Damien Cox hosted a Q&A off yesterday's NHL trade deadline.
I'm slightly surprised that some people are disappointed with what Brian Burke was able to accomplish at the trade deadline yesterday. What were they expecting? To trade Stajan for a first-rounder? It seems as though this is probably the worst time possible to begin a rebuilding process - at the beginning of prolonged economic difficulties for the league where many teams are wary of taking on salary and shedding draft picks and less expensive younger players. But I'm a Leaf fan, so I'm used to bad luck by now.
I'm wondering whether you think Burke will actually start signing younger free agents this summer as he mentioned at the press conference or whether he will wait until next summer when the cap will probably drop below $50M and he might be able to pry away some good talent and prospects from teams looking to dump salary?
David Smith, Toronto
A: You're always going to get people who are either surprised or disappointed at whatever the Leafs do. That's the beauty of being in such a passionate hockey market. To me, Burke did what he could. No team can move forward without having a reasonable number of draft picks year after year, something the Leafs have proven, and with three picks in the top 60 now at least the Leafs have a chance to begin a more intelligent draft and develop program. This is a team that needs to draft in the first and second round for at least 3-5 years.
Regarding free agents, I'm sure Burke will be looking for opportunities, but only those that fit with the concept of having a playoff worthy team in three years and a contender in five. If he can get 25-year-old Jay Bouwmeester he'd be thrilled, but even then salary and term will be critical areas for even rich teams like Toronto.
For the life of me, I don't understand why the Leafs would pick up Martin Gerber off waivers. Wouldn't the club have been better off letting Pogge play a consistent stretch to finish off this meaningless season? Cujo could have filled in as necessary along the way.
Josh Lavine, Toronto
A: I don't totally get it either. My guess is that there wasn't another goalie they could use with the Marlies, for starters, and that they didn't want to deviate from their plan of giving Pogge little tastes of action. If you bring him up for the final quarter of the season, then suddenly if he isn't in the NHL next season, it's a failure. Also, he's a restricted free agent this summer, so the less he's in the NHL right now, the less bargaining power he has. I know the Detroit Red Wings are one franchise that keenly understands the financial value of bringing players along slowly because of those precise considerations.
I know you preached patience with Tlusty, but six more points last night suggests that either his linemate Tim Stapleton is a magician at the AHL level or Tlusty is a very good prospect. Or both. Any word on how Leaf management feel about him and will/should he remain at the Ricoh for the rest of the season?
Danny Daewoo, Seoul
A: Not sure whether you're asking about Tlusty or Stapleton or both. I would tell you the Leafs are pleasantly surprised at Tlusty, although there was no shortage of people in the organization that believed he had the smarts and hockey sense to be a good NHLer if given enough time. Next fall will be his chance to make the NHL to stay, and being dominant at the AHL level is the biggest step he's taken so far. Stapleton is a journeyman pro who will get opportunities now and then over the next couple of years if he stays in the organization. But he's not a long-term answer.
When I heard the news that Pascal Leclaire was traded to the Sens, I immediately thought Burke got beaten by Murray with a better offer. Was the Leafs ever in play to acquire him? The goalie situation is still cloudy in the Leafland, why do they claim Gerber off waivers, but rather, let Pogge get the playing time in the NHL?
Thanks for looking at this, keep up the good work. Always intrigued by your column.
Ivan Yung, Mississauga
A: Thanks Ivan. We've talked about Gerber already, and I do think the Leafs were interested in Leclaire. But they didn't really have an equivalent player to Vermette, who is 26 years old, has significant playoff experience and is under contract only through next year at a reasonable $3 million. Perhaps Columbus, which gave up a second rounder as well, could have been persuaded to settle for less and not give up the pick, but they wanted a player under contract who could help now, and the Leafs didn't have that.
Peter Bloch, Vancouver
A: I just think its interesting that Dave Nonis was fired last year ostensibly because he declined to give up a king's ransom for Brad Richards, probably the best trade the Canucks didn't make, and yet Mike Gillis was similarly unable or unwilling to do any better as Nonis' successor. Unless Roberto Luongo absolutely puts up a wall, this is not a Stanley Cup contender, and with Sundin, the Sedins and Mattias Ohlund all uncertain for next season, the Canucks might regret not pushing harder this spring. I thought at the very least they could have added a player with Stanley Cup winning experience to a lineup that doesn't have much of that.
My question is about Dominic Moore. It seems to me that the Leafs were unwilling to sign Moore to a high contract due to mistakes made in the past. That is to say, rewarding one season of success with a high contract. As much as this makes sense, I feel that this doesn't apply to Moore since he offered a salary of only 3M a year which is reasonable. At the same time Moore has been critical in the "return" of Blake and I think that his performance will suffer. Were the Leafs just being stubborn or did they making the right decision with this?
Jordan Tadros, Mississauga
A: I think both sides erred. The Leafs could certainly have used Moore, and he won't find an equivalent opportunity elsewhere that he had here. He went as low as $2.3 million per season and the Leafs went as high as $1.7 million, but it was still too big of a gap. The contract signed by Alex Burrows in Vancouver (four years, $8 million) sure didn't help Moore's case. All this said, it is probably a positive sign that a Leaf organization that has traditionally overvalued and overpaid players is now getting a little more realistic.
Q: Don't get me wrong, I like Dominic Moore, but I just don't get him. He was comfortable in Toronto, he was a respected leader on the team and a solid contributor. Much has been made that he was a mediocre player on a bad team which explains his career numbers. What seems to be lost in translation is the fact that while they are career stats, his numbers are not that great considering he was our #1 centre before the trade. He's not even on pace for 20 goals and his assist total is hardly elite. To be fair, he wasn't asking for top line money, but he's looking for #2 centre money when realistically he is a #3 guy at best. He's got a great gig in Toronto, is he full of himself or just deluded?
Brian Dudman, Toronto
A: Neither. He's a pro athlete who understands better than most that careers are short who was trying to cut the best deal possible with the richest team in the NHL.
Q: With Antropov, Moore and Toskala gone, where do you think the Leafs will finish in the standings? Though they would not admit to it do you think they intentionally lose games in order to get a better chance of drafting higher?
PS. Reg Dunlop says hi.
Glenn Smith, Toronto
A: Say hi back to Hopalong Reg. The Leafs will not intentionally lose games. Ron Wilson and his staff and Brian Burke and his staff are too proud for that, not to mention the playoffs. I think they'll win five or six of their remaining 18 and finish in 25th or 26th place overall and let the draft lottery decide the rest.
Q: Damien, look into your crystal ball and tell me who will be goaltending for the Leafs next year?
Mike Pratt, Toronto
A: Vesa Toskala and somebody. Maybe Justin Pogge, but I'm not convinced, and I'm sure the Leafs aren't. Another veteran guy able to play 25-30 games would be the answer. The alternative, of course, would be if a team like Dallas tires of Marty Turco or if Anaheim decides it's time to turn the page on the J.S. Giguere era. There are netminders who will be available we don't even know about yet.
Q: Did the Leafs do enough? If the ultimate goal is to rebuild, why not trade Mayers, White, Pony? If all they got were 2nd rounders for Antropov surely they could've gotten 4th or 5th rounders for these guys. Buy trading Antropov and Moore and shutting Vesa down they've already essentially conceded the season so why not go all in with a view to the draft and next year?
D. G., Halifax
A: Well, the simple answer is that those players, particularly White and Ponikarovsky, are more valuable to the Leafs as players than the draft picks offered. Or, Burke believes he can get more at another time, and since all are under contract next season for reasonable salaries, there's no rush to do something now as there was with Moore and Antropov.
Q: Someone on the trade squad on TSN mentioned that the Leafs actually received a pick from Montreal for the negotiation rights to Sundin. My understanding of the situation was that it was a conditional pick (a 2nd, I believe) IF Sundin signed with them, which, of course, he did not. Can you confirm which version is correct?
J.P. Nikota, London
A: The pick was conditional. My understanding is that it was tied to a later deal that saw the Leafs send a second rounder to the Habs for Mikhail Grabovski. Let me look into this a little further.
Q: If the market goes flat for free agents this summer, especially marginal ones like Moore, can you see his agent calling back for another look at the Leafs. Likewise for Antropov? He has the size and skill Burke seems to covet, and frankly, it will seem weird here without him.
Kevin Connolly, Toronto
A: That's always a possibility with rental players, but it rarely seems to happen. A trade carries with it an emotional component that seems to make it difficult for either the player or the team to get back together, if only because the differences that existed previously, usually over money, still exist. But it's possible.
Q: Should Brian Burke Spend the 17 million that he is assumed to have available for the free agency this summer? If we go out and purchase players this year would not just put us in the middle of the pack again?
Ken Spurr, Calgary
A: He doesn't have $17 million to spend. He already has $42 million committed to 20 players, which probably increases to at least $44 million with a 23-man roster. The cap is at $56.7 million now and likely to fall a little to, say, $54 million in 2010-11. So Burke's going to want to be flexible in terms of how much money he commits next summer, and for how long. I can't see him spending above $50 million next season.
I was wondering, how come other teams didn't try to do what Tampa did with Burke in dumping excess salaries? I would have figured with the way the economy is going, more teams would want to give us their unwanted/expensive players for the cost of giving us draft picks.
Joel C., Toronto
A: Well, the Lightning were unusually motivated because moving those salaries will help them get more in revenue sharing. The Bolts were also unusual in that despite being such a weak team, they spent right up to the cap this year and have spent much of the year trying to get out of that jackpot. Finally, other clubs that had salaries to move likely had them tied to players that weren't slated to become free agents, and the Leafs wouldn't have been interested in adding anything beyond this season.
Q: Hi Damien,
I read that the Leafs are looking into signing some US college players. How is it that these players do not have to enter the draft and it seems like any team can sign them?
Eric Tsoi, Stouffville
A: These are technicalities, and you may remember that back in 1997 the Leafs were able to sign Mike Johnson as a free agent out of Bowling Green. They are older players who go undrafted in their eligible years and thus become free agents. The difference between now and '97 is that they are still subject to the same entry level salary restrictions as players that come through the draft.
Q: Brian Burke seemed a little disappointed that he wasn't able to do as much as he had hoped after a relatively slow trade deadline. What do you think Burkie will try to accomplish in the off-season? Do you think he will try to move Kaberle or Kubina to add a prospect or another high pick for the draft?
Ken Lockrey, Edmonton
A: I think he was disappointed in that prices for players dropped significantly in the last two months. I find it hard to believe that both Kaberle and Kubina, neither of whom has had a great season, will be on this roster next fall. Both, don't forget, lose their no-trade status this summer.
Q: Based on your analysis of this year's draft, is it a deep enough with talent that the Leafs' can get a steal at the second round spot they attained from Buffalo and the Rangers?
Harpaul Sambhi, Toronto
A: I certainly can't claim to have analyzed the draft to that depth. To me, it's more about history, and the history of the draft says good players are always available in the second round. The question is whether the Leafs can find them, something that they have traditionally been mediocre at accomplishing.
Q: Quick question with regards to the Leafs picking up Gerber and Kolzig. Are the Leafs entitled to compensation (draft picks) if they fail to resign the two?
Stephen Hastings, Wainright
A: No, they are not.
Q: Hey Damien!
I was wondering why we didn't hear much about Jason Blake being moved at the deadline.
He is finally playing well and surely he can't be considered part of the future. I was wondering if you could provide some insight as to why he wasn't moved and why there wasn't much buzz about him as we neared the trade deadline.
Keep up the great work,
Tim S,. Toronto
A: Even though Blake's contract doesn't look as ugly now as it did last season, he still is under contract for three more seasons and no team, really, was interested in adding contracts that extend beyond next season.
Q: Damien, I know that you're not a fan, but why aren't the Leafs looking to grab Chris Pronger? They have lots of cap space available and he still commands a presence.
J. Mac, Shanty Bay
A: What makes you think I'm not a fan of Pronger's? I think he's a terrific player, just a tad on the vicious side from time to time. The Leafs would be interested, but at this point would simply be unable to pay the price in players and picks that the Ducks would demand. Apparently, no other team is willing to pay it right now either.
Q: I was really surprised that the Detroit Red Wings didn't make a splash in the market. Considering their shoddy goaltending this year, do you think that Ken Holland will be ruing his lack of activity come, perhaps, the second- or third-round of the playoffs?
Anthony Lopopolo, Richmond Hill, Ont.
A: Perhaps. But there really wasn't much the Wings could do about their goaltending, they are right up against the cap and at least they can say with confidence that in Chris Osgood they have a netminder with multiple Stanley Cup rings. That's more than many other teams can boast.
Q: Hi Damien,
Thx for doing this. For the life of me I can't understand how Poni and Stajan get by year after year on deadline day. Couldn't we pkg them together for a pick(s) or are they that untradeable? I don't completely dislike either player but I think their usefulness is limited and a pick(s) would be more useful to us at this point.
Jason Hawkes, Toronto
A: Not sure I agree. These are both useful, established NHL players both of whom are well shy of their 30th birthday and capable of scoring 15-20 goals a year in the NHL. Either or both might yet be traded, but both could also be part of this team as it progresses over the next two to three years. That said, both are unrestricted after next season.
Q: Damien, With the lack of first round draft picks, and top prospects being dealt at yesterday's deadline, have we seen the end of an era?
Will the future hold little excitement in terms of deadline deals, thanks to the salary cap, and the realization that you need to build and develop from within?
Mike Prattski, Scarborough
A: Well, I think it's not only the cap. It's the general economic environment that is stifling activity to some degree as well because various owners are feeling the pinch. Still, I think the NHL needs to look seriously at loosening trading rules particularly as they pertain to teams being able to share the load on contracts. Trades, to my mind, create energy and excitement, and the NHL needs more of both.
Q: Hi Damien.
What about all of us Habs fans out there? What does it say about the Canadiens that Bob Gainey decided to stand pat yesterday?
Charles Houle, Elliot Lake
A: It says he made his moves adding Schneider and Metropolit, and that he believes the answers to his teams problems lie inside the Montreal dressing room.
Q: Brian Burke made it known he wanted a big return for Kaberle in a trade. He didn't get it and now Kaberle's injured. Do you think his demands scared off teams that might have been interested? Or can he still get a good return in the summer if he tries to trade him?
Mark Thomas, Pickering
A: I think teams weren't willing to pay that kind of price for any elite defenceman, whether it was Kaberle, Bouwmeester or Pronger. Kaberle's injury isn't long term, although he may not play that much more this season. It's 50/50 whether he's here or not next season, but as long as teams are jealously hoarding their first rounders and top prospects, the Leafs might as well hold on to Kaberle.
Q: I'm a Leaf fan but have adopted the Washington Capitals whiles the Buds are rebuilding. I'm disappointed the Caps didn't trade for a goalie, as I don't believe Jose 'Cardboard Cut-Out Goalie' Theodore can take them far. I guess I'll have to wait for prospect Simeon Varlamov to lead the Caps to the Cup. Thoughts?
Michael Goldbarth, Stouffville
A: Theodore won't be able to get it done. Like Detroit, however, there really wasn't much the Caps could do about it at this late stage. Actually though Cristobal Huet was a better bet than Theodore.
Q: Hey Damien.
Look into that crystal ball, and what do you see the Leafs doing this summer via UFA's and possible trades, and where do you forcast the Leafs to be within their Conference at this time next year. FYI, love your coloumn - read it regularly. There is a contingent of Leafs fans here in Riyadh who appreciate your insight.
Steve MacLellan, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
A: Well, here's a big shout out right back out to y'all in Riyadh, a place I hope to visit one day. I think the Leafs will be active this summer and will take a serious run at Bouwmeester, possibly the Sedin twins and maybe even Mattias Ohlund. Otherwise, any moves they make won't involve moving prospects or picks for immediate help. Burke and Co. are good and dug in now for at least one more tough season.
Q: I find it funny that in one post you criticize the Leafs prior management (Fletcher) for hanging on to Antropov too long, arguing that we could have gotten more for him if the Leafs traded him last year, and in the next post make the opposite argument with regards to Poni and White.
Can you explain the apparent contradiction?
Eugene Cosentino, Maple
A: Sure. Antropov could have, I've been assured, fetched a significant price last summer, a first and a good young player. Fletcher chose not to consider it because he believed Antropov was a big part of the Leaf future, and I think he was rather alone in that contention. Moreover, Antropov was at the absolute height of his value then, something that's been proven over the past season. I don't think Fletcher blew it, I just think he made the wrong call, and then wasn't in charge when it came to deciding Antropov's fate this season.
With Ponikarovsky and White, you have very different players who won't be able to demand anywhere near the same dollars as Antropov going forward. The Leafs seem to like both players - you apparently don't - and feel they may be able to be part of the growth moving forward. I don't think anything major was lost by not trading them now, as was the case with Antropov last winter.
I doubt that will satisfy, but I tried.
I heard yesterday that Jiri Tlusty was available. Okay, we "heard" a lot of things yesterday but do you think Burke would really have shipped out a young player with the good potential of a first round pick who seems to be pulling his game together in a big way right now?
Mark Jones, Toronto
A: I think every Leaf player in the organization other than Luke Schenn was available. I can't imagine the player the Leafs would have been able to get by moving Tlusty now, but I'm sure Burke would have pulled the trigger on the right offer. Like most teams, the Leafs chose to hold on to their better young prospects, and they must be convinced now that Tlusty is one of those.
When I look back at the Leafs season, I have to beleive that if they had the goaltending they were receiving from Toskala before he went down, and maybe a .900 type save pct (where any goalie should be) they could be in playoff contention...many points were thrown away based weak goaltending, especially earlier in the season when the Leafs were scoring in abundance. I know its easy to sit here and now and look back..but maybe this injury issue wasnt handled well from both sides? if it was affecting his play? Thoughts?
Grant Wood, Houston
A: I am baffled by the entire business. If he was so badly injured, how did he manage to play so well against the Devils on Tuesday. I don't think anyone has explained this to my satisfaction so far. But there's no question better goaltending would have pushed the Leafs further up the standings this season.
Q: Do you think the Flames were the winners in this trade deadline?
Warren Col, Winona
A: If Jokinen delivers in the post-season, yes. If not, no. But they went for it, and that takes guts in this climate.
What are your thoughts on Jiri Tlusty ripping it up in the AHL? Isn't it great to see a little bit of patience with these kids? Maybe it wasn't the drafting of the old regime that was the problem, it was the manner in which they were handled.
Colin Freeman, Vancouver
A: Well, we're not there yet. But in terms of JFJ's drafting record, he wasn't around long enough for anyone to really judge how his administration did. We won't know that for a while yet. That said, the only players drafted in the first round after Tlusty in 2006 that appear to be better players at this moment are Patrik Berglund and Nick Foligno, and neither of those players are proven stars yet. We'll just have to let this one play out.
Q: Damien, I thought I was seeing things when I saw the trade for Kolzig. Gerber, Joseph, Kolzg. Are all these guys there for insurance? I understand Gerber but not Kolzig. What is your take on this acquisition?
Tim K., Toronto
A: Kolzig, who is injured and gone for the season, won't play for the Leafs. He was a toss-in to the deal so the Leafs could pay his salary in return for getting the fourth round pick.
Q: Hi Damien,
With all that cap space the Leafs have, what do you think is there most glaring weakness and who do you see them going after in this year's UFA market?
A: They are weak at all positions, period, and need a big injection of size up front and on the blue line. They won't try to fix it all this summer, however. It's going to take time, so I can't see them trying to use the UFA market to address their shortcomings too much this summer.
Q: Realistically now, how long are we looking before the Leafs are in the playoffs?
Trevor Johnston, Toronto
A: Best guess? 2011 at the earliest, maybe 2012. Sorry, but you asked.
So that's it folks. I'm feeling bad here because we were just flooded with questions today and can't get to all of them. Perhaps we should do this again at season's end. Great to hear from people around the world. I'm thinking there will be much more about the Leafs to be discussed in the coming months. Thanks for participating today.