Thursday Mail Bag
That's one piece of business done.
Just four days after their season ended in Montreal, the Leafs have signed goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to a two-year, $2.7 million contract, solidifying the club's goaltending picture for next season.
It also staggers the club's free agency picture in goal, with J.S. Giguere's much larger contract set to expire after next season. The Leafs have Marlie netminder James Reimer in the system and are courting 6-foot-5 Finnish goalie Jonas Rynnas, who is also talking to several other NHL clubs.
Gustavsson, 25, appeared in 42 games with a 16-15-9 record, a .902 save percentage and a 2.87 goals against average. After two minor heart operations during the season, his best performances came in the final two months of the season after Giguere was acquired from Anaheim and Vesa Toskala was sent west.
Gigure is a long-term disciple of Leaf goalie coach Francois Allaire, and Gustavsson has clearly formed a bond with Allaire, as well.
Given all that transpired, Gustavsson's contract was a fair one, and the Leafs may end up very happy with the deal if he can establish himself as a true No. 1 goalie. They could have gone for a longer-term deal, which would have been more expensive, but that would have been a bigger gamble. So this deal makes sense. Gustavsson's big pay day will come if he takes over the starting job with conviction during the next two seasons.
The Leafs finished 29th of 30 clubs in team defence this season.
The Leafs signed Gustavsson as an unrestricted free agent last summer, outbidding Dallas and Colorado, among others. The Swedish netminder will now again be unrestricted after the 2011-12 season.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Damien, I read today where J. S. Giguere likens the Leafs to Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Washington as young teams who built around a core of youth and developed quickly. But Chicago "drafted" Kane, Toewes, and Barker; Pittsburgh "drafted" Crosby, Fleury, and Malkin; and Washington "drafted" Backstrom and Alexander the Great. You know why the quotation marks. Toronto has drafted Luke Schenn and Nazim Kadri. Now Burke's talking free agents. Aren't we just going down the same old road?
Wayne Bridge, Kearney, Ont.
A: Well, what Toronto has shown over the last year is that you can get young players through other means as well, including free agency and trades. Phoenix is another team that has only two first round picks on their roster. So it's possible to develop a young team through non-draft means, just much harder to get young impact, franchise-type players that way. In other words, you can trade for a 21-year-old Phil Kessel, but you can only draft a Sidney Crosby.
In general, you can't just go all one way or another, all draft or no draft. It takes a mixture of player acquisition strategies. That said, the Leafs haven't been getting enough out of the draft, and with no first rounders this year or next, that's not going to change short-term.
Q: Hi Damien, I know speculating on trading partners, and trade scenarios is an infinite possibility across the NHL; I just wanted to know your thoughts on a Vinny Lecavalier to Leafs idea that I have heard a little bit about, but been keen on for some time. Tampa could use a player like Kaberle to help get the first pass out to Stamkos and St. Louis, and I know that TB ownership is dying to get that albatross off their books, any thoughts?
Gabriel Helbig, Toronto
A: Lecavalier's days as an elite player appear to be over. He turns 30 next week and registered 70 points in 82 games this season. Would he be among Toronto's top forwards? Of course he would. But his contract calls for him to be paid $75 million over the next 10 years, including $10 million per season over the next six. His cap number is $7.3 million. Unless you were convinced he could be among the top 10 players in the league again, it would be foolish to commit that much salary cap space to Lecavalier. That said, the Bolts will probably try to move him this summer. Somebody may bite, but I would doubt it would be the Leafs, who are trying hard to avoid cap clogging deals.
Q: Damien, I agree with you for the most part in your article about Kadri starting the year with the leafs, only if he is ready. However, you said that if he is not ready, and does not EARN a spot on the team, they should send him back to London. The kid already has dominated the OHL. What good would it do to send him there. Wouldn't it be smarter to start him with the Marlies if he can't make the Leafs?
Tanome Mchale, Toronto
A: When I said that, I meant it symbolically, not literally. He could go to London as an overager, but its much likelier he'll be a Marlie. Moreover, I certainly didn't say he shouldn't be a Leaf. What I said he should have to earn his spot, not be given one. If he's not ready, starting him in the AHL would be a good idea. People in Toronto are just so unwilling to let players gradually develop. The objective is for Kadri to be an impact player in five years, not to be able to say he was in the NHL by the age of 19 or 20. It's pretty obvious after one good season and one very shaky season that Luke Schenn would have been well-served to have more time in junior and probably a stint with the Marlies. It's no insult to a young player to be forced to take his time and learn how to be a pro.
Q: Hi Damien,
How do players like Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson, and others become college free agents, while other players ( Jack Johnson) are drafted while going to college?
Richard Hisem, Duncan, B.C.
A: The rules are complicated, but basically, Johnson was drafted in his first eligible draft year, while Bozak and Hanson were passed over in each year they were available. So when they graduated, they were unrestricted free agents.
Q: Chris DiDomenico doesn't appear to have lost a step, 22 points in 12 games, since returning from his big injury.
I don't get to see him play, only have the stats to judge. Do you think he has a legitimate shot next year, or is he in for a little seasoning with the Marlies? I would lean towards the AHL, at least to start, due to Burke's track record.
Kyle B., Ottawa
A: He's got to play at least a full year with the Marlies. If he performs next year, he might get a few games in the NHL. But it's a long road back from an injury like that.
Q: Hey Damien, I read your article on the Oilers and how they might be wise to trade down (and I don't disagree) My question as a long time (suffering and sometimes wonder why?) Leafs Fan... is there any chance the Leafs could play into a situation like you mentioned? I know they don't have their 1st rounder to offer - but is it at all possible some other team would give up a mid-level 1st rounder for Kaberle (if the Leafs are interested in moving him) and then flip that pick for something earlier by taking on salaries like you suggested? Maybe that inflation and wishful thinking on Kaberle and this may be a long shot - but if you had told me in September that the Leafs would have Phaneuf by giving up Stajan and the others - I wouldn't have believed it! I appreciate your thoughts - Thanks for your time!
Shane Acorn, Prince Albert, Sask.
A: Anything, obviously, is possible. In this case, I would imagine you would have to have at least a top 10 pick to make that offer to the Oilers, and even that might not entice them. You have to understand, teams sometimes do the right thing, and sometimes they do things to appease their fan base. In Edmonton's case, there is enormous pressure to bring in Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, the next great Oiler star. Even if it was the right thing for Steve Tambellini to trade down as a means of dumping salary, it would be a very difficult move for him to make. Could it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Very doubtful.
Q: Damien, Here's a CBA question: With Matt Stajan's trade he played 83 games this season -- one more than anybody playing a whole season for one team. Is his contract based on a "Season" or an "82 game season". Would he get a pro-rated pay out for that one additional game (i.e. 1/82 of his salary)? Thanks! Carl Hill, Toronto
A: No. Contract is based on 82 games. No extra money for Matt, not that he needs it with his new rich pay day from Calgary.
Q; When assessing the goal production of Ovechkin and Crosby, do you consider that the former has 5 empty netters this season, the latter only 1? One plays with the second best centre in the league and an outstanding journeyman, while the other plays with a has-been and a never-been. Just wondering.
Gary Toporoski, Windsor
A: Not sure exactly what you mean by "assessing the goal production." I guess you could break it down even further into which player had more unassisted goals, tap-ins, deflections, pucks that bounced in off opposition players, shots that goalies could stop. With these guys, the numbers are the numbers. Good goal scorers seem to find ways to score the hard goals and the lucky, easy ones.
As far as linemates, Ovechkin clearly has an advantage skating with Nicklas Backstrom. But his right winger, Mike Knuble, has never been a star. Crosby, meanwhile, plays power plays with Evgeny Malkin, and sometimes regular shifts.
Q: Hi Damien, It may take nearly a decade to clearly evaluate the Kessel trade, based on Phil's youth and potential. For example ... the Toskala trade with San Jose has been widely panned, but - based on the current returns for the Sharks from Toronto draft picks received - that trade is not looking so bad in retrospect, even given Toskala's T.O. struggles. What I still can't figure is the Finger signing. Whatever possessed Fletcher to hand a 4-yr outrageous contract to a player who had one reasonable season as a fifth or sixth defenceman? Why not two years, as a reasonable rate? Cap-wise, it's still hurting. It made no sense then, and even less now. Your thoughts?
Stu Royal, Erin, Ont.
A: I agree with you. It was a mystery then and remains one. I wish I had a better answer for you. But Ron Wilson apparently liked Finger from his days in the Western Conference. Said repeatedly Finger had been able to effectively shut down Joe Thornton. So clearly Wilson played a role in Fletcher's decision to show such generosity to such an average player.