Random Thoughts: A shocking start to silly season, and more.

Random Thoughts: A shocking start to silly season, and more.

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The excitement never ends, does it? Days after the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup, the NHL Awards capped off the season with a somewhat surprising (albeit well-deserved)  Hart Trophy nod to Corey Perry. A day later, the Philadelphia Flyers rocked the hockey world with two major trades … with reports suggesting the Leafs were nearly a trading partner in both.

As if that hasn’t been enough, trade and free agency rumours continue to run rampant. The Leafs have several of their own player re-signings still on the horizon, and somewhere in all that a draft is about to take place.

Some late-night thoughts on all the madness, after the jump.

On Philadelphia

Lots of speculation here. My understanding of what went down with Philadelphia today is as follows:

The Flyers needed to dump contracts in order to sign Ilya Bryzgalov. This much should come as no surprise to anyone. What caught even the most-connected insiders off-guard was the Flyers’ willingness to move two of their top players to get it done. Yet it makes sense: while the Flyers could have moved other players to fit Bryzgalov under the cap, he wanted a long-term deal and there was no way the team was going to move forward committed to three players (Bryzgalov, Richards, Carter) for 9, 9, and 11 years respectively at high dollar values.  There is little doubt a culture change was at the root of the blow-up, also, as rumours have swirled for some time about locker room dischord in the aptly-named City Of Brotherly Love.

So where do the Leafs fit into all of this?

It has been reported the Leafs were in on Jeff Carter, but hedged at the notion of dealing Nikolai Kulemin. Which is not at all surprising, considering that Kulemin’s 30-goal, 27-assist season wasn’t far off Carter’s 36-goal, 30-assist season, at a substantially lower dollar figure. When Columbus stepped up with the 8th and 68th overall picks in this year’s draft, as well Jakub Voracek, the Flyers saw an opportunity to recoup some of the picks lost in the Chris Pronger and Kris Versteeg trades, while adding a young player with well-regarded potential and ridding themselves of a contract with an 11-year commitment remaining and a no-trade clause soon to kick in. Done.

With Richards, the speculation gets a little more varied. My understanding is the Leafs and Flyers engaged in discussions involving the same players as the Carter scenario, and the Flyers reportedly made an offer which the Leafs wanted to take some time to consider (I would suspect hesitation over moving Kulemin again played a role, perhaps also the draft pick the Flyers wanted, and eventually got, from the Kings). At that point the deal between the Flyers and Kings began to materialize, and once Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren saw an opportunity to land prototypical Philly-type forwards Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, as well as recoup yet another draft pick, he jumped at the chance.

So what other options do the Leafs have?  One has to think Brian Burke likely feels a little bit screwed over by the Flyers’ unwillingness to give him an opportunity to up the ante when the deal with Los Angeles arose. After coming as close as he reportedly did in discussions for Carter, and especially Richards, there is little doubt the Leafs’ GM will be eager to make a splash at – or perhaps even prior to – this weekend’s Entry Draft.  Stay tuned.

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On The Rumour That Won’t Die

Whether the Avalanche actually have any interest in moving Paul Stastny is a matter of debate. As is true with any speculation, nobody outside the league can really know for sure. What one can suggest, however, is the pieces fit: the Avalanche are rebuilding, and could use the savings that shedding a $6.6 million/year contract would provide.  As with any rebuild, the Avalanche would be seeking young talent in the form of draft picks and near-NHL ready prospects. The Avalanche are also in desperate need of depth at the goaltending position.  The Leafs are in a position to help the Avalanche in each of these areas — and have a definite need for a player of Stastny’s ilk. It is worth noting the Avalanche were among the teams courting Jonas Gustavsson prior to the Leafs’ landing the enigmatic goaltender.

Now, it must be stated at this juncture that none of that is intended as speculation that a deal is in the making, or that anything has been or will be discussed. But it’s difficult to deny that the pieces do fit on both sides.  I would at this point suggest that while it is impossible to attribute any sort of likelihood to this scenario, it would not exactly come as a shock if something between these two teams were to come about.

Of course, as we’ve all seen time and again via the various rumour mills, smoke doesn’t lead to fire nearly as much as we are told to believe. It’s as likely Burke stuns the hockey world with a trade nobody sees coming (e.g. the near-miss on Mike Richards) as it is the rampant speculation following any of the many possible “fits” and “strategies” actually comes true.

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On Brad Richards

He will get an offer. Probably in the 3-5 year range. Toronto’s interest in engaging in a bidding war will wax and wane with the degree to which the per-year dollar values escalate.  But barring a trade which limits the Leafs’ financial flexibility to such a degree that pursuing a top-end UFA wouldn’t be prudent, he will get an offer. Of that there is no doubt whatsoever.

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On Other FA Opportunities

Brooks Laich is a name that keeps coming up. On a certain level he makes a fair bit of sense: he can play any forward position and can play both special teams. However, he doesn’t exactly fill the need for a top-line forward. At a reasonable dollar figure he could be a useful player. But in a limited FA market, the likelihood of the price tag exceeding his value is extremely high.

Tomas Fleischmann is another name that’s circled some wires. Again, not a player who fills a top-line forward need but is versatile, has wheels and has been productive when healthy. Injury and consistency issues have kept him from reaching his potential, but he could be worth the risk if the price is right.

The pursuit of scoring forwards, and the need to resign Luke Schenn, could potentially keep the Leafs’ out of the bidding for top UFA puck-moving defensemen Christian Erhoff and Joni Pitkanen (both of whom may see paydays in excess of $5 million per).  Some have aptly suggested that Ed Jovanovski will likely be looking at a paycut, but doesn’t fit the Leafs’ need for a puck-mover.  In that sense, less-expensive names such as Marc-Andre Bergeron and Anton Babchuk could be viewed as more sensible targets for the back end.  Of course, if Tomas Kaberle were to consider taking a discount to return to Toronto … well, let’s just say that February trade with the Bruins would look pretty damned sweet.

(For the record, no, I don’t see it happening. But I wouldn’t be opposed to it, either.)

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On Luke Schenn

Rest easy, Leafs’ fans. The contract will get done. Term is the sticking point as I understand it (entering the last year of the CBA, players want to be sure they can take full advantage of future UFA opportunities before the existing rules are subject to change), but by all accounts the discussions have been amicable. Schenn wants to remain in Toronto, the Leafs have no interest in watching him suit up elsewhere. It will get done, likely in the 3-4 year range at $3.5 million to $4.5 million per.

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On Clarke MacArthur

The Leafs seem content to let this one go to arbitration. It’s never easy to place a value on one years’ worth of solid production; chances are the Leafs will accept the ruling with an eye toward negotiating a longer deal based upon another year’s worth of play. Considering how well MacArthur showed in his first chance at regular duty, the likelihood of the Leafs allowing him to walk are next to nil.

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On Tyler Bozak

The Leafs would like him back, but will need to determine the role for which he is best suited. His struggles during his sophomore campaign will negatively affect his earning power; as such a shorter-term contract would seem like a safe bet for both sides. Coming off a contract in which his salary was a mere $875K, Bozak will be looking at a raise (a standard with the second contract), albeit a slight one based on his less-than-memorable 2010-11 campaign.  With that in mind, the Leafs are likely content to push this one further down the priority scale, as any offer sheet should be easy to match (and if not, will return a higher draft pick than he would currently return via trade).  Should no offer sheet arise, chances are Bozak and the Leafs reach an agreement on a two-year contract at a slight raise — a fair deal for a player with a versatile skill-set and a lot to prove.

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On Draft Picks

Oh, right, there’s an Entry Draft upon us.  Hard to tell who will be available at the end of the 1st as so many players outside the top five or six have comparable abilities and talent ceilings, although I have my doubts the Leafs will be holding onto both their 1sts by the time the first round reaches the mid-20s.

If all else, it should be an exciting day for Leafs fans. There will be news — the question is, how big will that news be?

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Addendum: A Final Note

Some of the comments have expressed concern over the possibility of trades + free agent acquisitions, mostly in terms of ‘who would play where?’ Remember, depth is good. Three guys to fill two spots is what we call a GOOD problem. Injuries/poor play resulting in two lineup spots but only one player ready to adequately fill the role is decidedly less desirable.

Theory
Increased Depth = Increased Competition = Fight To Earn Ice = Improved Play = Results

“Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.” – Dennis Miller

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Looking forward to your thoughts as always,

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