It seems like the Jake Gardiner talk just won’t go away, even though an immediate trade seems extremely unlikely.
It seems like the Jake Gardiner talk just won’t go away, even though an immediate trade seems extremely unlikely.
Two games in, and the Maple Leafs are 2-0 for the first time in 11 years. While some might be tempted to find meaning within that number, the truth is that in terms of history the number is rather meaningless.
With still 80 games left on the docket, and the Leafs about to embark on their first road trip of the season, expectations must be tempered despite the hot start (and the rare sight of a 4th overall placement on the ESPN Power Rankings).
In other words, a 7-0-1 start (to counter last season’s 0-7-1) is probably just a little too much to ask. As if I had to tell you that. Then again, this IS Leafs Nation; somewhere, someone surely needed the reminder.
Follow the jump for a few first-week impressions and musings.
The book has (finally) closed on the Ilya Kovalchuk saga, as the Russian winger elected to remain with the New Jersey Devils. Â This ends weeks of mind-numbing speculation and rumour-rehashing, including a recent explosion of news in the hockey world that had all signs pointing towards Los Angeles. Â Thus, while there will be some surprise that Kovalchuk did not head down south, the overwhelming feeling amongst hockey fans today will be relief. Â A side-effect of Kovalchuk’s prolonged decision-making has been the absolute cessation of any other hockey activity. Â The dam should finally burst as the remaining free agents and possible trades will now be explored further by the league’s general managers.
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun floated out over twitter last night the possibility of Leaf interest in winger Maxim Afinogenov. One’s initial reaction might be to dismiss the Russian enigma as the anti-Burke. Looking at the list of remaining UFAs, there are also a few scoring wingers that could be considered safer, comparable alternatives (i.e. Alexander Frolov). But in the salary capped hockey world we live in, where a player’s on-ice ability is ever tempered by his dollar value against the cap, Afinogenov’s services could actually comprise a niche market of sorts for clubs looking for a Plan B scoring option with fewer strings attached.
On the eve of unrestricted free agency, the Maple Leafs made a big first move to upgrade their forward group. According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the club has swung a deal to acquire Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg and prospect Billy Sweatt in exchange for winger Viktor Stalberg, along with forward prospects Chris Didomenico and Philipe Paradis.
Versteeg, still just 24 years of age, will instantly become a big component of the Maple Leafs’ core moving forward. He has two seasons of 20+ goals under his belt already, and is under contract for two more years at $3.08 million per season.
Meanwhile, Sweatt, the Blackhawks’ 2007 2nd round pick, was ranked as the 7th best prospect in the Chicago farm system by Hockey’s Future. He is described as a talented two-way player with top end speed and finishing ability on the rush. By all accounts, Sweatt is also an excellent defensive player and effective penalty killer, which should ease the pain of losing Paradis.
According to Howard Berger, who reported live from the NHL Entry Draft this weekend, there is a ton of steam behind the Leafs and Bruins looking to make a trade for forward Marc Savard. It seems the Leafs understand he could have a long-term effect from a concussion injury, but the upside of putting him and Kessel back together is just too good to pass up on. Berger explains that the deal does not involve Tomas Kaberle and that Kaberle talks are actually down to minor whispers at this point. Expect that situation to become more relevant as the off-season continues. The trade for Savard surrounds the availability of forward Nikolai Kulemin, who is a pending RFA and is seeking more money than the Leafs are willing to offer. That said, the Bruins could move forward with a $3M dollar Kulemin if they shed the contract of $5M plus from Savard. All in all, it becomes a win/win with the Bruins getting younger and cheaper, adding a player with high potential to become a solid defensive forward, while the Leafs would get their number one center, elite playmaker, and instant chemistry with Phil Kessel. SilverSevenSens now state he has waived his NMC to play for either the Leafs or Senators. ESPN chimes in on it as well. “Reports started to surface that Bruins forward Marc Savard and his agent have eased off the player-s limited no-trade claue that allows the Bruins to deal Savard to only five undisclosed teams. Chiarelli would not confirm or deny the reports. ‘I’m not really into speculating that kind of stuff,’ he said.”
According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Chicago Blackhawks have traded forwards Dustin Byfgulien and Ben Eager along with defenseman Brent Sopel and prospect Akim Aliu to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for New Jersey’s 1st and 2nd round picks, top prospect Jeremy Morin, and forward Marty Reasoner.
Holy Blockbuster! Chicago has been demanding sky high prices all offseason and it looks like someone finally bit… Morin scored 47 goals in 58 OHL games for the Kitchener Rangers this past season. A steep, steep price. With this move, the Hawks have cleared $4.33 million in cap space (not including Eager who is an RFA).
According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com, the Toronto Maple Leafs will not be pursuing soon-to-be unrestricted free agent sniper Iyla Kovalchuk. LeBrun cites a quote from Leaf GM Brian Burke stating that the club would not “be involved in that race”. Although this could theoretically be a ploy to avoid tampering charges, Burke has always been very up front about his intentions and could’ve easily either skipped the question or answered with a generic “we will explore every possibility to improve our club.” Thus, I would be willing to bet my bottom dollar that Kovalchuk does not end up in a Maple Leaf uniform next season.
In the same article, LeBrun provides a brief update on the Kaberle trade talks, explaining that the number of inquiring teams has reached the double digits, though no serious offer has been made of yet. The only other high end puckmoving defenseman available is unrestricted free agent Sergei Gonchar, though rumors of his demand for a 3 year contract at age 36 could scare off potential suitors.
According to the Daily Herald, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets are believed to have expressed serious interest in Chicago winger Patrick Sharp. The author explains that Sharp would likely bring the highest return of any of the Hawks’ players rumored to be on the trading block, in the form of a high draft pick of top prospect. One rival executive deemed Sharp to be “one of those players every team loves to have” and who has “no flaws in his game”.
The Toronto-Sharp connection has been red hot for over a year now, as the Daily Herald reported last summer that the Hawks and Leafs had already been discussing a potential swap. At the time, ESPN had speculated a return of an affordable defenseman along with a high end prospect. The 28 year old Sharp scored 25 goals and 66 points during the regular season, and stepped it up to the tune of 11 goals and 22 points during the Hawk’s Stanley Cup run.
Those who know me can tell you I am an avid reader. Â I devour books at a staggering pace, specializing in sports books and autobiographies mostly. Â And as the warm weather approaches, and the hockey season gives way to deck weather, my reading habit ramps up considerably.
Book of choice at the moment? Â ”The Yankee Years” Â by Joe Torre. Â A fantastic account of life in the major leagues and life as the manager of one of the most popular, most traditional, and at times, most dysfunctional franchises in the world.
Torre does an excellent job of taking readers behind the scenes of his time in New York, including a fist hand look of one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. Â That is, the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
And that’s where the parallels started standing out to me as a Leafs fan.
- The Toronto Sun explains that Burke came very close to acquiring Brent Sopel in two potential deals that both were believed to have fallen apart on Sunday. Apparently, he is looking to re-acquire 1st and 2nd round picks to compensate for the loss of draft picks from the Kessel trade.
- ESPN’s John Buccigross presents a great human interest story that about Brian Burke’s gay son provides insight into the close father-son relationship.
- Nazem Kadri’s been on an absolute tear of late. Click here for highlights of his 3 point night against Kitchener and here for highlights of his beautiful shorthanded marker against Russia in the Subway Series.
Couple of intriguing tidbits from HB/ESPN’s Andy Strickland: Defenseman Jeff Finger WANTS to be sent down to the AHL to save a few bucks? Are the Leafs planning to place forward Jamal Mayers on waivers soon?
Talking to sources this evening, I’ve managed to partially reconstruct — there is obviously much more to it than what is posted here — how the trade for Phil Kessel ultimately came about, and the origin of many of the rumours that circulated prior to the deal finally going down.
The Bruins wanted at least one player in a deal, but no suitable player-based deal could ultimately be found with any of Nashville, New York, or Toronto. Â At the end of the day, Bruins’ GM Peter Chiarelli opted to accept a package of picks that was originally offered by the Leafs nearly a full week before the deal was finally consummated.
Here’s how it is said to have happened.
By now, I’m sure many of you have seen ESPN’s report of a significant offer by the Maple Leafs for Phil Kessel: two 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick. The general reflex reaction that we’ve been conditioned to by the Toronto media the last few seasons is to avoid moving 1st round selections by any means necessary. The thought of moving two such commodities is beyond horrifying. I’ve seen the name Taylor Hall used as the backbone of many an argument over the last few days, often associated with the “chance” of landing said player. If we’re gonna turn this into a game of chance, let’s at least get all the cards on the table.
Kicking off the week with another update on a whole lot of nothing around the NHL: The Leafs get ripped in ESPN’s Ultimate Team Standings, P.J. Axelsson signs with Frolunda, CBS Sports assigns offseason grades for the Northeast Division, and Kaberle bought out?
Not a whole lot of news coming out of the NHL ranks these last few days, as the few free agents still available are playing the waiting game (kind of surprising to note that Alex Tanguay’s still out there). As we try to make it through the last work day before the weekend, let’s touch upon more trade speculation out of Chicago, Leaf prospect Mikhail Stefanovich, early playoff predictions and the Leafs’ second annual Coca Cola Fans First Game.
Picking up on the “defenseman for a forward” trade offer that Burke received the other day, ESPN’s Al Cimaglia speculated on a possible fit with the Chicago Blackhawks. After accomodating the acquisition of Hossa and the significant raises to Versteeg, Bolland and Barker, the Hawks find themselves pressed right up against the cap and still requiring a tough, stay at home defender. With Burke having up to six NHL defensive defensemen on his roster right now, Cimaglia suggested the newly acquired Garnet Exelby as a possible fit since he’s young, cheap and would fit the mold of what GM Dave Tallon is looking for to round out his defense core.
NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly was on HockeyCentral At Noon today, and among other topics he briefly discussed the possibility of a second NHL team coming to Toronto.
When asked why Toronto has not been seriously considered to date as a home for another franchise, despite the enormous fan base and subsequent opportunity to succeed financially, Kelly suggested that MLSE was not the source of resistance.
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun is reporting that Brian Burke has been kicking the tires on a more adequate back-up for Vesa Toskala than Leafs’ current incumbent, the antiquated Curtis Joseph. What was initially tabbed as win-win move has proved to be a misstep engendered by nostalgia. The mandate wasn’t overly demanding for Joseph as the logic was that Vesa Toskala, coming off an impressive first year as a full-fledged starter, would only require relief for 15 games on the season. This hasn’t worked out for two reasons – Curtis Joseph has not proven adequate enough to play at a passable level for 15 games on the season (4.12 GAA, 0.843 SV%) and Toskala hasn’t by any stretch of the imagination been the unquestioned starter he was last season.
On the topic of spin-o-ramas, here’s a highlight reel play from Leafs’ 6th rounder in 2006 Tyler Ruegsegger during recent collegiate action. [More after the jump, including an update from U of D head coach George Gwozdecky].