Post-Trade Deadline Mail Bag
There's college free agents. There's the future of Tomas Kaberle. There's NHL free agency July 1st. There are possible trades. All of these could further alter the roster of a club that is currently the NHL's youngest.
Another season is gone, and all the Leafs can do is look at teams like Colorado and Phoenix and hope their turnaround from doormat to playoff contender can be achieved that quickly.
Clearly, two factors will determine that. One, this is a team that has to significantly improve its goaltending or there won't be much else to talk about. Perhaps the combination of J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson can do the job, but that's still an 'if' at this point.
Two, the development of London Knights junior Nazem Kadri now looms as central to the Leafs future hopes. If Kadri is the player the Leafs believe he is, a true No. 1 centre, then things look a little brighter. If he isn't, and without a first round pick the next two drafts, rebuilding is going to be a lot tougher.
Now on to this week's post-trade deadline mail bag:
Q: Damien, Two questions:
With the movement of so many draft picks this week, the state of the Leafs' draft picks this year is a bit unclear. No 1st or 2nd rounders, but how many - and from which teams - do they have picks in each of the later rounds?
Do you have a sense of Burke's targets from the US College ranks, and how they might fit into the Leaf puzzle?
Jeremy Huws, Ottawa
A: Here's what the Leafs have right now as far as picks for the June draft. In all, they have seven picks, none in the first two rounds. They have their own 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th, plus the 4th and 7th rounders of the Phoenix Coyotes and the 5th round selection of New Jersey's. It's not a great picture.
As far as the NCAA free agents, right now it doesn't appear to be as strong a market as it was a year ago when the Leafs were able to sign Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson, and the Rangers inked defenceman Matt Gilroy.
The top college free agent available this spring may be 6-foot-5 University of Vermont defenceman Brayden Irwin, a 22-year-old from Toronto. There's also Cornell goalie Ben Scrivens from Spruce Grove, Alta. and Ray Kaunisto, a 6-foot-4 forward from Northern Michigan.
Other possibilities are some smaller forwards like Wisconsin's Mike Davies or Sean Backman from Yale, both 5-foot-8, along with 5-foot-10 Clarkson senior forward Matt Beca, who's from Mississauga.
Q: Two questions on the Ponikarovsky trade. First, why so little in return for him? I admit he's not an elite player, but isn't he worth more than a minor-leaguer and a 5th round pick? Was that really the best Burke could do, or was he just desperate to be rid of him? Secondly, would the Leafs be interested in signing him as a UFA in July, and might that have kept the return down?
Kevin D., Toronto
A: The Leafs wouldn't likely be interested in signing him as a UFA in July. They moved him because they knew he was going to command a salary in excess of $3 million per season and simply don't like his game enough to make that kind of multi-year commitment.
As far as his trade value, that's what you get for rentals. You'll notice no first rounders moved at the deadline this year. Whether Luca Caputi is anything more than a "minor leaguer", well, we'll see. He's a young player with a chance to play in the league, and the Leafs were looking for those as well as draft picks. In his Leaf debut last night in Boston, Caputi certainly looked as though he might have a chance to be an NHL regular at some point.
Q: Brad Boyes has been traded an awful lot for a young player with so many goals. Is there a problem that hasn't been made public?
Roger Fields, Toronto
A: Not that I'm aware of. I think he's viewed as a good offensive player, but somewhat one-dimensional. That said, I don't know if I'd agree he's been trade an awful lot. He's 27 years old. He was traded before he was an NHLer by the Leafs in the Owen Nolan deal, was moved to Boston after one season and then was traded to St. Louis straight-up for defenceman Dennis Wideman, a pretty good player. He's not having a great year this season, and with a cap number of $4 million and a salary next year of $4.5 million, he's probably not moving again anytime soon on the basis of the mediocre season he's having.
Q: Thanks for considering and hopefully responding to this question. Can you please clarify the Jeff Finger situation? He hasn't played in a couple of months, and there has been no mention, including on deadline day, of his potential trade status. Is he unable to play owing to injury? Would his salary adversely impact cap limits for other teams, let alone the Leafs? It seems that, were Finger's contract be marketed and he traded to another team, more money would be available to the Leafs to purchase higher valued free agents? Or have I got this all wrong?
Lorne Blatchford, Bath, Ont.
A: Well, I would say Finger's contract, with two more years remaining at $3.5 million, officially takes over from the departed Jason Blake's as the worst contract the Leafs own. It was a terrible free agent signing by Cliff Fletcher, and really, Finger is a very difficult contract to move. He played slightly less than 14 minutes last night against Boston and will probably play down the stretch. He's a fifth or sixth defenceman who has played quite poorly this season. Right now, he's the player the Leafs would dump to the minors if they decided they wanted to free up money to sign or trade for a player with a significant contract. If he stays, he'll get another chance to be a regular next fall and we'll see if he's up to the challenge.
Q: Do you see the Leafs trying to use Kaberle this summer in an effort to get back their 2011 first round pick from the Bruins? Do you think it likely that the 2011 pick turns out to be a top-2 pick like (presumably) this year's?
John Hunt, Harvard, Mass.
A: I think in June the Leafs will listen to any and all serious offers for Kaberle when his trade window opens up, and they'll be looking for either a good prospect or a first round pick. It doesn't have to be in 2011. They could move him before the draft for a first rounder this June. So we'll see.
Whether the second of the first rounders spent on Phil Kessel turns out to be a top two picks, well, who knows? I thought the Leafs would be a playoff team this year and I was dead wrong. Right now, they have the youngest team in the NHL, and that's going to take time to develop into a competitive squad. Let's see who they are able to sign through free agency before the possibilities of next season come into focus.
Q: Hi, why hasn't the option of offering Kaberle an extension, and building around him, instead of trading him ever been explored? He most certainly has 4-7 good yrs left, and he's one of the slickest puck distributors out there? Sign him for four, give him the "C", and let him finish as a Leaf.?
Joel Tarvudd, Sudbury
A: Well, there's no chance he gets the "C," so forget that. He's just not a leader type, never has been. Brian Burke said on Wednesday that he's interesting in talking about a contract extension for Kaberle. Both sides know having the veteran defenceman go into next season in the last year of his deal isn't going to be comfortable for anyone.
Q: Hi Damien, Any idea why Colorado gave up on Wojtek Wolski?
Kyle Kopanyshyn, Osaka, Japan
A: Can't say I'm aware of an insider dope on Wolski, but clearly his contractual situation drove this deal. He's 24 and in the final year of a contract that pays him $2.8 million per season. He's arbitration eligible and thus likely to get something this summer in the $4 million per season range. The Avalanche didn't like him at that number and moved him. It's similar to the decision the Leafs made with Matt Stajan and Ponikarovsky. It's no longer just about whether you like a player or whether he's better than what you've got. It's whether you can live with the impact he has on your payroll, particularly teams like Colorado who aren't maxed to the cap.
Q: Damien, Why did Burke trade two first round draft picks, a second and a third for Kessel when if he signed him to an offer sheet, he would of been forced to give up one first, one second and one third rounder. By going the trade route it cost the leafs and extra first rounder and Boston would of been hard pressed to match Kessel's offer sheet and if he did, oh well, on to the next player....what am I missing
Brian M, Barrie
A: Well, I think Burke's thinking was two-fold. He didn't want to go the free agent offer sheet without trying a trade first just because that's his preferred way of doing business. Second, the B's would have matched, so he wouldn't have got the player he coveted. So you offer a little more and you get the player. Pretty simple.
Q: It is a joke that Burke continues this "I would make the Kessel deal again today" stance.
It was a mistake when it was made and it remains a bigger mistake today.
There is no question that Kessel is a good hockey player but not a player to build a team around. He is an asset to the Leafs but he is not worthy of two first round picks.
One only need to look at a Stamkos or a Doughty to see what a real # one draft pick looks like and to see what they can do for a team.
Why does everyone pussyfoot around Burke? He blew it, call him on it.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel for this team?
John McAllister, Toronto
A: Well, I imagine that Burke continues to say that because he believes it to be true. You can disagree, but that doesn't make his stance a joke.
Look, we're going to have to see how this works out. Last year, Kessel scored 36 goals in 70 (pro-rated over 82 games, that would be 42 goals) and then added six more in 11 playoff games. This year, coming off serious shoulder surgery which people seem to forget, he's got 21 goals in 51 games, which is about a 33-goal pace. He's 22 years old, easily the Leafs' best offensive player and a former high first rounder, exactly the kind of player critics of the trade believe the Leafs have sacrificed to get him.
He's an Olympic-level player, and while he didn't have an impressive Olympics, he was one of the more dangerous U.S. shooters in the third period of the gold medal game. Basically, I think it's a little early yet to declare Kessel to be unworthy of what was given up to get him. If he pots 45 next season, will you still hate the deal?
That said, Burke never believed the Leafs would be this bad, and didn't believe he would be giving up a top 3 draft pick. So the deal has already proven to be more expensive than he believed it would. But that's what makes running an NHL team less than an exact science. Burke believes Kessel is a core player, and that assessment will either be credited to him or held against him over time. If the player Boston selects blossoms into a NHLer as good or better than Kessel, than the trade will have to be judged a mistake. You can make that judgment now, and over time you may prove to be right, but it's premature.