and lesser players Aaron Voros, Erik Reitz, Eric Perrin, Jon Sim and Craig Adams.

Miroslav Satan is interesting because while he hasn’t been great as a linemate for Sidney Crosby, he does have 17 goals and 36 points which has to be worth something to a team hoping to make a run in the playoffs. To me, seeing Satan on waivers can only mean that the Penguins need/want that cap space to make another move (who knows, it may be Guerin). I would say there is a chance that someone will pick up Satan, but if they don’t, will the Penguins look to alternatives to free up that cap space? Brian Burke has in the past said the Leafs would consider taking on salary dumps, if they came with a draft pick. Would the Penguins be interested in trading Satan and a 3rd or 4th round pick to the Leafs for next to nothing in return, just to rid themselves of Satan’s salary so they can make another move? We’ll have to wait and see.

Gary Roberts and Aaron Voros are interesting cases as well because they give us an indication of what the market value for that type of role player is. Presumably the Lightning and Rangers would have tried to trade those guys for whatever they could get, even if it were just a 7th round pick, before they decided to put them on waivers, but they found no takers. Their value, in terms of what other teams are willing to give up for them, is essentially zero. So if that is the case, what does that say for the value of similar players like Chris Neil of the Senators or Jamal Mayers of the Leafs or Ian Laperierre of the Avalanche? Not much, though Mayers is signed for next year so is not just a rental player.

This waiver wire process will also act as a blocker for when trades will get made. Any team who has put a player on waivers (such as the Penguins) or a team who puts in a claim on a player will likely have to or want to wait until after noon tomorrow before making some other trades to see whether they have lost or added a player.

Finally, Martin Gerber is back on re-entry waivers less than a week after he was in the same situation with no takers. Have the Senators been given any indications from other teams that there may be an interest in picking him up, or is Bryan Murray once again hoping? Possible takers are the Red Wings (whose 8-0 loss to the Predators on Sunday may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to their goaltending), Buffalo, Calgary, and Washington.

Brian Burke was just on Fan 590 in Toronto and said that he doesn’t think that the return on rental players will be anything like what it was in the past. There will be no rental players going for a roster player, a good prospect, and a first round pick like Forsberg and others have been traded for in the past. So unless things change, even though there are more buyers than sellers, the prices to acquire players may be at a discount from previous years.

Feb 192009
 

The NHL trade deadline is less than 2 weeks away so it is time that we take a look at what trades might or might not happen between now and then. Here are some of the selling teams to watch as we approach the deadline.

New York Islanders

The Islanders are clearly the worst team in the NHL this season and they also have several players that they will likely trade. The two soon to be unrestricted free agent veterans that will likely draw the most attention are center Doug Weight and winger Bill Guerin. Despite the Islanders problems both are having decent seasons and will be able to provide some solid secondary scoring for any team looking to make a playoff run. Mike Comrie is another forward that is available but I am not sure there will be much interest. Andy Hilbert is also a pending UFA and could be a useful and cheap addition for some teams who don’t want to spend too much at the deadline.

Atlanta Thrashers

The Thrashers are likely the unanimous choice as the league’s second worst team and they have already made a couple moves, first by moving Jason Williams to Columbus a while back and more recently by sending Mathieu Schneider to the Canadiens. The next obvious candidate to be traded is pending UFA Niclas Havelid who could be a nice pickup for a team looking to add some depth on defense. There has been some talk that either Kari Lehtonen or Johan Hedberg could be traded but more likely a Lehtonen trade will occur in the off season.

Toronto Maple Leafs
One of the more interesting teams to watch will be the Maple Leafs because everyone is wondering what new GM Brian Burke will do. Many are expecting Burke to make a number of significant moves to turn over his lineup, but the reality is Burke is under no pressure (except fan and media pressure which he doesn’t care about) to do very much at all. The reason is, most of the Leaf roster is signed for next season. The only unrestricted free agents on the team are Nik Antropov , Dominic Moore and Brad May and all indications are that Burke would like to sign Moore to a contract extension if the dollars make sense. That means Antropov is the only player that Burke is almost 100% certain to trade and if he doesn’t get the right offers there is certainly a chance that that is all he will do. But if the right offers come along you can expect Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, and Mike Van Ryn to all be available. The public word from Burke is that he does not expect Tomas Kaberle to be traded as he is reluctant to give up someone of Kaberle’s skill set who is signed long term at a very reasonable contract. While this makes perfect sense one also has to wonder if he is attempting to push the price of Kaberle up. Before the season began many thought that goalie Vesa Toskala would be one of the Leafs most sought after players at the trade deadline but that seems unlikely due to Toskala’s poor play. Finally, do not be surprised if the Leafs become buyers of contracts at the deadline. By that I mean the Leafs have the cap space to take on contracts that other teams are looking to dump in order to free up cap space to make another trade and in doing so add a draft pick. For example, if the Penguins needed to free some salary cap space to make another trade, Burke may be willing to take on Miroslav Satan and the remainder of his $3.5 million salary if the Penguins also sent the Leafs a third round pick.

Tampa Bay Lightning

There has been a lot of talk about the Lightning considering trading Vincent Lecavalier but I doubt this happens at the trade deadline. This is more of an off season move if it were to happen. But the Lightning have a couple veterans that might interest contending teams that likely won’t cost too much. Mark Recchi and Gary Roberts. Marek Malik may also draw some attention as a depth defenseman.

Colorado Avalanche

Probably the only team that is a sure bet to be sellers in the western conference at the trade deadline are the Colorado Avalanche and they will have several players available for trade. Pending UFA’s that they are likely to trade are Ian Laperriere and Jordan Leopold. The other big name that is rumoured to be up for grabs is Ryan Smyth but with his contract for 3 more years for a total of $16.5 million that might be a tough sell. Only teams with ample salary cap room in the upcoming years will likely consider him.
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