Should Toronto target St. Louis?
Given the improved play of the Maple Leafs recently, speculation has already started that Toronto may try to acquire a high impact player to help boost their post season run.
In his recent column on Foxsports.com, Al Strachan speculates that the Leafs may take a run at a star forward, such as Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis.
It is well known that Lightning GM Jay Feaster will try to move one of his three high-priced players (Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier) if the team’s performance doesn’t improve in the next month or so.
In one possible scenario, Strachan speculates that the Leafs could send a high-priced defenseman like Pavel Kubina to the minors and make a deal with Tampa to acquire St. Louis. In that scenario, Kubina’s salary wouldn’t count against the cap. Instead, it would be replaced by St. Louis’ salary, which is roughly the same.
Strachan suspects that the Leafs would have to give up a prospect or two for St. Louis, but they wouldn’t have to part with much because this is not a talent-for-talent deal. Such a deal is intended ensure that Tampa meets a self-imposed budget.
Granted, the Leafs would still have to pay Kubina, but to rich teams like Toronto, that’s cab fare.
While this move would be unfair to Kubina, Strachan points out that other GMs have made lots of moves over the years that were unfair to players (e.g., Alexander Mogilny, Darius Kasparaitis, etc).
I have mixed feelings about this one.
On the one hand, this move would significantly improve the Leafs. There’s no denying that St. Louis is a marquee player, and his speed and skill would be a perfect complement to Sundin or Antropov.
And to those who say that the Leafs already have a potent offense, I disagree. As Saturday’s game against Boston showed, the Leafs offense can be shut down quite easily when facing a disciplined opponent.
The Leafs, with their current roster, lack the necessary skill up front to play through tight checking and generate quality scoring chances. The goals for stats are somewhat misleading in my opinion.
Having said that, there is also a huge downside to making this move, which is largely understated by Strachan.
Firstly, let’s not kid ourselves, Feaster is not just going to give away St. Louis. He’s going to be asking for probably 2 of Toronto’s key younger players, like Steen, Stajan, Stralman, or Tlusty. Moreover, don’t think for a minute that the Leafs would be the only team interested in St. Louis. That alone would drive up the asking price.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, this move would have an insidious effect on the Leafs as an organization. Just imagine what other players around the league are going to be saying about the Leafs if they send a capable player like Kubina down to the minors.
If you’re an unrestricted free agent on July 1st and you know the Leafs treat their players like garbage, would you sign a contract with Toronto or would you seek employment elsewhere? Indeed, this move would tarnish the Leafs’ reputation for many years to come. They will find it almost impossible to lure any top notch free agents in the future. The long term drawbacks would be enormous.
And plus there’s the issue of whether the Leafs should even be buyers this year. Given that a playoff position is precarious and that rebuilding will be inevitable sonner or later, the Leafs may best be advised to keep the team they have, and perhaps start dumping veterans around the trade deadline.
Therefore, a move to acquire a player like St. Louis should only be pursued if the Leafs can trade McCabe or Kubina to free up salary (which is highly unlikely) AND if the asking price by Tampa Bay is not steep (also unlikely). Otherwise, I’d stay put.