MLHS Roundtable Discussion #1!


    Sorry for the delay guys.  We greatly appreciate the flood of great questions and comments, and are sorry to say we couldn’t get to them all. We’ve all been pretty busy lately for a variety of reasons, so without any further ado, let’s get started on the 1st ever Maple Leafs HotStove Hockey Panel Discussion.

    Forming our panel for this session is Alec Brownscombe of Hockeybuzz and MLHS godfather, Gus Katsaros of Mckeen’s and MLHS fantasy expert, and myself, Alex Tran, an MLHS blogger.

    Millar1987 asks, “Do you believe, that the next Leafs Captain, is on their roster, TODAY?”
    AB: Absolutely, providing Luke Schenn is still on the roster as of the date this is posted. The three-pronged alternative system is fine for now and should continue to be the arrangement until a bona fide captain emerges. There’s clearly no one on the current roster deserving of the “C” and considering the fact that the Leafs‘ captain role carries with it quite a bit of sentimental merit, the club should avoid appointing a transient captain. From 1986-1989, when the Leafs were a recovering team lacking in veteran presence, Harold Ballard’s Leafs went without a captain for three seasons. It’s been done before and it seems appropriate again.

    GK: It can’t be Joseph.  He’s too old.  It can’t be Toskala, especially if he’s being pulled in favor of the old man in shootouts.  There may not be a current season Leafs captain ready to be named, but there is one that is being groomed.  Luke, freakin’ Schenn. 

    AT: Considering the amount of history and tradition associated with the Maple Leafs, I don’t see them appointing a captain who may be traded by February (see Mayers). Of the veterans, the most likely seems to be Pavel Kubina, as exhibits great leadership on and off the ice. He’s one of the few Leafs who knows what it feels like to have been successful and commands plenty of respect. But since the moment his name was announced at the podium in Ottawa, you just knew that Luke Schenn will likely be that someone whom management feels can represent the face of the franchise for a long time. Personally, I think this is something that can happen sooner rather than later. Pittsburgh made a 19 year old Sidney Crosby the youngest captain in league history, so I don’t think it would be completely far fetched to see Luke Schenn inherit the “C” by about age 20 or 21.”
    Goldenleafs asks, “who’s our next GM?”. On a related note, Vesku35 (Bryan from Sudbury) asks, “What are each of your positions on Brian Burke as a potential GM?”
    AB: Many of you already know my stance on Burke as a GM – I feel his Stanley Cup ring was largely the result of being in the right place at the right time. He did put the final touches on the Stanley Cup winning roster, but I feel – perhaps outside of the Chris Pronger acquisition, for which he should be lauded for his risk-taking (but still not a masterstroke, just a risk that paid dividends) – that the nucleus (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Sammy Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, Andy McDonald and of course, J-S Giguere) was mostly already established. The Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer additions were pretty much gifted to him, seeing as how Selanne was only interested in playing in Anaheim and Niedermayer was willing to take a paycut to play alongside his brother, Rob.
    That being said, since the Cup win he’s been able to lock down his long-term core, at the cost of Ilya Bryzgalov, Andy McDonald and Mathieu Schneider.
    He is a viable candidate, but not the messiah the Toronto media likes to paint him as. One of Burke’s most attractive characteristics is his ability to handle overzealous media, but as I mentioned in my latest blog on the topic, the need for Burke’s take-no-shit demeanor seems to be less of a necessity now that Ron Wilson is behind the bench, a man who’s both surly and truculent in his own right. Unfortunately, the writing seems to be on the wall and a Burke take-over is seemingly only a matter of time.
    Personally, I don’t think we need a GM with that big name luster necessarily. I think David Poile is the best option in terms of finding a GM with a proven track record at the draft table as well as one that’s versed in the salary cap landscape.
    GK: I think that Burke fits into the same mold as Wilson, someon who is able to step up and keep the negative media in Toronto in check. His personality is the complete opposite of JFJ, where the latter was very aware of his words, Burke isn’t gun shy to tell someone to f*** off. I don’t believe he is an ‘overrated’ GM, but don’t think he’s a saviour. The reality in this situation – i.e. rebuild/retool, is that the entire organization has to play a part in it, from the GM to the scouts, to the minor league developmental system. Burke’s role at the top will be to make the ultimate decision, but really, the scouts and Director of Amateur Scouting (Dave Morrison) will further the prospect search and drafting. Burke may call the name, but his scouting staff will have put together the list. In the meantime, through his relationships and contacts throughout the NHL and hockey world, Burke will be responsible for adding other important pieces through trades or UFA signings. On ‘who the next GM will be….Burke .. but he’s only keeping the chair warm for me to step in later 😉
    AT: Brian Burke? OVERRATED. Great media guy and would certainly be good for a quality sound bite every now and then, but his ability to put together a quality long-term core is questionable. Poor drafting, with only 2nd overall pick Bobby Ryan as a legitimate blue-chip prospect. Not a good sign for a future GM of a rebuilding team. Poor cap management and questionable judge of talent. Next GM? Probably Brian Burke. If Anaheim stumbles this season and Toronto decides to consider alternatives, 3 lesser known current GM’s who may be interested: Carolina’s Rutherford, Minny’s Riesborough or Nashville’s Poile. I think the most likely and best choice would be local boy David Poile. Fletcher was like a mentor to David in Calgary and the two have grown very close. I believe Poile’s contract is up at the end of the season, and he’s done a great job of building and sustaining a competitive young team. Nashville lost Kariya, Vokoun, Radulov, Timmonen, Hartnell among others due to cap trouble, a problem he likely wouldn’t be facing in Toronto. Even then, Nashville still boasts an excellent core of young players (Weber, Suter, Legwand, Erat, Hamhuis Ellis, Radulov if he had stayed), deep farm system (Wilson, Pickard, Franson, Hornqvist, Klein, Blum) and shrewd free agent signings (Dumont). A+ in my book.
    Burns asks, “Where do you think the Leafs finish this year?”
    AB: This is tough. I believe the Leafs will be in the 9-12th region of the East come trade deadline. There have been both tangible and intangible signs that Ron Wilson’s system is successfully taking effect. However, providing the Leafs aren’t in that 8th place position (which I don’t think they will be) nor within touching distance of 8th place, Fletcher will spark the fire sale he couldn’t really perform last deadline for obvious reasons. That will initiate a drop into the depths of the East and possibily a top 5 pick. 
    GK: Bottom five. They are playing well, instilling a system but will come across difficult opposition on a nightly basis. I don’t believe that they are a ‘dead last’ club, but hardly a playoff contender either. They will finish higher than the Islander, Thrashers and possibly LA and Florida, but not likely anywhere over a bottom 5 finish. Considering the depth of the 2009 draft class, any top 10 pick – bottom 10 finish – would be fine.
    AT: Most likely bottom five by the trade deadline and possibly bottom three by season’s end. Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York (I) are the only three teams with less talent on their rosters than the Leafs. Teams like Columbus, Phoenix and Chicago have taken big strides to improve their roster and add ting hat to the continued development of their young players gives you pretty good teams. Tampa currently stinks, but the way they’ve assembled their roster leads me to believe that they won’t mail it in and gear for a high pick. Like Philly and Anaheim, if they continue to struggle, expect a move to improve the present roster. If Toskala, Kaberle/Kubina, and Antropov are traded at the deadline, this team will drop like a rock. But as Wilson has said many times, measuring success for this season does not include wins and losses.
    The King asks, “With Cliff saying in the newspapers today that his phone is open to all GM’s to call with trade proposals and he wants young blue chip prospects back and is will to include picks , who are the best “Blue Chip ” prospects out there that you would look at?”
    AB: I agree with Gus here, this point may be moot. But I will say this, Jordan Staal is a player that’s been swallowed up in the center ice depth in Pittsburgh and is just waiting for top line opportunity to realize his true potential. He seems gettable as he’s pending a contract on a team that’s in-tight cap-wise. As the Leafs’ first round pick is likely to be of top 5 value, the first rounder would be off limits in a potential Staal deal. I have a feeling that Pittsburgh still has interest in Tomas Kaberle, who seems as expendable as ever in my eyes.
    GK: I think that this is a moot point, since there are very little assets on the Leafs that could warrant top end prospect talent coming back the other way. With the economics of the NHL, blue chip prospects are now playing and developing on their respective clubs. Likely for deals are those teams that needs a boost for a playoff run, or to simply make the playoffs. But it’s not up to the Leafs to target the blue chip prospects, it’s up to the phone to ring the other way come a point of desperation – or deadline – and offer their best young players, and a pick. The best prospect at the moment is a 1st round pick. The fact that Fletcher is ‘willing’ to include a pick in a deal is disturbing.
    Trade deadline seems to be on everyone’s mind:
    Shane asks, “What kind of return do you think the leafs could land by trading Kaberle and Toskala, also throw Antropov into the mix.”
    AB: Of those three, only Kaberle seems a likely trade candidate during the course of the season. While Fletcher will likely embark on a “fire sale” of sorts at the deadline, that’s not likely to include Toskala, unless Pogge is absolutely tearing it up in the minors all season. While the goaltender market is tough to define in this league, he seems the most valuable asset that the Leafs own. I would imagine he’ll be shopped next draft day, but Fletcher likely realizes that a club of youngsters needs to at least be given a fighting chance every game night and Toskala provides that opportunity. Fletcher has made it clear in both words and in action that Antropov is a part of this team going forward. He was one of few players of value that was unprotected and Fletcher opted not to move him despite a few offers. Antropov has proven himself as the real deal thus far and not just the product of Mats Sundin’s luminosity. I don’t think his value is as high as many think despite last season’s hike in production – most teams remain hesitant to break the bank on a relatively mysterious asset who’s been slow to establish himself due to worrisome knee injuries. Considering he’s the lone legitimate top six forward on the club, he’s not under take-whatever-you-can-get status. As for Kaberle, I believe the first round pick and young roster player is still the return there and I believe Fletcher will indeed pursue that come the deadline, if not earlier.
    GK: Kaberle was allegedly worth Jeff Carter and 1st round pick, and I don’t think that his value is as high any longer.  His $4.25 million contract for the next two years increases his value however in a market where Jeff Finger is making $3.5 and Brian Campbell $7.14.  GM’s would line up around the door for a chance to land Kaberle.  Toskala has similar value although a 1st round pick should be the minimum price and up.  A tough goaltending market makes that steep, but Toronto doesn’t necessarily have to trade him, yet.  Nik Antropov has a 2nd round pick value, especially with $2.05 million deal expires.  If you’re a GM at the trade deadline, is Nik Antropov going to be the piece of the puzzle to bring a Cup home?  I think Toronto missed their window to trade him at inflated value. 
    AT: I’d imagine of those 3 players, Kaberle will likely be the most expendable come trade deadline. I’d imagine a good young NHL ready forward along with a 1st round pick is the starting point. If Pogge is having a strong season come trade deadline time, they may choose to move forward without Toskala as well. This could be a bit of an enigma, considering that quality goaltenders like Bryzgalov and Huet went for almost nothing or nothing last year. Cliff could shop Toskala around looking for a 1st round pick, but if he doesn’t get it, he’ll probably hold off until the offseason where a team like Los Angeles may be interested at the draft. As for Antropov, I’m having a tough time deciphering whether or not Cliff legitimately has Big Nik in his long-term plans. He mentioned at the last trade deadline that Antropov was going to be a big piece of this team moving forward, despite many news outlets reporting serious interest among NHL clubs. Cliff then kept Nik into this season, and announced him to be their only true top 6 forward. If Antropov’s available, I’d imagine he could fetch a late 1st and perhaps a prospect if he’s healthy and productive up to that point. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to see them agree to terms with Nik on a new multi-year contract by that time, like they did with Tucker a few years ago. The right move? I don’t know.
    LTL asks, “Do you expect to run into similar problems moving NTC players this deadline as you encountered last year? Will the Leafs be active at the trade deadline?”
    AB: Reading between the lines, Tomas Kaberle will give the green light if (when) asked. Fletcher has a crucial bargaining chip in his back pocket when it comes to the Kaberle situation. He can ask Kaberle if he wants to submit a list of preferred destinations at the deadline instead of having no control over his destination come the off-season when his NTC is temporarily nullified (if the Leafs miss the post-season). In hindsight, I think Kubina wishes he did last March after witnessing the ensuing fall-out of his decision. An old hand like Fletcher knew what he was doing when he stridently voiced his displeasure for the noncompliance that took place last deadline. The question that remains is if Fletcher will move Kubina despite Wilson’s predilection for the player. Also, the Leafs do require some sort of veteran presence on the blue-line going forward.
    AT: With Philly right up to the cap, and in desperate need of a good puck-moving defenseman, I’d imagine that the possibility of reviving a possible Carter-Kaberle trade scenario. Pittsburgh is another team that could be looking for help either on the blueline or on the wing, and Jordin Staal is due to make big bucks soon. O’Sullivan is an interesting case, as there was some tension involved when he was negotiating a long-term contract. Same thing hapened with Cammalleri and a year later he was gone. Other young forwards that I’d target include Montreal’s Chris Higgins, Colorado’s Wojtek Wolski, Philly’s Claude Giroux, and Buffalo’s Drew Stafford. Lesser names include Washington’s Eric Fehr and Buffalo’s Clarke MacAthur.”
    GK: NTC shouldn’t come into play in the fashion it did last season, but it could affect GM negotiations.  “Hey, Tomas.  I got an offer from Columbus and Phoenix … where d’ya wanna go?”  NTC’s will be invoked to control destination.  I think Toronto should be very active at the deadline, but make meaningful deals and not for the sake of a transaction.  There should be purpose to deals, while due to the position the Leafs are in, every transaction has to involve a draft pick coming to Toronto.  They should be accumulating prospects and youth, stop trading picks and start accumulating, even later rounds.
    AT: Players with NTC’s would be Kaberle, Kubina, and Hagman (1 year). As I mentioned above, I think Toronto and Kaberle will come to a mutual agreement to part ways. Toronto has plenty of promising offensive defensemen and Kaberle will yield them a huge bounty to spur forward the rebuild. Kubina may be approached as well and I think he will probably agree to move, but I see Cliff and Ron being a lot more reluctant to part with him considering the fact that they’ve already had an opportunity to do so this summer. As for Hagman? He’s not going anywhere. He was granted that 1 year NTC because he wanted to make sure that he was not one of those sign-and-trade players on a rebuilding team. And considering how valuable he’s been to this team so far with his all-around contributions, there is no need to even approach him about such a possibility.
    Burn asks, “I want to know why Fletcher downgraded this draft class? Why did he say that none of the guys were franchise players?”
    TheOtherSide asks, “If the Leafs get the 3rd overall pick in next years draft, who do you think they should take?”
    AB: Cliff may well be looking into trading for a prime young asset as opposed to drafting one. He couldn’t ultimately pull off the Bobby Ryan deal, but his search for a home-run deal doesn’t end there and any potential blockbuster involving a young gun will more than likely also include the Leafs’ first rounder. That’s probably the reason why he downplayed the highly-anticipated 2009 draft class.
    Should the Leafs draft third overall this year, an early guess is that Fletcher will draft Brayden Schenn. He’s a Fletcher archetype. Brayden is expected to match the size of Luke once he’s fully filled out. If you combine that size with his offensive upside and his willingness to get his hands dirty, his potential as a power forward is frightening. Scouts will be looking for a 40 goal season from Brayden next year if he’s to go top 5.
    AT: Not too sure why Fletcher would say something like that, considering just how strong this class is hyped up to be. Perhaps he has the intention of moving that pick for a more established young player, and is starting to soften the blow to the fans and media by dropping hints beforehand. There was that well-publicized Bobby Ryan for the Leafs protected 1st, so that’s something to think about. Personally, I’d say this draft has at least two franchise players in Hedman and Tavares at the top. The next clump of Schenn, Cowen, Svensson, and Duchene are all phenomenal players as well. When you think about how many players from the ’08 class made their team in the 1st year, breaking an NHL record, I think the ’09 class will top that. As for the 3rd overall pick, I’d go with the most talented player likely still on the board and that would be Swedish phenom Magnus Svensson Pajaarvi. Electric talent, ridiculous offensive potential, and has really stood out well in international tournaments. That being said, Cliff or whoever is running the team at that time will be under a lot of pressure to select Luke’s brother, Brayden Schenn.
    Quite a few interesting topics covered there. You’ve heard what we think, now it’s your turn! Who’s bang on about what, or are we all off our respective rockers? Provide your two cents and let’s get some Leaf discussion going!
    Always a pleasure,
    Alex Tran
    P.S., on behalf of all the bloggers and admin here at MLHS, I’d like to say that you guys rule! We’ve recently just passed our two month anniversary, and were very excited to learn of the site’s huge increase in traffic so far after a big second month! Our goal is to make MLHS the #1 place to go for Leafs news and discussion, and we can’t do it without you guys! Thanks again!
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    Last thought: Go Leafs Go!