July 25, 2008

Stay Tuned...

Looking back at the job not-so-interim GM Cliff Fletcher has done to change the culture and the personnel of this team, we can begin to put some of the pieces of the puzzle back together. Niklas Hagman could very well be seen as a Darcy Tucker replacement, while Mikhail Grabovski can be slotted in Kyle Wellwood's old position. Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg pretty much take up the slack for the departed Chad Kilger and Wade Belak. And Curtis Joseph will obviously keep Andrew Raycroft's seat warm. But where do newcomers Jeff Finger and Jonas Frogren fit in?

Given Finger's rather lucrative contract and the work that has been put forth to reel in Frogren from the other side of the globe, you have to expect that both of them are definitely pencilled in as regulars for next season. And I suppose you could make a case that one of these two stay-at-home types will fill in for the gentle giant Hal Gill. However, the 3.5 million dollar eye-opening deal to the former Av is more than likely going to earn him a top four position, leaving Frogren as a possible bottom pairing guy.

Though it may seem like eons ago, Anton Stralman was slated to be a Marlie coming out of camp. Due to injuries, he got his shot with the big club soon after, starting off the year bouncing back and forth from a #6 guy to a healthy scratch. It wasn't until the latter half of the season when his role increased. And considering how well he finished off the season, along with his play in the World Championships, you have to consider him not only a lock to play a regular role on this team, but perhaps even a lock for top four duty as well. Thus giving you 6 players (Kaberle, McCabe, Kubina, Finger, Stralman and White) to fill 4 spots.

Much has been said about Bryan McCabe not being in Fletcher's plans this year despite his NMC. And I have heard theories of Fletch asking him to stay home, to performing some form of ancient Chinese torture on him until he reconsiders his contract. But honestly, this is not the way I see this whole thing unfolding.

Yes, McCabe's agent tried to maximize his own client's value by declining to waive the infamous no-movement clause and instead insist that the Leafs buy him out instead. And obviously that was a valiant effort on his behalf, but there was no hope in the Leafs taking on that type of a hit. Especially for cap purposes. Both Bryan and his agent know full well how the fan base treated the can-opening prodigy back when the team apparently did have him in their plans last season. So does anyone expect more of a positive greeting this go around, should McCabe now be known as the guy that stood in the way of change? Highly doubtful. And considering that there is zero chance left that he will be paid to leave, you can expect a list of teams to finally be handed over to the Silver Fox, giving them the green light to deal him away. A change of scenery may perhaps be the only thing that would entitle Bryan to another crack at a decent contract once this current one expires. And if Wade Redden can score a 6.5 million dollar contract after having two bad seasons, one would expect a decent return for a defender who is merely coming off one bad year.

Moving on to Pavel Kubina, who went from apparent doghouse-tenant back at the deadline, to glory boy in the offseason. You might recall Cliff Fletcher claiming that it would take a very enticing offer to coerce him into trading the big Czech, but then again... what do you expect a GM to say? "I'll trade my greatest moveable asset to the first person that offers me anything?" You'd have to think that the offer San Jose had in place last season looked a lot more like the deal they made to land Dan Boyle this summer, than the deal that managed to acquire Brian Campbell at the deadline. And if another deal comes along that can rival the one that fell through late last season, you have to expect that Fletcher would jump on it. There is simply no other player that could currently demand as much of a return as Kubina can right now.

Lastly, what does the future hold for Ian White or Carlo Colaiacovo? On the open market, despite their brief moments of promise, you're probably looking at a mid-range draft pick or a project with the potential of some upside to them (Suglobov, anyone?). Whether Fletcher is willing to give Cola another chance at staying healthy, or sees White as a competent bottom pairing guy, it remains to be seen. And If Luke Schenn is slotted to play another year in Juniors, the depth chart begins to appear very sparse after Steffan Kronwall. But if Kubina is kept on, I believe you can expect one of these guys dealt. More than likely White.

In the end, the retooling of this team is obviously not over with. Having both Kubina and McCabe on the block in search of suitors that may have missed out on this year's crop of marquis UFA defenders, could possibly land the team a couple of forwards with some decent offensive weaponry, or at the very least restore some of the future draft picks this team has been trading away to get where they are now.... and then of course, there is Mats Sundin.

Stay tuned...

July 24, 2008

Lines We Can Finally Read Between

Surprisingly, not much has been made out of Sundin's latest comments to a Swedish newspaper in the wake of a bogus rumor suggesting that a deal was signed, sealed and delivered to Vancouver.

In Sundin's own words (paraphrased for my own personal convenience), he was flattered by both the Canadiens and Canucks offers, but has not counted out the chance of rejoining the Leafs for a 14th season. A day later, we were told that his final answer would be made on August 1st.

Having gotten to know the large Swede over the course of a decade, there are few NHLers that are as calculated when they get behind a microphone. Sundin has always been very good at keeping with his enigmatic persona, giving a bloodthirsty media little room to find anything noteworthy between the lines in which he is quoted. But having obviously felt a little obligated to address the ongoing rumors that must have Canuck fans in knots right now, we may have finally found a chink in Sundin's armor. And ironically enough, all the big shots here in Toronto seem to have missed it completely.

I personally found two things that were rather telling about Sundin's statements to Aftonbladet. One was the singling out of him not counting out the Leafs, while merely saying that the other two offers were "flattering". Secondly, was revealing that he felt the Toronto offer was "very good".

As much as Leaf fans may feel that they know their Captain, Mats knows the Toronto fans even more. The good people of Toronto do not hold their opinions close to their vests, as he prefers to. So then why go that extra distance to not count out the Leafs? Is he so evil that he would give Toronto false hope just weeks before his decision is final? It would have taken him no effort on his part to simply say that he has not yet decided if he wants to continue his career at all and leave it at that. But to openly acknowledge that the Leafs are still very much in the hunt of all of this? These are the words of a Captain that is at extreme odds with the idea of abandoning his ship.

Secondly, the one thing Mats Sundin has repeated many times before his widely documented fishing trip, was that he was looking for a sign that the new Leafs management had him in their future plans to begin with. I believe he referred to it as "showing interest in him". So when he goes on record saying something to the effect of, "I got a very good offer from (the Leafs), too, and also from Montreal," is he not disclosing that they have done what he asked and showed interest in him? Having matched the offer of the team they traded his negotiating rights to prior to July 1st, pretty much rules out the conspiracy theories that have been floating around that suggest Cliff Fletcher is merely in the bidding for PR reasons.

True enough, nothing can actually be guaranteed until the pen hits the paper. However, since this article made the rounds, the odds of Sundin returning to the Leafs and not retiring or signing with anyone else, appear to be much greater than they were a week ago.