Plane in Vain
The Maple Leafs have signed free agent defenceman Mike Komisarek away from their ancient rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.
Komisarek decided late Tuesday that he wouldn't accept the final offer from the Habs and instead would test the unrestricted free agent waters.
After speculation suggested he was leaning towards the New York Islanders, the American-born blueliner instead inked a five-year deal with the Leafs at $4.5 million per season
The signing cleared the way for the completion of a trade, first reported by The Star, that sends Pavel Kubina and the rights to Tim Stapleton to the Atlanta Thrashers, for hard-hitting defenceman Garnet Exelby and youngster Colin Stuart.
The Leafs have also made an offer to winger Chris Neil. Another target, Mike Cammalleri, has signed with Montreal.
Komisarek was voted to the stating lineup for the Eastern Conference in this year's all-star game, but suffered through an inconsistent season after injuring his shoulder in an early season fight with Boston's Milan Lucic.
He's also expected to be part of the U.S. Olympic squad next winter in January, a team organized by Leaf GM Brian Burke and coached by Leaf bench boss Ron Wilson.
Brian Burke got over the disappointment of losing the Sedins without even being able to make a bid in a hurry.
The Maple Leafs GM has signed enforcer Colton Orr to a four-year, $4 million contact and has traded defenceman Pavel Kubina to Atlanta, a deal that should free up about $3 million in cap space, The Star has learned. (Update: A trade call is scheduled on the trade, and details over what the Leafs are getting in return have yet to become clear as of 4:45 EST. The deal is still expected to happen, but after the Phil Kessel-for-Tomas Kaberle swap didn't end up materializing on the weekend, no trade is a trade until it actually occurs.)
|REUTERS FILE PHOTO|
|Burke couldn't pull off a twin bill like he did at the 1999 draft.|
The Leafs also are negotiating a possible deal with Ottawa free agent winger Chris Neil - more muscle - and are planning a meeting with Toronto-born winger Mike Cammalleri, a 39-goal scorer with Calgary last season.
And to think it's all happening from Sweden.
Burke, you see, flew overnight from Boston to Frankfurt and then on to Stockholm today with bold, ambitious plans to make a face-to-face offer to Henrik and Daniel Sedin today in Sweden but was thwarted in the final minutes before the free agent season opened when the identical Swedish twins signed new five-year deals averaging $6.1 million per season just before noon EST with the Vancouver Canucks.
When Burke's flight hit the tarmac in Stockholm, he got that bad news, and found that defenceman Mattias Ohlund, another potential free agent target, had signed with Tampa Bay.
Armed with lots of MLSE money and acres of precious salary cap space, Burke targeted the 28-year-old identical twins – Henrik is six minutes older than Daniel – as his No. 1 free agency priority. All signs suggested the Sedins would try free agency, but a last ditch offer by Vancouver GM Mike Gillis on Monday apparently was enough to meet their demands.
The Leafs probably would have been willing to go higher on salary, perhaps as high as $7 million per twin, but the talented brothers clearly wanted to stay on the west coast and opted not to entertain other offers. Burke would not have been able to make any overtures to the twins before noon EST.
With defenceman Jay Bouwmeester (six years, $33 million from Calgary) and the Sedins now off the market, the NHL free agent market has been robbed of its star power before it even opened.
It's the second time the Leafs have missed out on Ohlund. They tried to sign him to a restricted free agent offer sheet in 1997, but the Canucks matched the offer. Tampa GM Brian Lawton is clearly looking at Ohlund as a potential mentor for newly drafted Swedish blueliner Victor Hedman, acquired with the second pick in Friday’s NHL draft.
The Leaf GM, meanwhile, could now use the trip to take another shot at convincing Swedish free agent goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who is at home in Sweden right now, to join the Leafs.
“That is going to be an exercise in persistence,” said Burke, who has made two trips to Europe in the past three months to try and convince Gustavsson to pick the Leafs over the Stars, Avalanche and Sharks.
Leaf management had thought that if the Sedins could be signed along with some less expensive depth for the rest of the roster, the Stanley Cup playoffs would be achievable next season.
Burke had clearly hoped his previous relationship with the Sedins – he performed draft day gymnastics to land them for the Canucks in 1999 – would make a difference when it came to luring them as free agents, but he never got the chance to bid on them.
It’s the second round of frustration for Burke in less than a week. He tried mightily to land John Tavares in the NHL draft last weekend but couldn’t convince any of the top teams to part with their picks. He also thought he had a trade in place with Boston that would have brought winger Phil Kessel to the Leafs for Tomas Kaberle in a package deal, but that fell apart.
Burke's biggest successes so far during his seven months as Leaf GM have been the signing of two U.S. college free agents, Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak.