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Los Angeles

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The Jonathan Bernier to Toronto speculation was ongoing all week, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when the Leafs acquired him yesterday. What was surprising, considering teams that are in much worse shape in net like the Flyers and Islanders were in on the bidding, is that one of those teams didn’t offer big value for a goalie so many are apparently high on.

Ultimately, it seems the Leafs were able to offer a package that matched up well with the Kings’ needs. The Leafs gave Los Angeles a good backup goalie and top nine forward who combine to cost them a million bucks (since the Leafs are retaining salary), along with a second round pick. That’s solid value for a guy who requested a trade on a team that’s tight against the cap.

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The Tomas Kaberle trade watch is now in effect with only 36 hours to go until this situation concludes. The rumor mill is running rampant with some high profile names and some future fan favorites, but let's dive into who is being mentioned as possible blue and white sweater bearers.

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A former Leaf is about to sign with Los Angeles, as Alexei Ponikarovsky has agreed to join the Kings (although a deal has not yet been signed).  This ends some speculation that “Poni” would have to take his games overseas, as this summers UFA market has seen a lot of viable NHL players still without a job.  Ponikarovsky was shipped to the Penguins by Toronto at this year’s trade deadline, bringing back Luca Caputi in what was a very fair exchange of players.  However, Pittsburgh was expecting the Ukrainian to contribute at the level that saw him pour out 61 points for the Leafs in 2008-2009.  With a disappointing 9 points down the stretch for the recent champs and an awful showing in the playoffs, teams weren’t exactly lining up to sign the 30-year old.

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The book has (finally) closed on the Ilya Kovalchuk saga, as the Russian winger elected to remain with the New Jersey Devils.  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.  Thus, while there will be some surprise that Kovalchuk did not head down south, the overwhelming feeling amongst hockey fans today will be relief.  A side-effect of Kovalchuk’s prolonged decision-making has been the absolute cessation of any other hockey activity.  The dam should finally burst as the remaining free agents and possible trades will now be explored further by the league’s general managers.

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For Greg McKegg, nothing has necessarily come easy in his hockey career.  A slow start to his rookie campaign in Erie, followed by a knee injury which threatened the start of his season this past year, McKegg began the year as a winger for the Erie Otters that ISS ranked in the 90′s.

It was something that McKegg couldn’t not think about, no matter how much he tried.

“It’s something you try not to think about too much really, but you can’t help but look.  It was disappointing to see that for sure, but I think it gives you that edge to work harder and show people that you deserve to be higher up on the list.”

And that is exactly what he did.

Being described by some in the hockey circles as a perennial underdog, McKegg did the only thing he knew how to do.  Work hard.

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Rough Friday night for Leaf fans, but that’s in the past now. Rounds 2-7 of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft kicks off today at 1pm ET on NHL Network. The Maple Leafs are slated pick once in the 3rd round (62nd), once in the 4th round (112th), twice in the 5th round (122nd and 144th) and twice in the 7th round (182nd and 202nd).

Rumors are circulating that the Leafs will attempt to trade into the 2nd round if the price is reasonable.

This live blog will be updated with thoughts and pick analysis throughout the afternoon.

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It’s around 2PM eastern time, meaning National Hockey League GM’s are likely getting ready to juggle their BlackBerry’s while getting set to sit down for lunch at a local Los Angeles hot spot.  With the many fantastic views and atmosphere, it may be the last relaxing moment of the day for these GM’s.

And most wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The word out of Los Angeles today remains that Brian Burke has yet to receive an acceptable offer for Tomas Kaberle. While talks are said to be heating up according to Pierre LeBrun’s twitter (rumoured to involve Buffalo, Boston and Los Angeles), Burke appears to be tempering expectations and maintaining the possibility that Kaberle remains a Leaf come Saturday. It could well be that Burke quietly slips out of Los Angeles with only with only six third – seventh round picks to his name. TSN has released a sleeper list with some names Leafs fans can keep an eye on for Saturday:

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Less than 36 hours to go until start of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, so here are some links to start your day:

- The Toronto Sun explains that Burke is very tempted to trade his way into Friday’s first round party if the price is right. He’s already turned down an offer of a late first round pick for a roster player (Kulemin?) and another team has also brought up Schenn’s name in trade talks but was quickly rebuffed. The Leafs were also kicking the tires on Horton and Byfuglien before they were dealt over the last couple days. Burke did stress that his trade options are not limited to simply draft weekend, unless it involves draft picks, so it’s quite possible that nothing major goes down in Los Angeles.

- The Toronto Star provides a quick update on the Kaberle trade talks, citing that the Leafs have received four “concrete” offers for the blueliner thus far with eight other teams expressing interest. Burke again reiterated that he could quite confidently get a first round pick back for Kaberle, but that he’s looking for different kind of assets in return because he wants to get better now.

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The Leafs will start and end with Montreal as to be expected. The schedule includes nine back-to-backs, an increase over the seven they played last season. The Leafs will head northwest March 22-24 to play Minnesota and Colorado after hosting them last season. The most taxing travel appears to be a four game stretch from January 7 – 13 when the Buds will make stops in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix. The Leafs will also conduct a potentially critical division tour from February 12 – 19 when they face off consecutively with each Northeast rival. From December 14-18, the Blue and White will go on a Western Canada road trip where they can visit Taylor Hall, Matt Stajan and Kyle Wellwood. The full sched after the jump:

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It seems the “Kaberle to Columbus for the 4th overall pick” speculation is picking up some steam. Aaron Portzline, the Blue Jackets beat writer for the Columbus Dispatch  had this to say in his hockey blog this afternoon:

“The rumor percolating in Canada that Toronto will offer defenseman Tomas Kaberle to the Blue Jackets for the No. 4 pick appears to be just that — a rumor. But don’t be surprised, we’re told, if Toronto GM Brian Burke makes that offer in the days or hours leading up to the NHL entry draft, set for June 25-26 in Los Angeles. It’s an enticing trade, to be sure, as Kaberle is a very polished and skilled defenseman. But would Howson make that trade? Hard to say. On the surface, it’s a very fair offer, as it immediately fills one of the Blue Jackets’ glaring needs. But look further, and it’s the kind of trade that Howson — and lots of other GMs — would be reluctant to make. Kaberle is signed at $4.25 million — a fair wage — but only for one more season. He’s an unrestricted free agent after the 2010-11 season. It seems unlikely that Howson would give up the No. 4 overall pick for one season of Kaberle.”

Now this is interesting on a number of levels. The first being that this is the first source, and a Columbus one at that, other than Steve Simmons’ speculative article that connects Kaberle to trade talks for the 4th overall pick. However, there is always the possibility that the writer is simply basing these assumptions on the same article we already know about. The second point is that the writer, and I’m assuming he’s a Jackets fan, believes the trade offer to be “very fair” as it “fills one of their glaring needs”. Lastly, Portzline suggests that it’s unlikely Howson would give up such a high draft pick for “one year of Kaberle”, possibly hinting at the fact that Columbus would give it some serious thought if Tomas came with a multi-year contract extension. Food for thought.

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Whichever way you cut it, the Leafs endured a torrid season that no statistical tinkering can mend. Regardless, if there is one thing most opposing NHL fans can agree on it’s the increasing need for an overhaul in the leagues points’ structure and the farcical awarding of points in the overall standings.

Where once every game had two points at stake, either by means of two for the win or split after an OT tie, the inclusion of an extra point for teams losing in OT or, more prevalently, after the shootout, has spawned an lopsided points structure that favours teams and coaches who adopt an cautious approach toward the end of regulation time that is the polar opposite of what was originally intended.

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    The Playoffs are about to start and what better time than now for the CFB predictions. We highlight every series with individual writers giving their own opinion on why or how a particular team can win the series. This is the Round 1 Predictions for the Western Conference.

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    As you are no doubt well aware, the NHL draft lottery will be held tonight in New York to determine the order of the 14 non-playoff teams heading into the June 25-26 draft in Los Angeles. You can catch coverage of the lottery at 8pm on TSN.

    Update
    And the winner is … Edmonton.  Leafs fans, prepare yourselves to endure “Kessel Trade” debates for the better part of the next decade.

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      It’s that time of year again.  The most wonderful time of the year.  No, not Christmas, and no, you won’t see any of those silly Staples commercials.

      It’s time for the NHL playoffs.

      The annual spring tournament that features some of the most exciting hockey of the season.  It’s  triple overtime games that rage on long into the night, games so long that you’ll hope you saved some sick days.  It’s players skating through pain, all for the common goal of lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

      And the great fans of the NHL, well they have the best seat in the house.

      Around this time of year, especially the first round, marriages are postponed.  Assignments are left on desks unfinished.  Scheduled are cleared, or built around.  Kiss your wife or girlfriend, and tell her you’ll see her in a few months, a better person than when you last saw her.

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        The NHL has released the playoff schedule for the first round, along with the list of networks airing each series.

        Here are the start dates for Game 1 of each series, and the network airing each opening match.

        Full schedules for each series, including networks airing each game, are posted at NHL.com.

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        From USA Today - 3/1/2007:

        Anaheim Ducks general manager Brian Burke has always been among the NHL’s most colorful wheeler dealers. In 2005-06, he overhauled his team midseason and made a strong playoff run. Last summer, he made a major swap to land franchise defenseman Chris Pronger. Heading into Tuesday’s trade deadline, Burke hoped to make a major splash. He was able to make one deal, but he was unable to land one of the premium forwards. This is his diary of his efforts to make the major deadline deal:

        Wednesday, Feb. 7

        We’re interested in Peter Forsberg, but when Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren calls I tell him we aren’t trading (first-round pick) Bobby Ryan. We go through a package and I reject several names, including Corey Perry. I say, “No.” Homer and I are fishing buddies, and he jokingly says he wants to help us win the Stanley Cup by trading me Forsberg. I say, “We’re out,” and Homer says he wants me to stay in.

        Thursday, Feb. 8

        Homer and I talk again on Forsberg and this time he talks about Perry again. He tells me that he has a better offer on the table than Perry and a high pick. I say Perry isn’t going anywhere. We discuss multiple names to go with the high pick and they ask for specific players (Perry, Ilya Bryzgalov, Chris Kunitz). I like Homer and want him to succeed, but I’m thinking we would be better off looking at Todd Bertuzzi and the possibility of landing another defenseman. But (Florida GM/coach) Jacques Martin isn’t shopping Bertuzzi yet. We are looking at defensemen around the league who could end up being available —Brent Sopel, Brad Stuart and Sami Salo. But I think Vancouver is trying to re-sign Salo.

        Friday, Feb. 9

        I speak to Los Angeles about Sopel. Trying to trade is like playing musical chairs. You are always afraid you aren’t going to have a chair at the end. You worry that if you say no on one deal, you may not get any. Also, there is a “keeping up with the Joneses mentality,” particularly in the Western Conference. Players, coaches and fans want you to add. The allure of making the right trade draws you in. Remember last season when Edmonton was on the verge of missing the playoffs, made some deals, including getting goalie Dwayne Roloson, and they go to the Finals. It’s the most pressure you face all year, and it’s also the most fun you have.

        Saturday, Feb. 10

        Phoenix offered me Ladislav Nagy for a first-round pick. I call Doug MacLean about the possibility of acquiring Fredrik Modin. He says he’s trying to re-sign him. One of my problems in trying to make a deal is that I don’t have a first-round pick. I’m thinking I could move defenseman Shane O’Brien to get a first-round pick.

        Sunday, Feb. 11

        I think Tampa Bay’s (GM) Jay Feaster is interested in O’Brien. Homer calls and tells me that two teams are offering two first-round picks and a player for Forsberg, and another team is offering a first, second and another pick. To me, this is too rich for our blood. I think it’s too high of a price for a rental player.

        Tuesday, Feb. 13

        Feaster tells me he is interested only in hockey deals, not rentals. I have a long talk with St. Louis Blues President John Davidson about Keith Tkachuk. They want Bobby Ryan in a package.

        Wednesday, Feb. 14

        Officially turn down the Blues. Vancouver GM Dave Non-is, my former assistant, tells me he is going to re-sign Salo. New York Rangers GM Glen Sather tells me he’s not a seller, at least not yet.

        Thursday, Feb. 15

        Forsberg goes to Nashville. Homer was frustrated with me. He said I didn’t know the marketplace. But I have to give him a lot of credit. He really helped the Flyers with that deal. Tampa Bay offers goalie Gerald Coleman and a second for O’Brien. We want a first- round pick.

        Saturday, Feb. 17

        I talk to Florida assistant GM Randy Sexton about Todd Bertuzzi, and he tells me “the guy we like is Perry.” I offer him profanity. If you are offended by profanity, it’s difficult to make a trade in the NHL. If you are going to try to rob me, at least wear a mask. We talk to Philadelphia about Kyle Calder.

        Monday, Feb. 19

        At the general managers meetings in Naples, Fla., Feaster sweetened his offer to a first-round pick and Coleman and he wants a third to go with O’Brien. I call Sather to see if he can better that offer for O’Brien.

        Tuesday, Feb. 20

        Sather talks to me about O’Brien, and Pleau asks if I want to revisit the Tkachuk deal and make it bigger. We decide it’s not going to work, but we are interested in Bill Guerin. Sather tells me he’s got a good offer for Aaron Ward from another team.

        Wednesday, Feb. 21

        I call Montreal’s (GM) Bob Gainey and push him about whether he’s going to move any of his defensemen. Gainey says he’s unsure if he’s selling. Timing is beginning to be a problem. I decide to push on this, but I don’t get anywhere.

        Sunday, Feb. 25

        Tkachuk is finally traded to Atlanta for Glen Metropolit and first-, second- and third-round picks, plus another first-rounder if the Thrashers re-sign him. Davidson and GM Larry Pleau hit it out of the park on that one. We decide to trade O’Brien to Tampa Bay. We need the first-round pick to get into the card game. We felt comfortable making the deal because of the way Kent Huskins had played when he was called up. Oilers GM Kevin Lowe thinks he could have trouble re-signing Ryan Smyth. Would I be interested? He said he would want a “Tkachuk style package.” I say we can’t do it. Craig Rivet is traded to San Jose by Montreal, and I call and whine to Gainey about not calling me back and telling me he was available. He tells me that I was late to that party, and he had been talking to Doug Wilson for three weeks. Fair enough.

        Monday, Feb. 26

        Modin re-signs. While at a game in San Jose, I initiate a deal for Brad May via e-mail. I know him well and like his toughness.

        Tuesday, Feb. 27

        We were in on several trades. We offered a first and a fourth for Bill Guerin, but the Blues liked the Sharks’ deal better. (Los Angeles GM) Dean Lombardi talked to me about how Mattias Norstrom wanted to stay in southern California and I offered him a first-, second- and third-round pick, but I now believe he never intended to trade him to us. The Anaheim-Los Angeles rivalry is real. We looked at Bertuzzi, but the price was too high. I wanted to make a deal, but I stuck to draft picks. I told our younger players that I wouldn’t trade them and I kept my word. But I did get May. He’s a great character guy with a sunny disposition.

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          Has Garnet Exelby been dealt to the Los Angeles Kings? It's believed Toronto has acquired a 4th round pick for the defenceman. He was sat from the game for the entire third period, and there are reports that suggest Los Angeles has acquired him for depth going on their way to the post-season.

          Update: TSN is reporting no deal has been reached at this time.

          Micheal A. Aldred

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            I would first like state that I am addressing this rumor because it is, in fact, circulating around the league that Toronto is interested in the Atlanta Thrashers’ sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. Yes, this rumor did come to light due to an Eklund blog, but no, it is not fake. In fact, every team in the league would love to get their hands on Kovalchuk. So there you have it, the rumor is true, but it was an easy one to pinpoint by Eklund because every single team in the league understands that Kovalchuk is available, and every single team in the league would love to have him on their powerplay. It’s as simple as that. Now to the non-obvious part.