by Michael Cuttell
Put your hand up if you think the Leafs are only one or two pieces away from winning a Stanley Cup this year. OK, I admire your enthusiasm, but put your hands down! Thereâ€™s actually a good reason Iâ€™ve posed this question and Iâ€™ll come to it again in just a minute. With the long awaited Kaberle trade still looming, many in Leafs Nation have asked the question: If he could be had so cheaply, why didnâ€™t Burke sign Frolov? The answer is that he didnâ€™t want him; and trust me Leafsâ€™ fans, you donâ€™t want him either!
Frolov did not sign with New York to win a Stanley Cup. New York did not suggest, in their sales pitch to Frolov, â€œCome to New York and you can be part of a team thatâ€™s making a run at a championship.â€ Frolov wouldnâ€™t care if they were. His one-year contract, with a team desperate for top-tier offense, in one of the worldâ€™s largest sporting markets, is designed to give Frolov an opportunity to showcase himself to the league. If he plays his cards right, he thinks he can put himself back on the market next year and get a big long-term contract to round out his career. Frolov want his payday. Heâ€™s going to play one year of big-time hockey in a big-time market to get it.
Donâ€™t misunderstand me, Frolov is a talented player. His contract locks him up at a reasonable price; one that this analyst predicts Frolov will more than earn this upcoming season. However, to a team in the Leafsâ€™ position, heâ€™s useless. As we established from the beginning, the Leafs are not realistic contenders for the Cup this year. When they finally are ready â€“ even one year later – Frolov would not be around. In the mean time, heâ€™d take up a valuable roster spot; valuable as a tool for imparting priceless experience on a young player who is going to be part of future Leafsâ€™ Cup runs.
Lets, try one more way to contextualize it: If you somehow possessed the power to guarantee the Leafs a championship, and asked Dion Phaneuf if he would give up his 7 million USD salary this year to be the captain of the first Toronto Maple Leafs team to win the Stanley Cup in over 4 decades, do you think heâ€™d take the deal? Conversely, if you made an offer to Frolov to earn that same 7 million dollars to play for a team that was guaranteed not to win, or even make the playoffs, do you think heâ€™d take the deal? Try the same equation with Luke Schenn or new Leaf Colby Armstrong. Iâ€™m not saying Frolov doesnâ€™t play to win or doesnâ€™t want to win. Iâ€™m saying he doesnâ€™t want it bad enough to make it on the squad Burke is putting together to accomplish it.
The players who wear the Blue and White and lift the Stanley Cup for the first time in over a generation will become the stuff of legend. Their names will pass from the lips of Fathers and Grandfathers, in hushed reverent whispers, to the children who are the next generation of Leafs fans; telling of how they were there – they saw it happen. The players who carry that honour will be those who are willing to go to the wall for it. Those are the players Burke wants. Who do you want on your team?
Of course, every player wants a payday, and if the Leafs were a genuine contender for the Stanley Cup this year, I would be one of the people chirping about the lost opportunity to sign Frolov. For you poolies out there, this is going to be a very big year for the talented winger, so donâ€™t miss out. Next year, however, Frolov will not be a Ranger. He will not be a building block in the franchiseâ€™s future. He will not hoist a cup with them. There is a talented young prospect, somewhere in the Rangers organisation, with a career thatâ€™s going to feel the impact of that fact at least as powerfully as the Rangerâ€™s place in the final standings will.