Category Archives: Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leaf News and Rumors
By September, Rogers Communications Inc., and BCE Inc., will have closed their purchase of MLSE (the NHL governors put their rubber stamp on the deal this week). Assuming they keep the MLSE board at seven directors, five new ones will join chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Dale Lastman. Give one spot to the successor to now-retired MLSE president Richard Peddie and it would work out that Rogers and BCE would each name two directors.
By that time, if indeed they haven’t already, Tanenbaum and Lastman should be asking themselves and others they respect in the hockey and business worlds what they should do when Burke’s contract enters its final lap in the 2013-14 season. This may seem a tad premature (but not to the many Burke bashers in Leafs Nation) but it is only prudent with five new board colleagues coming in.
Burke, then, needs to make a solid impression with his new bosses this season. Fortunately for him, this does not mean taking a big swing in the usual vain hope (at least where his predecessors were concerned) of hitting a playoff home run. A lot of NHL types agree with former Leafs director of player personnel Rick Dudley, who said as he departed for the Montreal Canadiens that all the Leafs need to finally get on the right track is a reliable, veteran goaltender.
Thus the slow-motion chase for Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks. He is the best goaltender available in a slim market but Canucks GM Mike Gillis is keeping quiet about his asking price. Neither the Leafs nor the Florida Panthers, the only other team with more than a lukewarm interest in Luongo, have been able to get Gillis to say just what he wants. But some progress was reported by Thursday night.
Brian Burke is in a bit of a pickle.
He’ll be in Pittsburgh this weekend to participate in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft where teams hopefully add prospects to their puzzle. And the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager will no doubt attempt to do exactly that, but the draft will be his secondary concern.
Somehow managing to get experienced players to fill some of the holes on his roster will be his No. 1 priority.
That is why for the past few weeks you’ve heard more about Burke possibly acquiring veteran goaltender Roberto Luongo from the Vancouver Canucks and how he’ll be a player in the Rick Nash sweepstakes than what he’ll do with the No. 5 overall pick.
No player Burke chooses with that selection — should he not trade it — will come in and single-handedly lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs.
Burke’s reputation as one of the top GMs in the NHL has taken a hit since he engineered his escape from Anaheim to join the Maple Leafs on Nov. 29, 2008. That was not too long after The Hockey News named him the best GM in the business. You sure don’t hear anybody making that claim these days.
Burke came to Toronto guns-a-blazing, telling the hockey world how his Maple Leafs would be bigger and bolder than ever; how they would be a tough team to play against and how he’d build the club from the goaltender out. Suffice it to say those words now ring hollow.
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Toronto Maple Leafs
Incumbent: James Reimer, 24, signed through 2013-14
Goals against in 2011-12: 259 (29th in NHL)
Goals against, 5v5: 182 (29th in NHL)
Why here: In his season-ending news conference, general manager Brian Burke said the Leafs had tried and failed to acquire a veteran goaltender before the trade deadline. When asked about trying his luck this summer, he said: “We’ll have to see what the options are, and what the price tags are.” Reimer had a save-percentage of .900 last season — Luongo had a .919
Incumbent: José Theodore, signed through 2012-13
Goals against in 2011-12: 216 (12th in NHL)
Goals against, 5v5: 144 (8th in NHL)
Why here: If the Tampa Bay Lightning have removed themselves from the market with the acquisition of Anders Lindback from Nashville last week, the Panthers would become another intriguing trading partner for the Canucks. Luongo played five seasons with the Panthers
Incumbent: Corey Crawford, 27, signed through 2013-14
Goals against in 2011-12: 231 (22nd in NHL)
Goals against, 5v5: 170 (27th in NHL)
Why here: According to capgeek.com, the Blackhawks have 23 players under contract, with about US$8.2-million left under the cap. That would leave more than enough space to fit Luongo.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Incumbent: Steve Mason, 24, signed through 2012-13
Goals against in 2011-12: 257 (28th in NHL)
Goals against, 5v5: (166 (26th in NHL)
Why here: Columbus finished 46 points behind Vancouver, holding the polar opposite position in the NHL standings.
Incumbent: Roberto Luongo, signed through 2022-23, Cory Schneider, restricted free agent on July 1
Goals against in 2011-12: 191 (4th in NHL)
Goals against, 5v5: 135 (6th in NHL)
Why here: Gillis has the laws of supply and demand working in his favour. The supply of proven or potential starters has dwindled, with Lindback (Tampa Bay, via trade with Nashville)
Given that he has no desire to trade Jake Gardiner, Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, one has to think, is looking at parting with at least a player or two off the club’s roster in the coming days or weeks.
Making trades to improve the Leafs is the way to go. Burke has said it as much himself, knowing a thin free-agent market has few attractive players that could come in and help the Leafs become a playoff contender.
When you manage a team that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12, a full dozen points short of the eighth and final playoff spot, few players on your roster would be deemed untouchable.
But there are a few Leafs who know they aren’t going anywhere. Captain Dion Phaneuf, forwards Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Mikhail Grabovski, defenceman John-Michael Liles, goaltender James Reimer — none of these young men have trouble sleeping at night because they’re worried they might be traded the next day.
For the rest of the Leafs outside of Gardiner, there is no such certainty. Defenceman Luke Schenn likely will be hearing rumours until the time comes that he actually is traded, though Burke would have to eat some fairly significant words that he uttered last September when he signed Schenn to a five-year contract.
“What you see is a classic, hard-nosed Canadian defenceman,” Burke said at the time. “Luke plays the game we all dream about finding players to play that way. He plays hard, is hard to play against, he finishes his checks.”
On the surface, it appears that Burke has on his hands several unmovable contracts. Forwards Matthew Lombardi, Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong
Another day, another goalie locked up.
While Josh Harding may not be a well-known puckstopper, or one of particular note, he’s likely to come close to splitting the workload in Minnesota this season with Nicklas Backstrom, and so the Wild have locked him up with a three-year deal.
Harding, along with Anders Lindback, Cory Schneider and Jonathan Bernier, was viewed as a young backup netminder who might be able to become a starter elsewhere. Now Harding is signed, Lindback has been traded to Tampa, Bernier may stay in L.A. for the time being until Jonathan Quick is locked up long term and Schneider, most believe, will be the unchallenged as the No. 1 goalie of the Vancouver Canucks when the next NHL season begins.
If there were a plethora of teams anxious to upgrade in goal, that would create a nice situation for Canucks GM Mike Gillis in his efforts to move veteran goaler Roberto Luongo and his ridiculous contract, which still has 10 years left to run.
Except there aren’t many teams looking to upgrade. Indeed, unless Ondrej Pavelec flees to the KHL and leaves the Winnipeg Jets in the lurch, only two teams seem to be seriously prowling for a starter in the crease, the Maple Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Even then, the money-losing Blue Jackets aren’t likely to be interested in Luongo and his massive contract, while Luongo, with a no-movement clause he can still exercise, isn’t likely to be too excited about Columbus.
Which leaves the Leafs as the only destination. Chicago? Most GMs don’t think the Hawks are looking, and why would the Canucks move Luongo to a conference rival? Florida? They have Jose Theodore and hot prospect Jacob Markstrom, and dicey ownership in south Florida makes it unlikely the Panthers would want to absorb that contract with $46.8 million still to pay, including $40.3 million cash in the next six years.
If Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke is serious about making a splash this week with a big trade, he is going to have to think long and hard about parting with defenceman Jake Gardiner.
That’s the feeling of several National Hockey League scouts who have had more than a few looks at the Leafs’ group of prospects, whether it’s with the big club, the Marlies, or at the junior or collegiate level.
And if the Leafs put a lot of stock in their young group, it’s clear that not every one agrees that Toronto is brimming with bluechip youngsters.
“Gardiner would be the top guy,” a Western Conference scout said. “Two or three years ago, I would have said Luke Schenn. But he has not made that next step.
“For me, Joe Colborne would be the next guy after Gardiner, but to a lesser degree. Nazem Kadri still hasn’t shown he can play with men yet.
“To do something significant, the guy he would probably have to give up is Gardiner.”
If the Leafs have concrete designs on Rick Nash or Jordan Staal, Gardiner almost certainly would have to be part of the package. Burke might get away with not using Gardiner in a swap with the Vancouver Canucks to acquire goaltender Roberto Luongo, but he still would have to attempt to find a No. 1 centre.
Gardiner surprised all with his NHL rookie season in 2011-12, playing in 75 games and recording 30 points (seven goals and 23 assists). No other freshman defenceman had as many points as Gardiner.
For hockey people, sometimes it’s very helpful when tough choices are taken away.
Perhaps that’s the case for the Maple Leafs when it comes to Rick Nash, a player they once coveted. Nobody seems quite certain where the Columbus Blue Jackets sniper will end up if he is indeed traded this week, but the Leafs are convinced that if they ever were on Nash’s short-list of teams for which he would waive his no-movement clause, they aren’t now.
So, apparently, they don’t have to be one of the teams trying to figure out just how much they should give up for a 28-year-old forward who had 59 points last year and comes with a massive contract and cap hit. They aren’t one of the teams chatting with the Jackets as we speak, although that could always change.
On the other hand, another really tricky choice could end up on Brian Burke’s platter in three days.
The Leafs, we’d all agree, need to somehow acquire a big, point-gathering centre, and neither the trade market nor free agency seems to have offered one up. That leaves the draft, and what will the Leafs do if it comes to their pick at No. 5 and Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts is sitting there, still available?
Of all of the uncertainties that are bound to spill out of the National Hockey League draft in Pittsburgh this weekend, there are a couple of storylines that might have a little more solidity.
One, if Rick Nash finally is traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets, it’s unlikely that it will be to the Maple Leafs.
The Leafs are thought to be in the thick of the Roberto Luongo race, and if so, good for them. Goaltending is where it starts, and starting next season with James Reimer and Ben Scrivens would be selling themselves short. A duel involving the two for the starter’s role might make for a juicy story during training camp, but the Leafs need experience in net. Luongo would provide that, and, if he could prove that last season with Vancouver was a blip, it would allow either Reimer or Scrivens to develop at a pace that doesn’t feel rushed.
For all of the names that have been connected to the Leafs in various rumours, whether it has been Nash or Luongo or Jordan Staal or just about any other skilled player who is on the market, it will be difficult for Burke to acquire more than one.
Burke simply does not have the assets at his disposal to complete a couple of significant trades.
Luke Schenn, Toronto
The Maple Leafs love the depth they have on the blue line, and though others might not think it’s that great, Schenn is a guy who would have the best chance of being on the move if Brian Burke can pull off a trade. Schenn has been involved in speculation for months, and wouldn’t be the least surprised if he is traded. Including Schenn in a trade would be a lot easier for Burke to swallow than, say, using Jake Gardiner as a piece of a deal. Toronto is ready to promote Korbinian Holzer to the NHL next season, and there will not be room for everyone on the Leafs blue line. Schenn’s contract is fairly cap-friendly, another factor that could make him attractive.
Patrick Kane, Chicago
As much as the Blackhawks would love to see Kane get his life in order away from the rink (few NHLers are as aware of the power of pictures posted on-line as much as Kane), it’s not a stretch to wonder if the 23-year-old will figure it out. Though he is coming off the least-productive of his five NHL seasons — he had 66 points in 82 games — Kane remains one of the brightest young stars in the league, and every other team could convince itself rather easily that it can be the one to send him on the proper off-ice path. The Hawks should be assured of getting a strong young player in return if they decide to deal Kane.
The Top 5 players the Maple Leafs could pick in the draft:
1. Mikhail Grigorenko
Centre, Quebec Remparts QMJHL
If there is one kid who could fall from the four names kept atop most draft lists all year it’s this 6-foot-3 enigma. The Leafs would have to decide between upgrading at forward, specifically centre, where they obviously need help, or adding another defencemen, which they have in abundance in their system.
2. Filip Forsberg
Right wing, Leksand SEL
No relation to Peter Forsberg and says he’s not likely ready contractually or mentally for North America until 2013-14. But he might be the right fit, one spot higher than his famous namesake in 1991.
3. Matthew Dumba
Defenceman, Red Deer Rebels, WHL
Yes, the Leafs are thick in defencemen, including another former Red Deer rearguard in Dion Phaneuf. That doesn’t mean they can’t pick another, hang on to him, then make a trade for a goalie or forward to maximize assets.
4. Jacob Trouba
Defenceman, US Development Team
Trouba has come up the rankings, despite a relatively quiet world junior tournament for the U.S. But he’s another defender who likes the heavy going, despite his still-developing body. He’s committed to the University of Michigan, but the Kitchener Rangers own his OHL rights.
5. Radek Faksa
Centre, Kitchener Rangers
If defencemen aren’t in the Leafs plan, Toronto’s search for an impact forward might lead to Faksa. He had 67 points in 62 games with Kitchener last year. He is a centre and does have some jam, especially as a checker.
The Leafs are expected to be near the front of the line if former Anaheim Duck first-rounder Justin Schultz becomes a free agent in a couple of weeks.
Schultz, a big defenceman with 44 points in 37 games, is leaving the University of Wisconsin a year early to play pro. But he’s thus far not signed with the Ducks, who could lose him if a deal is not reached by June 24. After that, a number of teams are in the picture, his home province Vancouver Canucks, the needy Detroit Red Wings, the Rangers, Oilers and the Leafs.
Toronto’s connection is that Burke drafted him just prior to leaving the Ducks in 2008, 43rd overall, the round after another Wisconsin defenceman Jake Gardiner. Anaheim was so anxious to get Schultz signed, it was reportedly prepared to burn a year of his entry-level contract just to play him in the final few games of the regular season. The Ducks might also work a trade for his rights before the 24th.
The world of goaltending options is closing in on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With Tomas Vokoun signed in Pittsburgh and Anders Lindback acquired by Tampa Bay, the list of available quality goalies has shrunk by two. And while there are many teams interested in inquiring about Los Angeles backup Jonathan Bernier, at this time the Kings prefer to maintain the status quo with Jonathan Quick as starter and Bernier behind him.
The pro-active trade Steve Yzerman made for Nashville’s Lindback hurts the Leafs in two different ways: 1) It removes a goalie they should have had interest in from the marketplace; 2) It provides one of their opponents in the Eastern Conference with potentially better goaltending than it has had in the past (and you know the Lightning, with Steven Stamkos, can score goals).
With Vokoun and Lindback scratched from the list of the available and the Kings’ Dean Lombardi saying “having only one quarterback is dangerous,” that leaves Roberto Luongo as their best goaltending option moving forward to this week’s NHL draft and trade meet. The good news with Luongo is it won’t cost much to get him. The bad news is it’s a long-term solution for the Leafs and if they still believe in James Reimer and, to a lesser extent, Ben Scrivens, then it isn’t an ideal situation for the development of a youngster.
While there are still run-of-the-mill free agents available such as Josh Harding, Scott Clemmensen and Chris Mason, there is nothing that would excite Maple Leafs fans here. Luongo remains the most viable option — and that’s not without its pitfalls.