Let me start by saying what a great trade Burke made this week, I will miss Bauchemin and wish it had been Komisarek to go…but either way Burke did the right thing here. Lupul is a great goal scorer and the defensive prospect is an exciting future chip. The only problem with Lupul is that like Kessel, he really needs a centerman who can dish the puck to him. His only real bad season was in Edmonton where exactly that took place, he didn’t have a guy who could really make those big plays to set him up.
If the Leafs can land a good playmaking center before the deadline they will suddenly have a very competitive team with three good scoring lines and when Orr and Brown get back the fourth line will be tremendous as well. I have every reason to believe that this Leafs team could make the playoffs if they can solve the problem at center ice. I believed from Day 1 this year that this Leaf team had the talent level, I think what happened was that it took a while for the young players to gell together and win on the NHL level.
Ideally the best man the Leafs could hope to get is at center is Brad Richards, the Stars cannot likely resign him this summer. However they are third in the west and I doubt they will deal him unless the return is huge. So the Leafs would be better off to wait till July 1st to pick up Richards, who will be the best thing on the market this summer.
In the short term I think that Toronto could capitalize on the downfall of the Ottawa Senators and possibly grab Jason Spezza, it would unload salary for Ottawa and help them rebuild as he is the best asset they have. This appears to have been a controversial idea when I floated it on MapleLeafs.com this morning, however I can’t see why they shouldn’t make a move for a young guy with Spezza’s talent level. He has had 5 seasons where he nearly landed 100 points, he is in a down season now but Brad Richards went through a lull not too long ago but is back on track. This sometimes happens to guys who get injured, they lose their way until the body really recovers from the shock of injury.
Ottawa’s goaltending situation has never been great, they’ve had guys who’ve had good seasons over the 20 year history of the team…but they’ve never had a goaltender who could get the job done for long periods of time. The emergence of James Reimer for Toronto has suddenly allowed for one of their goaltending prospects to get dealt in either Scrivens or Rynnas, both of them could be NHL goalies and good ones at that.
It’s the sort of dilemna the Canadiens had last summer when they decided to make Carey Price the number 1 guy, they had already parted with Huet, Theodore and Halak before getting to this point. The Leafs can afford to act now and trade one of these goalies in, this won’t be like the time they traded their top goaltending prospect for Andrew Raycroft to the rage of Leafs faithfulls. But what softens the blow these days is that Tim Thomas is back being the number 1 guy in Boston and no one is talking about Tuuku Rask and his five wins this year anymore. The most important reason the Leafs need to make the playoffs this year is so that Boston does not get to draft high this year again in the Phil Kessel deal.
A lot of people were mad that we lost out on Seguin and got Kessel instead, but so far I am not convinced that Boston got the better end of the deal…especially if they Leafs are able to land somewhere closer to 15th at the draft. Some of the pain of us losing Seguin to the Bruins has to be traced back to resentments from losing out on Rask and the baffling character that is Andrew Raycroft failing to do the job here on every level.
The Leafs could even sweeten the deal for Spezza by throwing in someone like Carl Gunnarson to the Sens who would then be dumping salary and getting younger at the same time. The Leafs don’t need to get younger anymore, they’ve done that work…now they need to finish the job and ice a contending team. If the Leafs could steal Spezza now they might make the playoffs, but on top of that it would tempt Brad Richards just that much more to have a reason to sign with Toronto…he would be joining a team that could contend under these circumstances. The main blogger on MapleLeafs.com Mike Ulmer wrote recently that the Leafs were only 4 players away from being a contender. Now with Lupul and Aullie in the fold they could make it happen with Richards and Spezza and be able to afford it once they shed Giguere’s expensive contract.
There is speculation floating around the JS Giguere might be of interest to playoff bound teams. However of all the teams currently in the playoff fold all of their starting goaltenders have better numbers than Giguere has had this season. I actually said last week that maybe the Ducks would want JS back seeing as Jonas Hiller has been hurt and his numbers are comparable to Giguere’s. Maybe Giguere would have had better numbers if he hadn’t been injured twice this year and if the Leafs had gelled quicker defensively. Moving JS might be hard to do at the price he costs and I can’t see any takers on Gustavson right now.
I thought it was funny when Bauchemin was traded that I was right in thinking that the Ducks would want one of their players back, I just had the wrong one figured. If this were the JFJ or Pat Quinn era we would have aquired Selanne instead of Lupul, a draft pick and Jake Gardiner. That’s how far the mentality change has come in the front office, if you think I am crazy just remember trades like Ron Francis, Doug Gilmour and Brian Leetch who all retired as Leafs after we paid waaay too much for them and sacrificed our future for a short term gain that never gained.
Alright, let’s talk about Kaberle. The only reason the Leafs should let go of Kaberle now is if he does not want to resign in Toronto for the same price as before or even slightly less. I think Kaberle does things that most other defencemen cannot do, he wants to be in Toronto and he provides a link to this team to other great Leafs teams of the past. It’s nice to see that we still have a recognizeable face on the team from the last time they made the playoffs…it’s just not nice how long that face has been smiling without having another chance to skate in a playoff atmosphere.
I don’t think Kaberle would fetch enough return for what he is actually worth. The defence corps is strong, they didn’t look so great in the past when they had terrible goaltending behind them…but you really see them tightening up lately, especially in front of the level headed James Reimer. Keith Aullie is going to be a great peice moving forward, Phaneuf’s game is coming back, Luke Schenn is becoming exactly what he was touted he would be…and even Komisarek is not a lost cause yet. Kaberle just has something none of those guys have and I hope he retires as a Leaf.
I think that it would also be a mistake to let Versteeg go, he fits in with the teams vision of the future as he is young but already plays the role of veteran…afterall, he won a Stanley Cup last year. The guy does everything you need, kills penatlies, scores, plays the point on PP and is versatile all over the ice. If the Leafs upgrade at center once or twice they will have an extremely balanced attack keeping Versteeg, Bozak and Armstrong together. I really like Armstrong as well, he’s a character player who brings a lot to the team and ought to be kept a Leaf for a long time to come.
I could imagine a team next year with MacArthur, Lupul and Richards on one line. Spezza, Kessel and Kulemin on the second. Grabovski, Armstrong and Versteeg on the third line and Bozak, Brown and Orr on the fourth. Anything could happen between now and then. The main thing is Burke should do whatever it takes to fire a trade that would get a top six center now and get this team into the playoffs. The morale boost it would have for Leafs fans would be worth the loss of a few prospects, it would galvenise this team and show them a valuable lesson in winning. These kids had the talent all along, they just needed to learn how to win. Now they are figuring it out, it’s not as easy as they might have thought it was after starting the season with four straight wins…but it’s actually a lot easier than they think it is. I like a lot of the players Burke has gone after, I think the man is a genius and we’re very lucky to have this guy in charge.
So now that I kissed your butt Brian…take a look at the blogs on MapleLeafs.com, read what I wrote and at least consider it…and if Nonis has a car accident maybe consider hiring me. I will work for peanuts!