Examining the Options

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    The second half of the season is underway, and the Maple Leafs continue to struggle. Naturally, speculation has begun to shift to what can be done to improve the roster, and which buyers on the market may have interest in what the Leafs have to offer.

    At the present time, very little is leaking out in terms of what the team’s trade deadline plans may be, other than the obvious attempts at adding draft picks, prospects, or young players in need of a change of scenery in exchange for players who may fill certain gaps in other teams’ rosters. To expect a blockbuster move for a star-level player is to expect the moon; chances are it won’t happen. To expect the team to try to garner a number of picks as they did at last year’s deadline, or possibly young players who have not measured up to expectations elsewhere, is far more realistic.

    While the messages have been muddled as to who exactly the Leafs may be looking at, there is a general consensus on which teams may be buyers as the trade deadline approaches.  Teams that believe they can go on a serious playoff run, and possibly even win the Cup, will identify gaps in their rosters and attempt to upgrade accordingly.

    The other main buyers will be “bubble” teams on the periphery of making the playoffs, who will look to add complementary scoring and defensive depth in an effort to make it into the postseason. The economic market of the past year dictates that playoff revenues will be considered a must by many franchises, and many of those ownership groups will not hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal that may sacrifice some of the future if they believe such a deal could put their team in position to earn a playoff spot.

    The following is a quick run-down of 8 teams who are currently heating up the rumour mill:

    Phoenix

    The Coyotes have surprised this year with their strong play, and currently sit 4th overall in the Western Conference. Everyone is well aware of the financial situation in Phoenix, and the Coyotes may look to add depth to both their blueline and forward ranks to ensure they are able to garner post-season revenues.  Assuming they are able to maintain their relatively high rank in the standings, the feeling is the Coyotes will be more apt to move draft picks this year than in previous campaigns.   One intriguing name that keeps coming up as being potentially available is young C/W Peter Mueller, who has struggled since his rookie campaign and happens to be in the final year of his entry deal.

    Los Angeles

    Following a terrific start, the Kings find themselves in 8th place in the West after injuries put them into a tailspin.  Playoffs are considered a must in LA this year, and if the team cannot make up significant ground between now and the trade deadline, the Kings will look to make some moves to bolster their chances.  Word is the Kings’ main interest would lie in adding physicality to their blueline.

    Minnesota

    Following a dreadful start, the Wild appear to have righted the ship and people are beginning to peg them as a team to watch out for.  Secondary scoring may be the Wild’s biggest area of need, and rumours persist (as they have all season) that young goaltender Josh Harding may be dangled as trade bait.

    Florida

    The Panthers are another team in desperate need of playoff revenue, who have flirted with 8th place in the East for much of the season.  Should the organization believe a playoff spot is attainable come the trade deadline, the Panthers would be another team on the lookout for secondary scoring, and depth down the middle.  Florida’s prospect depth is not exceptional, which indicates they will probably find themselves in a position of sacrificing draft picks if they are unwilling to part with Keaton Ellerby or Shawn Mattias.

    Washington

    The Capitals firmly believe they have the ability to go on a serious Stanley Cup run, although questions do remain regarding their goaltending and offense from the blueline (beyond than Mike Green).  Oft-mentioned as a possible destination for one Tomas Kaberle, the Capitals do boast an impressive array of prospects that could be had in exchange for a player they feel could put them over the top.  With a number of key players nearing the end of their contracts, the Caps will have some difficult decisions to make regarding the future makeup of their roster, and as such fully realize their best opportunity to go on a run may be the current season.

    Pittsburgh

    Another team that bears some monitoring is the Penguins, who have managed to avoid signs of a Stanley Cup hangover and would like nothing more than to repeat as champions.  However, they are fully aware that winning a second time around is more difficult, and will be looking to add scoring depth on the wings and potentially bolster their blueline as well. With the aging and injury-prone Sergei Gonchar in the final year of his contract, the Penguins have been mentioned on numerous occasions as a team keeping a watchful eye on the status of Tomas Kaberle.  The general consensus, however, is that if their squad remains relatively healthy approaching the trade deadline, the Penguins will focus on adding depth up front and worry about the blueline (and the status of Gonchar) during the offseason.

    Vancouver

    The Canucks may be a perenial playoff team, but they are one which would like to shake the ‘perenial early exit’ moniker that has followed their team of late.  Adding offensive skill will be on the Canucks’ to-do list come the trade deadline. Although there have been a few (unsubstantiated) rumours that the Canucks are one of the few Western teams to which Tomas Kaberle would accept a trade making the rounds, the general sense along the grapevine is the Canucks would rather make smaller moves to provide offense for the 2nd/3rd lines than to have to part with too significant a degree of their future.

    Chicago

    Ah yes, the rumour that never dies.  The Hawks are an interesting case.  They boast a deep roster that has few needs outside of perhaps consistency in net.  However, their roster is also quite highly priced, and as such they continue to look to ways to unload salary in the event that the cap declines as expected.  The Blackhawks would like nothing more than to replace a $3-4 million secondary scorer with one who could do the job for $1.5 – $2.5, in which case they would use the savings to procure a steady veteran backup for starting netminder Cristobal Huet with an eye toward a deep playoff run.

    You may be inclined to ask who is expendable on the Leafs.  In short, just about everyone is tradeable – for the right price – with the exceptions of Kessel, Schenn, Gustavsson, Kadri, and the Frat Pack.   The Leafs will enter the trade deadline with primarily secondary scoring options and defensive depth to offer teams looking at either securing a playoff spot, or, looking to plug a roster gap on the way to making a serious run.   In exchange, Toronto will look for draft picks, prospects, or young players with upside who may be in need of a change of scenery.

    As for Tomas Kaberle, forget what Burke said to the media about not asking a player to waive his NTC.  It’s the old ‘that was then, this is now’ theory.  If a team expresses interest, and presents a serious offer, Burke will not refrain from asking Kaberle to waive for the simple sake of some comment he gave the media back in September. His job is to make the team better, and if he gets an offer that he feels could bolster the future, he will not hesistate to approach his All-Star defender about making that decision.  At the end of the day, if Kaberle wants to stay he can simply refuse to waive. And he might just do that. But to assume the GM will avoid asking him because of some quote he gave the media six months’ prior to the trade deadline is ignorant of the fact that the NHL is business, and that what is best for the long-term interests of the franchise must always come first.