It seems that a large percentage of Leafs Nation is completely convinced that the team they saw in February and March of the 2011-12 season is the true reflection of the roster's ability. Many have completely disregarded the 99-point pace the team played at for the entire 2011 calendar year and beyond, right up until February 6th of 2012.
This skepticism is not undeserved. The team completely collapsed after that victory over the Oilers in early February that saw the Leafs three regulation wins ahead of the eventual Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings. What followed that victory was one of the worst stretches in the entire history of the franchise. As a result, the fans have decided that a massive roster overhaul is necessary. Now well into the summer, they grow increasingly agitated with each day that passes and does not bring line-up changes.
It is not my intention to try and persuade Leaf fans to get their blue and white goggles back out and start drinking the Kool-Aid again. It is also not my intention to act as a Burke apologist. The Maple Leafs are not a great team, and they do have a long way to go before turning things around in a meaningful way. However, perhaps it would be wise for the fan baseâ€™s collective sanity to reel in some of the pessimism and look at some of the reasons that the playoff drought, the embarrassment, and the general mediocrity may be coming to an end within the next couple of seasons. [more…]
The Rick Nash sweepstakes are on and speculation about what kind of return he'll merit is quickly spinning out of control. Â Bob McKenzie tried to dial back the enthusiasm a bit Tuesday night by suggesting that Howson may still wait on dealing his franchise winger until the draft or later in summer. Â Whether it happens that way or not, business has definitely picked up.
Many of McKenzie's media brethren were not so quick to douse the flames. Â Pierre Lebrun began the hysteria by suggesting that Howson will require four (yes that's right, four) top notch assets to justify moving Nash. Â From a Leafs point of view, he claimed the package would have to start with Jake Gardiner and Luke Schenn. Â Mark Spector of Sportsnet suggested that those four players might need to be James Reimer, Luke Schenn, Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne.
Part 1 can be found here.
In the Hunt
Montreal Canadiens (10%)
What a dagger in the heart of Leafs Nation it would be if Brad Richards decided to sign with the slightly off-the-board selection Montreal Canadiens. When the Habs were eliminated from the playoffs this year, there was rumors and discussion about the possibility of the team buying out the contract Scott Gomez. His underwhelming play has dragged on for two seasons now, and while he had some heartfelt things to say about wanting to get back to a high standard on the ice, management may have already lost their patience. Whether Gomez is on the roster or not though, the Habs have the cap space to chase a big name like Brad Richards. They have among the fewest players in the league signed for next season, and some have speculated that it is because of the design of GM Pierre Gauthier. On the surface, the Habs appear closer to a championship than some of the other options out there. That said, the thought of Richards wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge is too painful to think about. Suffice to say there is a decent chance he lands there. [more…]
His free agent destination is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Brad Richards has given so many clues for so many different teams, it is impossible to say with any certainty where he will end up. We can only rule out one team without any doubt, and that is his current club, the Dallas Stars. Joe Nieuwendyk has openly admitted the Stars will not be able to offer Brad a contract extension. He is definitely leaving the Lone Star State but what happens beyond that is anyone's guess.
Still, there is something to be said for an educated guess. Richards and his agent have done enough talking of late to lend support to some teams over others. They've talked about numerous factors which will play a role in the decision. Money, ownership and lifestyle have all been mentioned in the conversation. Using the quotes we have from Richards and his agent, media sources from around the league, a little common sense, and some personal speculation, the following are the teams with the best shot at landing the big prize on July 1st.
The Flyers have decided to make a move amidst a controversial ruling in the Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps the hit by Aaron Rome on Nathan Horton, and the subsequent 8-1 drubbing dealt out by the Bruins will be enough to keep the media focus on Vancouver and Boston. There should be no mistaking though, that something significant is going on in Philadelphia right now. Last night word broke that General Manager Paul Holmgren has acquired the exclusive negotiating rights to Ilya Bryzgalov in exchange for a 3rd round selection in the 2012 entry draft, and a conditional pick to be named later.
This opens up a lot of questions about how the Flyers are going to make this all fit under their cap. They are a team that has limited money to resign the players they already have, and may have to let Ville Leino and Dan Carcillo walk even without bringing in a presumably expensive unrestricted free agent like Bryzgalov. As of right now, it looks like a lot of the speculation and rumors about major players moving out of Philadelphia to make room for a legitimate starting goalie are looking pretty accurate. Given the situation, these are the questions that need to be answered in the coming days, weeks, or maybe even months assuming that Holmgren is comfortable sitting above the cap during the summer: [more…]
Now for the (not-so) thrilling conclusion to my blog series on the Leafs trade targets on the back end.Â The following are (in my opinion), the top two options Burke will pursue over the coming months if indeed he does go the trade route:
2.) Brent Burns - Dion Phaneufâ€™s stalwart partner at the World Championship has played with the captain before.Â Thatâ€™s the same kind of sentiment we heard from free agents Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong shortly after they were acquired.Â It seems there is a spot reserved on the bench for â€˜friends of Dionâ€™.Â Â So far, that hasnâ€™t been a bad thing.Â MacArthur had a career year in the blue and white, while Colby Armstrong had an injury-laden year.Â Still, Armstrong became a key part of the club â€“ a heart and soul player whose absences were blatantly obvious.Â Of course, Burns also brings huge offensive potential to the back end.Â He is a big man, who would make the Leafs top four one of the largest and most intimidating in the league.Â His versatility alone is a huge asset that makes him very reminiscent of Dustin Byfuglien in that regard.
In part one of this blog we looked at possible unrestricted free agent options for the Leafs. Burke has always been proficient at landing a big name on July 1st, but he also has a reputation for loving a good old fashioned hockey trade. Since the lock-out, Burke has completed major transactions that brought in the likes of Francois Beauchemin, Chris Pronger, Doug Weight, Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, J.S. Giguere and Joffrey Lupul. Going further back, he pulled off massive draft day swaps that brought his clubs Henrik and Daniel Sedin, as well as Chris Pronger. He has moved out high profile names like Sergei Fedorov, Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle. The man hardly flinches when dealing away first round picks. When it comes to trading, Burke emits a sense of fearlessness that has no doubt helped him get solid returns over the course of his career. However, he has always maintained that the best deals are the ones that work out for both teams. Given the 'old boys club' nature of the job, this stance makes a lot of sense.
So who might be the target for a fair trade that can benefit both clubs equally? Lets break down the top five options using the following three pieces of critera: [more…]
Any Leafs fan with a pulse knows that the number one priority for the summer of 2011 is to find a number one center. The team simply cannot afford to waste another year of Phil Kesselâ€™s talent by pairing him with inadequate and inexperienced pivots. In no way should that read as a shot at Tyler Bozak, who is a talented player with an above average hockey IQ. However, he is not ready to be the man, front stage center, for the most scrutinized team in the sport.
Naturally, a lot of attention has been drawn to the various options at center ice that might be pursued by manager Brian Burke. It could not be any clearer that the plan is to offer Brad Richards an enormous chunk of change to sign with the blue and white on July 1st. However, Burke is obviously already working on a backup plan as rumors of Jeff Carter and Paul Stastny are running rampant. Fans are right to be concerned with the acquisition of what will be such a huge piece of the puzzle, but the excitement has drawn attention away from the back end, where Burke has traditionally upgraded in each off-season. [more…]