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Ryan Suter

The John Michael Liles buyout watch is officially over, for this year, anyway.

Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson are still RFAs, and the Leafs currently have just 4.9M in cap space to retain them both. While many have pointed out that Korbinian Holzer and Trevor Smith are accounted for on the Leafs capgeek roster even though neither figures to make the team, it also has to be said that the Leafs aren’t going to play with a roster holding the bare minimum of 12 forwards and six defensemen all year. Something has to give.

There are a few different ways things can turn out now.

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As the Toronto Maple Leafs skip along to their first playoff berth in eight seasons, Dion Phaneuf’s play is forcing his name to be included in discussion for the Norris Trophy.  The Norris is awarded annually to “the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” and that sure sounds like the play of the Leaf captain this season.

He plays a physical, two-way brand of hockey and sits fifth-best in league for defensemen scoring with eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points in 42 games.  He’s a leader on the ice, the best defender on the team by a mile and has joined forces with Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and James Reimer to drag the Leafs into contention.

But how does his performance this season stack up against performances past, and what greater truths can we find about the anatomy of a Norris Nominee?

PHOTO: Getty Images. PLAYERS: Probably won't be Leafs.

NHL Free Agency was, originally, to be a major component of the Brian Burke ‘rebuild’ model – or ‘retool,’ whatever you want to call it – when the Maple Leafs’ new GM arrived in Toronto. And despite perpetual inflation, it remains the surest and easiest avenue for a team to obtain top-quality players in their prime without sacrificing any organizational assets beyond cash. Factoring in the promises of a quick turnaround and transactions we shall not name, lest we incite debate involving high-end draft picks exchanged for promising young stars, free agency to the Brian Burke model becomes…well, not quite a necessity…but a really, really valuable step in getting the Toronto Maple Leafs back to the Stanley Cup finals as efficiently as possible.

One can’t exactly say it’s worked out nicely, thus far.

The problem, as Burke’s lamented, has been the distinct lack of premier free agents available. Teams have compensated for the league’s attempts to “liberalize” the market by locking up their talented players before they become UFAs.

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    Although the positives have been few and far between for the struggling Leafs so far this season, the continued progression of blueliner Ian White bodes well for the team both in the short and long term. With the likes of stay at home defenders such as Beachemin, Schenn, and Komisarek locked into the club’s core for the foreseeable future, the complementary puckmoving and point producing skills of White make him that much more valuable to Burke’s plan of building from the net out.

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      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.   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.

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        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.

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          fanIn a season where everyone either predicted or was warned the Leafs would place bottom 5 in the East, I’m a little surprised the team was booed by the club’s faithful fans in a tilt with the Nashville Predators.