The reputable Eklund is reporting with an always reliable “e4″ rating that the Maple Leafs are closing in on a deal with the Vancouver Canucks that will involve Nikolai Antropov heading west in exchange for a first round pick and a prospect. To no one’s surprise, Brian Burke and Mike Gillis have been carrying out negotiations for some time now, primarily on the subjects of Antropov and Tomas Kaberle. A deal is not as imminent as Eklund’s reporting, but there appears to be deal potential in Vancouver and potentially of the blockbuster variety.
Burke does appear to finally be nearing his first deal of import as Leaf general manager, or rather, teams are starting to inch closer to meet Burke’s demands. The reason why activity has been as slow-going as it has been is due to the fact that, in addition to the current economic climate that’s affecting teams’ ability to swap salaries for picks, Burke’s trying to hit the jackpot in any and all negotiations. His first few months in the Leaf front office have been spent gaining the upper hand in these negotiations by establishing lofty list prices on his assets and then showing an unwillingness to budge an inch on those demands. This type of attitude and approach likely surprises few that know how Burke operates. In large part it has to due with the fact that, while Leaf brass has preached patience as a virtue in the inevitably tough stretch ahead, Burke doesn’t expect to be non-competitive as long as one might imagine when thinking of the conventional time-line on a full-scale re-build. He is simply too competitive of an individual. Burke does have a few pieces in his arsenal that can, in his view, totally reverse the current trajectory of the franchise if he can reify his demands on his trade-available assets.
The draft isn’t and shouldn’t be viewed as the only modus operandi for the Maple Leafs‘ re-build, either. As mentioned in a prior blog, Burke has been kicking the tires on some young but already established NHLers and, according to a source, plans on exploring the free agency market with vigor.
As much as Burke continues to be steadfast in his demands, one would think he’ll make concession at some point, at least to some extent. Burke doesn’t appear to have interest in re-signing Antropov, so he’ll have to be moved for the best available offer come March 4th. Tomas Kaberle, on the other hand, may be held onto unless an irresistible offer comes Burke’s way as he will have a wider market to deal with in the summer during Kaberle’s Entry Draft – August 15th trade window.Â Burke will not relent in his expected return for Kaberle, and hopefully it’s a tactic that winds up paying dividends.
The Philadelphia Flyers and the above mentioned Vancouver Canucks are both said to be preparing package offers, while the Penguins and Devils may also follow suit. Don’t count out the Boston Bruins on the Tomas Kaberle front, the question being: would Peter Chiarelli part with Blake Wheeler?
In terms of the latest Canuck rumours, it’s said that Burke’s working on getting one of Ryan Kessler or Alexander Edler involved in a package with Cody Hodgson seemingly off limits. There is a combined worry of losing the Sedin twins to unrestricted free agency and the feeling that after Hodgson (who they rightfully think is absolute steal at 10th overall), the organizational depth runs thin.
This next paragraph is mostly speculative based on me piecing together various different factors at play. Several teams, particularly out West (which may not help Burke arrive at his asking price for Kaberle as his trade list is East-heavy) really feel they have a shot at making a run if a few pieces can be obtained to give them the edge on the competition in a very tight Western circuit. Burke may potentially be the beneficiary of the fact that there isn’t a ton to choose from in terms of forwards on the open market. The return on Antropov can be hard to predict… he of course has impending UFA status and a worrisome history of knee complications, but he’s also a 6’6, 25-30 goal forward with great hands, capable of playing the wing or at center ice, and wouldn’t force a team to sustain much of a cap hit at all for the remainder of the year. Factor in the possibility of the ‘Nucks nabbing Kaberle at a modest salary as well… you can see the blockbuster potential between the two clubs. There’s the problem that Vancouver’s not on Kaberle’s trade list, but the prospect of staying in Canada and playing with Mats out west on a playoff run may sway Kaberle’s decision.
Meanwhile, Pavel Kubina doesn’t appear to be heading anywhere in wake of Howard Berger’s latest report that he’s not interested in waiving his NTC. The Leafs will have a window from the June Entry Draft through to August 15th in which they can move Kubina without the player’s approval.
Should be an interesting upcoming week monitoring the above situations. But one can’t help but wonder if, for the second consecutive season, the highly anticipated firesale will wind up being a wet firecracker.