Eric Belanger to the…Leafs?

Eric Belanger to the…Leafs?

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In a move that will inevitably add to the frustratingly indecipherable trade rumblings of the last few days, Eric Belanger indicated that he has essentially signed with a team, but is unable to divulge where he will be going.  The article is French, but the English translation of the title (“Eric Belanger signs…but he won’t say where!”) says it all.  The information we can gleam from this is that Belanger can not reveal his new team because they are “working on an exchange that will affect the salary cap”.  Of course, this begs the question: are the Leafs somehow involved?

It should be noted that Belanger mentions that his future team is “doing an exchange and does not want to lose leverage in that trade”.  This is probably an indication that the mystery team is not merely a cap strapped club looking to ship out players to make space for the 32 year-old.  Rather, it seems that a significant (at least in terms of opening up a 3rd line center spot) trade is virtually assured to happen somewhere in the league within the next few days.  A restless Leafs Nation will be desperately hoping that Toronto is involved in the Belanger signing somehow, to guarantee that there will be some trade of substance at the very least (likely related to our favourite Czech blueliner).

Once again, this is obviously purely speculative, but with a bit of simple reasoning it seems clear that Belanger could be signing with Toronto to replace a departed center (a Grabovski or Mitchell, for example) or heading to the team that Toronto is trading with, if said team will be shipping forwards of impact to the Leafs themselves.  Belanger is a well-regarded player around the NHL that brings a consistent two-way presence as a third-line center with faceoff prowess.  He would fit extremely well with the Leafs working under the assumption that one of Mitchell or Grabovksi is indeed out of the picture.  If our Belarussian pivot Mikhail Grabovski were to be moved in a package deal with Kaberle (or on his own), Belanger would fit in nicely on the third line (with Mitchell on the fourth), opening a spot for Nazem Kadri on the second line.  While this type of lineup fantasizing is preemptive in my opinion, it would certainly please a lot of us armchair-GMs.  For those not familiar with the Quebec native, he can be counted on for around 13 goals and 35 points and is effective on the PK.

For amusement’s sake (and to drive some of you theorizers crazy with the possibilities), let’s whip out our blue and white detective’s hat and see what else we can deduce.  The former Capitals forward implied that it will only be a “matter of days” until the situation is resolved.  If it seems that this is too reminiscent of the Kaberle D-Day to be a coincidence, that’s because it’s probably not.  This signing is most assuredly related to either the Kovalchuk deal (sigh) or an impending Kaberle trade.  Moreover, if we were to examine this move from the hypothetical Leafs perspective, Eric’s mention of “leverage” is extremely relevant.  Imagine a scenario where Burke is close to getting what he desires, but needs to dangle one of Grabovski/Mitchell as a desirable and valuable asset to finalize the trade.  His spin will out of necessity be “Look, Grabovski/Mitchell is a player that we can’t really afford to let go because they’re a quality 2nd/3rd line center (respectively) and we do need them here in Toronto.  BUT, if you will give me player X, we can consider moving our guy to you.”

Now, if Burke had gone ahead and signed Belanger already (knowing he’d eventually have a spot open), his leverage is obviously gutted.  The other GM would be well aware that Toronto would have an excess of centers and would be looking to move one of them.  There is also the contract limit to consider, with Toronto nearing the maximum allowed value of 50 this could definitely be a factor.  We can’t be sure of the specifics, but we know without a doubt that something will happen within the next few days and many will be hoping it involves the Leafs.

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