Speculation Running Amok


    It’s been widely reported the past few days that Leafs‘ GM Brian Burke is working on at least two trades in an effort to provide a much-needed shakeup to the team.

    Sifting through the vast amounts of information, misinformation, and fanboy longing, two teams keep getting repeated over and over … enough to raise at least one speculative eyebrow.


    The HNIC panel spent some time discussing the latest Chicago rumour on Saturday night, which has Chicago shopping defender Brent Sopel in an effort to clear some cap space to sign three core players (Toews, Kane, Keith) who are pending RFAs. The panel noted that the Leafs may be willing to help the Hawks out of their cap bind … for a price.

    Of course, what the panel did not mention was how exactly the Leafs would do that.  They do have roughly $1.600,000 of acquisition space on the cap (pro-rated values are a bit complicated, but that’s the rough number according to CapGeek.com).   Which makes a deal doable under the cap, but tight.  This is where talk of a second deal comes into play … I will get to that a little later on.

    A note on acquisition space:  contracts are often listed during the season at their full-season value, e.g. a player carres a $1.3m cap hit for the season.  Acquisition space is the calculation of the equivalent full-season value of a contract the team would be able to acquire at a given point in time.

    Let’s say, hypothetically, the Leafs were interested in Sopel. Anytime a player is being shopped, a good GM will take a look, right? Sopel carries a cap hit of $2.33m, and has one more year remaining on his deal. In order to sign their pending RFAs to contract extensions, the Hawks need to clear some space off of next season’s cap. Therefore, their interest would lie in acquiring either draft picks (which the Leafs do not have many to trade) or players on expiring contracts (the Leafs do have a few of those).

    Naturally, speculation surrounding this deal has focussed on Garnet Exelby. He is on an expiring contract, is less expensive ($1.3m) for this season than Sopel, and moving a defender for a defender would solve a roster space issue for both teams.   Further, the money would almost exactly work out (diff in contracts = appx $1 million, acquisition space = $1.6 m).

    And yes, the Leafs would get the draft pick out of the deal — the price for helping Chicago out of a jam — but how good of a pick can you realistically expect? History suggests a 4th rounder is the best they will get. That is what the Leafs got for taking contracts on from Tampa Bay at last year’s deadline, and (as an even better example) is what the Leafs paid to Florida to take Brian McCabe’s contract off their hands. To procure anything higher than a 4th out of a player-for-player deal for Sopel would be, quite simply, miraculous.

    UPDATE: TSN’s Darren Dreger reports (via Twitter) that the Hawks are offering Sopel + pick, or Sopel + prospect.

    So why do the deal, if it ultimately does little to help the team?

    Hence the other Chicago rumour, the one that won’t die. HNIC did their best the other week to refute the Hawks-Leafs rumour involving Brian Campbell, but spotters in Chicago continue to insist that it has legs. To be completely honest, I find this one very difficult to gauge given the amount of bias involved in both cities. In Chicago, the deal is getting pushed as real in large part because of the desire to get rid of Campbell’s onerous contract. In Toronto, the bias is strongly against the deal because people do not want to see the Leafs pick up that very contract.

    But let’s play the hypothesis game on this one, as we did for Sopel above, just for the heck of it. There have been several iterations of a possible Chi-Tor deal involving Campbell, some involving two players, some involving upwards of six. What is known is this:

    • Blackhawks would love to move Campbell’s contract
    • Blackhawks would prefer to replace him with a similar player
    • Blackhawks believe they can win this year or next & are thus willing to trade for shorter-term contracts
    • Leafs will need to figure out a way to sign Tomas Kaberle to an extension if they do not trade him
    • Leafs GM Burke has previously stated he would need to replace Kaberle if he traded him
    • Leafs will have plenty of cap space (appx $21m) freeing up this offseason
    • Leafs want to recoup draft picks wherever possible
    • Blackhawks are willing to move their 1st round pick if a good player is coming back in the deal

    And there you have the basis of a speculated deal that could work well for both sides.   Some iterations of the rumour are the basic Kaberle for Campbell + 1st variety, others are larger (e.g. Kaberle + Exelby for Campbell + 1st, Kaberle + Tlusty for Campbell + Byfuglian + 1st, etc), but all are centred around the basic premise of the teams swapping their respective #1 defenders, with Toronto receiving a high pick in return for picking up the extra contract value.

    Of course, before any of this could ever become a reality, the Leafs would have to figure out a way to free up, at a bare minimum, $1.3 million from this season’s cap ($2.9m contract difference – $1.600,000 available cap space), probably more if the deal is larger (or to provide some ‘buffer space’ under the cap).   Hence, once more, the talk of a secondary trade.

    Which brings us to …

    St. Louis

    Regular readers will note that St.Louis has long been speculated on this site as a trading partner for the Maple Leafs, and during the past week and a bit it was suggested in the comments for a couple of posts that the Blues could indeed be the “mystery team” involved in the second deal Burke is rumoured to be working on.   Earlier tonight, Eklund tweeted something similar about the Leafs and Blues talking, suggesting that people would be surprised who may be available in St. Louis.

    Continuing with the hypothesis game, if St. Louis does happen to be the second team as rumoured …

    … the question is, would the Blues take on a bit of salary if the players fit their need?   It’s possible — the Blues do have a fair bit of available cap space, and are in desperate need of a shake-up.   The question is, who might tweak their interest?

    Jeff Finger has long been rumoured to be of interest to the Blues (chiefly due to Jackman and Brewer always getting hurt), and they could quite easily absorb his contract.  But to give up anything of value the Blues would want picks (a no-go for Tor) or prospects (an option the Leafs would be interested in exploring, pending the possible return).    As for supposedly-available Blues’ players … well, let’s just say that T.J. Oshie, Erik Johnson, and Alex Pietrangelo are widely considered to be the only untouchables on the roster.

    So, is any of this to say that a deal is definitely in the works, or will even happen, between the Leafs and one or both of these teams?

    Absolutely not.

    This post is not a declaration of any specific deal being worked upon; rather, it is simply a ‘sorting-out’ of the talk surrounding the base rumour about Brian Burke working on two deals.    The bulk of the speculation has those teams as Chicago and St Louis, with no shortage of player names being bandied about.  Whether or not anything comes of it is, as in the case of most rumours, ultimately anybody’s guess.

    After all, talk is cheap and all the discussions in the world will continue to mean very little until an actual deal is signed on the dotted line.

    But you have got to admit, the possibilities sure are intriguing, aren’t they?

    Looking forward to your thoughts as always.

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