Cox: Maple Leafs have big moves in mind
Over the next two weeks, the Maple Leafs hope to enhance their roster substantially, thus increasing the chances the club’s absence from post-season play will be halted at a rather ugly seven years.
See, that’s one way to get people to stop talking about the club’s 43-year Stanley Cup drought. Start a new sub-drought of even more dubious distinction.
Not surprisingly, given that he has signed all kinds of free agents over the past 16 months and made the two of the NHL’s biggest trades of last season to bring Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf into the fold, president/GM Brian Burke has some extensive hopes and dreams for the next two weeks, a fortnight bisected by the NHL entry draft next Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles.
The draft, of course, opens the Tomas Kaberle trade window. But it would be a mistake to say that a Kaberle trade is all that occupies the Leaf front office.
Unofficially, it’s believed the Leafs have targeted a least three players, and the potential acquisition of some or all of that trio are intertwined with Kaberle’s future.
For starters, Nashville defenceman Dan Hamhuis is a player headed for free agency who the Leafs would very much like to sign.
Second, with everyone in hockey well aware that the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks are going to have to make some difficult roster decisions to get their salary cap situation in order for next season, the Leafs are one of a number of teams eyeballing forward Patrick Sharp .
Finally, there’s Florida winger Nathan Horton , a player who most believe will be wearing a different uniform next season. Horton , a former 30-goal scorer whose production has progressively deteriorated over the first three years of his six-year, $24 million deal, has a no-trade clause that kicks in July 1 and is likely the critical issue hastening his way out of south Florida.
Out of the three players that particularly interest the Leafs, the 27-year-old Hamhuis would be the name that surprises some. Annually, it seems, there’s this belief that the Leafs have enough or even too many defencemen, a belief at odds with the club’s absurdly bad defensive record the past two seasons.
More to the point, while the Leafs might like it if there were top forwards available via free agency, pickings are slim, and smart clubs look to add assets even if they don’t necessarily address key needs. Hamhuis is a stay-at-home blueliner used to playing upwards of 20 minutes per game and would give the Leafs flexibility to move Kaberle or even other defencemen they already own.