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Just a month ago, the Chicago Blackhawks were the envy of the National Hockey League. Â Having finished off the Philadelphia Flyers in six games courtesy of a Patrick Kane overtime goal, the Hawks had climbed to the top of the mountain, and had risen out of what could once have been considered obscurity years earlier, to build a winning team, and break the Stanley Cup drought that loomed over the franchise for so long.
And while many general managers stood in jealousy and envy of Stan Bowman and his management team for the feat they had just accomplished, not one GM was going to envying Bowman in the days following.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, winning the Stanley Cup came at a price, and it was rather large.
Since they won the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks have made many moves, tearing down their roster that brought them their once elusive championship. Â Fan favourites were shipped out in favour of draft picks and younger players, on cheaper contracts.
One of those trades involved Kris Versteeg, a trade Brian Burke was all too happy to accommodate.
According to the Toronto Maple Leafs official Twitter feed, the club announced today the signing of free agent defenseman Brett Lebda to a two-year deal worth $1.45 million per season.
Lebda spent the last five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings after the organization signed him as a free agent in 2004, picking up a Stanley Cup ring in during his stay in ’08.
Lebda’s career high in points is 18. Â He had 16 two years ago, but saw his total fall to just 8 points last year, though he did only play 63 games due to a back injury.
Lebda has great pace and puck-rushing ability, though his point-total doesn’t necessarily reflect that.Â The Buffalo Native is thick for his height at 195 pounds, but is a bit undersized at 5’9. He does play a game bigger than his frame would suggest. $1.45 million seems a tad pricey, but hopes will be that Lebda will be able to improve production on a Leafs blueline that doesn’t have the type of elite offensive weapons from the blueline like Detroit had in Brian Rafalski and Nik Lidstrom (this providing Kaberle is dealt, and no doubt this seems like a poor-man’s replacement).
Even with news breaking this afternoon of Ilya Kovalchuk’s new $60 million contract extension (potentially) with the New Jersey Devils, this 2010 free agency period has been one of the most uneventful and slow-developing offseasons in recent memory. The reason being? Despite a mediocre at best free agent group, there simply isn’t enough money to pay these guys what they’re probably worth. As one unnamed NHL General Manager put it last week: “The teams with cap don’t have cash and the teams with cash don’t have cap”. The Maple Leafs however, are fortunate enough to have both, and have the opportunity to exploit the market to their advantage.
As much of the league takes a post-draft/free agent frenzy breather for the Canada Day and July 4th long weekend, I figure I’ll spark some discussion with a bit of educated speculation. In talking to a source over the past week it’s been suggested to me that Brian Burke has a Â deal or two on the table for scoring help involving a Leaf asset he’s struggling with the idea of parting with. It’s said at this time Burke is hoping desperation on the part of the involved GMs reduces the price on a few top six trade options as the off-season continues.
Okay, so my math may be a little off. Â It’s Canada Day weekend, there shouldn’t be any arithmetic. Â Unless, of course, you are an NHL general manager, than you better hope you have your math hat on. Â A quick note to say I hope our fellow Canadian readers, as well as our loyal readers situated the south had an enjoyable holiday weekend.
Now, let’s divulge into what has so far been a somewhat reserved free agency period, One timer style.
–The big news coming out of free agency this hour is this report out of the L.A. Times that indicate the Los Angeles Kings are quite far apart on signing Ilya Kovalchuk. While they may not be out of the running entirely, Helene Elliott suggests the prospects are quite dim. Â So where does Kovalchuk go? Â The Islanders reportedly seem to be the only team willing to offer him the term he is looking for (rumoured to be 10 million for at least 10 years) but are there other suitors? Â What about New Jersey? Â Toronto? Â One would think that although Burke would love to pull off the major move of free agency, the reasons Kings GM Dean Lombardi is balking about bringing in Kovy (term) is likely the same reasons Burkie has reservations.
The two greatest military tacticians of the past 5000 years â€“ Sun Tzu and Sgt. Slaughter â€“ both spoke on the value of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your enemies in the field.Â To effectively assess the situational realities of the Toronto Maple Leafs it pays to look at the status of their direct competition within the Northeast division.Â Playing 24 games against teams from their own division, pride, points and position are all on the line.Â While by no means comprehensive (as yet), take a gander at the past 3 weeks of moves.
The Canadians, Senators, Bruins and Sabres all earned playoff positions last season.Â A successful, playoff calibre Leafs squad must commit themselves to dominating these frequent opponents as more than a quarter of the season will be played against them.
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.
Somewhat surprisingly, there has been a fair amount of debate over yesterday’s signing of Colby Armstrong.
I find this interesting becauseÂ much of the criticism seems to revolve around the notion of $3m equating to more than a 15 goal career average, even though Armstrong wasn’t exactly acquired for his offensive prowess.Â Â The main criticism seems to be, why would the team be willing to make a $9 million investment over 3 years, when similar production can likely be found at a cheaper rate?
Now, it seems most decided to stop at that point and take the easy road; that being negativity for the sake of negativity (a known idiosyncrasy of Canadian hockey fans).Â But instead of screaming “WHY did they sign him?”, I propose a different question:Â Why DID they sign him?
Flyers officially kick off July 1st festivities by acquiring Andrej Mezaros from the Lightning in exchange for a 2nd round pick. Rumors of Boston centre Marc Savard potentially heading out west to Calgary as well.
As for the Maple Leafs, they will have $10.5 million in cap space to play with today, though that figure does not include the possible removal of Kaberle’s $4.25 million via trade or Finger’s $3.5 million as a potential waiver candidate.
The Leafs have been linked to defenseman Dan Hamhuis, forwards Raffi Torres and Colby Armstrong, and will also kick the tires on sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. Darren Dreger believes the club will look at adding a 3rd line forward along with a defenseman to “stockpile for later deals”. Stay tuned to this blog for updates on signings throughout the day.
Trades are never won or lost when initially made, and tonight’s multi-player deal with Chicago is the very embodiment of that fact. Analyzing a deal that sent Kris Versteeg and Bill Sweatt to Toronto for Viktor Stalberg, Phillippe Paradis and Chris Didomenico involves a lot of subjective potential measurement. Â Making the task more difficult is that two teams often come together to execute a trade for very different reasons in a salary cap era.
It appears as though Leafs’ fans will have to put the thought of pending-UFA defenseman Mike Van Ryn returning to the Maple Leafs on hold, as reports suggest he will remain on the sidelines for another season.
Last season Van Ryn underwent an osteotomy, a complicated surgery to re-align the knee, as an alternative to a total knee replacement. He spent the entire season rehabilitating the knee with the hopes of playing in 2010-11, but it appears as though the recovery process will take him well beyond that target date.
For Greg McKegg, nothing has necessarily come easy in his hockey career. Â 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. Â 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. Â Work hard.
Brian Burke must have felt a lot like the eponymous Old Mother Hubbard when he first reached into the Leafs prospects cupboard. Of course, unlike the elderly dog-mistreating crone of the rhyme, Burke already knew what lay in stock prior to his arrival in Leafs country. In short: a few notable exceptions to a decade of draft property mismanagement.
Subsequently, the draft of 2009 looked to be a vital cornerstone in Brian Burkeâ€™s rebuild. The first chance for the Leafs to restock in a new, finally directed era.
It’s been a hot topic, and a touchy one at that for the better part of almost a year, since the day the trade was consummated. Â The Toronto Maple Leafs, toward the end of the pre-season, announced that they had traded two firsts and a second round pick to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Phil Kessel, a young American born sniper who the B’s were having issues resigning.
It was a steep price to pay, but you have to give to receive, and in Kessel the Leafs got a bona fide goal scorer who looks like he could be a perennial 30 goal scorer (more on that later.)
And yet some people have cast Kessel to fail, no matter what impact he has on the Leafs, attaching him forever to the trade that brought him here.
This past week, Bill Watters took that to the extreme, and took a piece of integrity written journalism and turned into something sensational and downright wrong, all in the name of making Phil Kessel look as bad as possible because he doesn’t agree with the trade.
It was a quiet Day One at the 2010 NHL Draft for the Maple Leafs, but the team stepped up its game in a big way on Saturday afternoon. The club wheeled and dealed its way into the 2nd round of the draft and through some crafty maneuvering in the later rounds, managed to add seven new players into the organization.
The Leafs were able to significantly upgrade their depth up front, by grabbing six forwards to go with one defenseman. Surprisingly, Leafs’ Swedish scout Thommie Bergman had a big day, selecting three players from the Swedish leagues.
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.
It may seem uncharacteristic of Â Brian Burke, historically a headline maker at the Entry Draft, to sit essentially idle on the hockey world’s biggest stage. Important to remember is that the big man can be patient when he needs to be. The Anaheim and Calgary deals of last February, when Burke waited until certain pressure points reached a head, were both examples of Burke’s willingness to sit back until the time was right to pull the trigger – despite all the temptations to hit the panic button as his team sat in the Eastern Conference basement with no first round pick to look forward to.
Next up, Viktor Stalberg by PPP:
The Summary: Viktor Stalberg made a big splash in the pre-season as heÂ led the NHL with 6 goals in 8 games. Then came game number three of the season andÂ the player known as the A-Train. AfterÂ Anton Volchenkov‘s hit Stalberg began a steep decline that led him to the AHL for 39 games. He returned in December but his impact was minimal until he found a bit of chemistry with his fellow Frat PackersTyler Bozak andÂ Christian Hanson. It was enough to make someÂ wonder if there was any hope to marry his exceptional speed with a more physical game.
Weâ€™ve partnered up with Pension Plan Puppets to bring to you a Player Review series, where we will be evaluating and grading the 2009-10 season for every Leaf who featured in a significant number of games for the Blue and White last season, with an eye towards 2010-11. Next up we feature Luke Schenn, profiled by Skinny Fish:
Luke signed a Maple Leafs Annual and I'm boasting about it.
“The Summary: People will point to the Calder worthy performance ofÂ Tyler Myers, or the Norris worthy performance ofÂ Drew Doughty and then say that Schenn had a terrible season; a sophomore slump if you will. Those people are dead wrong. Doughty is among the elite of the elite defensemen in the game, and Tyler Myers benefited from being on aÂ Sabres team with terrible defense while playing in front of the game’s best goal inÂ Ryan Miller. Schenn, on the other hand, played on a team with proven veteran defensemen like Beauchemin, Phaneuf, and Kaberle. Another thing to note is that Schenn was never touted as a point producing blue liner; his game is out of a shut down style of play against tough competition. Myers led his team with nearly 3 minutes of PP time a game; Schenn averaged 14 seconds.
Now, I for one dislike the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” debate when it comes to the National Hockey League Hockey Hall Of Fame. Â After all, I think it somewhat demeans and disregards the accomplishments of those who are selected, and that simply isn’t right.
No one knows better than I do how much Dino Ciccarelli deserves the call to the Hall. Â I have been telling more or less anyone who will listen for a number of years that I thought he belonged. Â I couldn’t be happier for Â Angela James and Cammi Granato, the first female players to be enshrined. Â And Jim Devellano and Daryl “Doc” Seamen are both incredibly intelligent men who deserve their spot along hockey’s greatest.
But as a Leafs fan, it’s hard not to feel selfishly snubbed once again. Â With yesterday’s vote for the Hall of Fame here and gone for another year, the only thing I could think of wasn’t what was, but what could have been.
And what could have been would have been really special.
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