The Toronto Maple Leafs are set to visit the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at the Consol Energy Arena. The Penguins have yet to win at home this season and get another opportunity to erase that stat tonight against a Leafs team that is hoping to remain undefeated. Jonas Gustavsson will get his first start between the pipes according to Sportsnet.
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.
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.
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.
The second half of the season is underway, and the Maple Leafs continue to struggle. Naturally, speculation has begun to shift to what can be done to improve the roster, and which buyers on the market may have interest in what the Leafs have to offer.
Â Jeff Finger’s name may be rampant with tireless innuendo, but few Leafs fans were laughing when interim GM Cliff Fletcher tied the unknown, but apparently much coveted Colorado Avalanche defenseman to a four year, $14 million contract in the summer of 2008.
Working out at $3.5 million a year, the ultra late developing Finger went from no name, to fifth highest earner on the blue ribbon Leafs payroll creating a maelstrom of discontent amongst fans that remains to this day.
From full term college player and three year AHL blue liner with only 94 games of (then) experience in the big leagues, Finger quickly became synonymousÂ as the â€œman with the contract,â€ reddening faces further still in the land of blue and white where the overpay became talk of free agency.
I’ve been trading a few emails of late with some “non-sources” (I want to be very clear about that) employed by various media outlets in the Toronto area, to get their take on the rapidly-churning Maple Leafs’ rumour mill.
Although these folks are obviously not directly tied to anyone you would call a “source” affiliated with a team, their insight is often valuable as they are privy to more of the backroom chatter with those who are connected to the so-called “sources”.
Phew. Finally a chance to catch our breath after what was perhaps the best 2nd round of playoff hockey ever played. We were treated to three 7 game series, 9 overtime periods, and an epic showdown between the league’s premier young rivals, Crosby and Ovechkin. Perhaps overshadowed by all the intensity and exciting finishes, is a fairly simple underlying theme: Youth.
While the majority of Leafs fans wrote the team off in the summer, it wasnâ€™t until the New Year that the teams first true season of rebuilding began the inevitable grind into early year golf tournaments.
The trade went down earlier today and involves a prospect and a shooter from the Ducks.
To Pittsburgh: Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi
To Anaheim: Ryan Whitney