February 27, 2008

The Not-So-Instant Analysis

Forget "Family Day." If Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals wanted to give Ontarians a February holiday, it should have been on Tuesday so we could have all celebrated "Trade Deadline Day" at home. I guarantee it would have assured McGuinty more than 42.2% of the popular vote.

McGuinty declaring "Trade Deadline Day" a province-wide holiday likely would have found PC leader John Tory in an even bigger mess than he finds himself in today. Although, after last weekend, that's debatable.

But I digress.

Another NHL trade deadline has come and gone, but fret not internet, I'm here to offer my $0.02. In contrast to the hours and hours and hours and hours of deadline day coverage on TSN, Sportsnet and The Score - I think TSN was on the air at a ridiculous 8:00 am - which were full of breaking trades and expert opinion, I offer you my not-so-instant analysis. Better late than never, right?

First of all, Maple Leafs fans rejoice! The trade deadline is done and gone and Yanic Perreault is not a Maple Leaf for the fourth time in his career. Phew. With Toronto only six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot on Tuesday morning I was beginning to get a little worried.

I think general manager Cliff Fletcher, who is pictured above looking at the Leafs' roster the day he was re-hired in January, did the best he could. As everyone knows by now, none of the Untradeables (literally) - Sundin, Kaberle, Kubina, Tucker and McCabe - were willing to waive their no-trade clauses, so Fletcher's hands were tied. After those five, the roster was pretty thin. Sure, teams called about Antropov and Toskala, but Fletcher made it known that he wasn't even entertaining the notion of trading those two (atta boy, Clifford!).

"There were enquiries about Nik, but you have to decide where you start building. ... For us, Antropov and Toskala fit nicely into that pattern, they are two players we want to see around here and be part of a winning team," he said.

So all you suckers who wanted Antropov to be traded (Damien Cox I'm looking at you), all I have to say is: ha-ha!

As for the deals Fletcher did make, I'm in approval of all them. By trading three roster players for draft picks Fletcher proved that the organization is headed in the right direction, and Leaf fans across the land, near and far, should take solace in that. Had Fletch added a body for the stretch run (ie: "No Panic" Yanic freakin' Perreault) it would have simply been more of the same old, same old that has found the Leafs in their current predicament. And Fletcher's comments after the 3:00 pm deadline passed proved that had some no-trade clauses not been exercised, the Leafs would have been even bigger sellers.

Wade Belak to Florida for a 5th round selection in 2008

Wow. For a guy with an expiring contract who hardly plays, and is only skilled with his fists, it's pretty damn impressive that Fletcher was able to coax a fifth rounder out of the Panthers for Belak's services. Cliff really is the Silver Fox.

I will say this about Belak though: he knows his role, and he fulfilled it admirably in Toronto. It's not easy to shuffle in and out of the lineup, never playing more than a few minutes a game, and play both forward and defence whenever called upon. I'll also never forget the way Belak so graciously gave up his number two the day Toronto acquired Brian Leetch. Last season, after lousy thug Cam Janssen almost tore Kaberle's head off with a cheap shot, Belak went toe-to-toe with him in the next meeting between New Jersey and Toronto. Belak protected his teammates passionately and made sure anyone who took liberties with them was dealt with accordingly.

Wade was also a great quote and one of the funnier characters in the Leafs dressing room. He always made fun of himself, and here's the best example. Belak will be missed, and I'm glad he was able to pot one earlier this season to end a four year drought. My friend Ryan put it best: "Once you go Be-lak, you don't go back." Cheers, Waddy.

Chad Kilger to Florida for a 3rd round pick in '08

A sound trade. I grew fond of Kilger over the past few seasons, but he was one of the few Leafs who could actually help another team out there, although I figured he would go to a contender. He's under contract for a very reasonable $700 grand next season and if every player finished their check the way Kilger does, well, teams would need a lot more ice packs in their dressing rooms. The guy's a machine.

From the day he arrived in Toronto, Kilger impressed me with his work ethic. He skated hard every night and was the most dogged forechecker I can remember in a Leafs uniform. He literally hit everyone in sight. He turned out to be a useful third-line player and his 17 goals last season were a career high. If there's one thing John Ferguson Jr. can be applauded for, it's for picking guys up off the waiver wire and getting them to contribute. See Kilger, Boyd Devereaux, and most-recently Dominic Moore as examples. However, the rebuilding process is slowly but surely under way in Toronto, so Kilger for a third round pick had to be done.

Kilger's clearly going through some personal problems but I wish him well down in Miami.

Hal Gill for a 2nd round pick in '08 & 5th round pick in '09

Big Hal was another guy I figured would be relatively easy to move come trade deadline day and I'm glad he's off to Pittsburgh to play for a contender. He deserves it. At $2.1 million next season, Gill is a great number four or five defenceman who effectively kills penalties, although you wouldn't know it by looking at the Leafs' penalty kill numbers.

Gill was steady as they come in the defensive zone in his one and three quarter seasons in Toronto. While much-maligned for usually being the slowest guy in the rink on most nights, what he lacked in foot speed he made up for in size and reach. He's a stay-at-home defenceman who can play 20 minutes every night against the opposition's top forwards. What's wrong with that? I've said it before and am sticking to it: people who hate on Hal Gill don't know their hockey.

Gill's departure means a permanent spot on the blue line for youngster Anton Stralman, who looks like a promising puck-moving defenceman. I am a little concerned as for what the plan is when Carlo Colaiacovo inevitably gets injured but, hey, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

On to the trade that didn't happen - Pavel Kubina to San Jose for Kyle McLaren. Supposedly, Kubina had agreed to waive his no-trade clause and be sent out west, but after the 5-0 shelling of the Ottawa Senators by the Leafs on Monday night, he changed his mind, much to the chagrin of Fletcher.

Now Kubina has come out and said it was all a big misunderstanding. Of course it was. What really happened? Hell if I know. What I do know is that Fletcher was not a happy man at his post-deadline presser and unless Kubina is instrumental in leading the Leafs to the playoffs, his career in Toronto looks to be winding down. You don't piss off the Silver Fox and get away with it. If the Leafs do miss the playoffs, Kubina can be traded over the summer without his consent and it looks like Fletcher is going to be all over that clause like a fat kid on a smartie (a red one).

I've got to admit that I enjoyed Fletcher's pissy mood at his presser Tuesday afternoon. While he was able to pick up some draft picks, it's clear he wanted badly to move some of the Untradeables. He knows that this Leafs team reeks of mediocrity and needs to be rebuilt. It seems like he's made it his mission to fix this mess, and then sail off into the sunset of retirement as the man who fixed the Toronto Maple Leafs, or at least got them going down the right path. I don't know about you, but I like what Fletcher has done and am buying what he's selling (full disclosure: I'm a Leafs whore - I even bought what Ferguson Jr. was selling).

Quick side note - how about Captain Mats? He was a monster in Florida last night, rallying the Leafs from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2, and scoring the tying goal with just over a minute left to play in regulation. The Leafs went on to win the game in a shootout and have now won five of six. The Leafs have commenced their standard late-season push and mission squeak into the playoffs is under way in earnest.

In the two games since refusing to be traded out of town, Sundin has tallied three goals and one assist. This is why I have no qualms about him staying in Toronto. He is the Maple Leafs. A friend of mine, Rav, was pretty upset after reading Dave Feschuk's column in the Star on Tuesday. Upset enough to send me an email announcing his hatred for all things Feschuk, who was all over Sundin for not agreeing to be traded. Hey Dave, Sundin did hold all the cards, and deservedly so. He didn't want to go and play for the Montreal Canadiens because in his heart he's a Toronto Maple Leaf. Any true fan will tell you that they understand that. If Sundin is a Maple Leaf in his heart, putting on the Habs sweater, or the Senators sweater, the jersey of the enemies, is akin to blasphemy.

For Feschuk to justify Sundin's numbers by saying, "But playing for a bad team, facing mostly B goalies and opponents' C games, is one of easiest ways to put up good numbers in pro sports," is completely ludicrous and tells you why Feschuk is the Star's basketball columnist. Stick to hoops, bro.

Alright, I'm glad that's off my chest. On to the rest of my better-late-than-never trade deadline thoughts. Other than the "my jobber for your jobber" trades and teams looking to get rid of their expiring contracts trades, only a few of the deals really were shockers - Brad Richards to Dallas, Cristobal Huet to Washington, and Marian Hossa to the Penguins.

Richards to Dallas, in my opinion, makes the Stars the team to beat in the Western Conference. I know the Ducks are the defending champions but the Stars have been quietly putting together a superb season, and Richards is going to explode now that he's finally out of Tampa Bay. While he certainly does make a lot of coin ($7.8 million a season!) he'll only be 28 in May, and already has a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe on his resume. Not too shabby.

I actually had a dream about Brad Richards once. I dreamt that he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. I swear. It felt so real. I must say it was pretty awesome. Until I realized it was only a dream. Then it sucked.

I definitely did not see the Huet to Washington deal coming. I don't think anybody did. At first, I figured it was the pre-cursor to another trade, as both Alex Tanguay and Marian Hossa were rumoured to be headed to la belle provence. But, nope, Huet for a second round pick was all the Habs did on Tuesday. Huet, turns out, is a free agent, and with Carey Price in the mix the Habs had no intention of bringing him back, so they got what they could.

No doubt it's a risky move by Bob Gainey. He's got balls of steel, that Gainey does. But his track record speaks for itself. I think Habs fans are lucky, and appreciative, to have Gainey steering their ship. Price, the future, is only 20 years old, and is now the new number one goalie in Montreal. I guess the future is now.

A risky move, yes, and while Montreal isn't exactly the easiest place for a young goalie to step in and lead the team to the promised land, I believe the Canadiens have been through something like this before. Back in 1986, some guy named Patrick Roy played 47 games in goal for the Habs during the regular season before being handed the reigns in the playoffs. The end result? Montreal won the Stanley Cup, and that Roy fellow won the Conn Smythe as MVP. I think that Roy dude ended up having a pretty decent career.

Oddly enough, in 1985 Roy came out of nowhere to lead Montreal's farm team, the Sherbrooke Canadiens of the AHL, to the Calder Cup. Last season, Carey Price came out of junior hockey to lead the Montreal farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, to the Calder Cup. The similarities are downright scary.

What's left? Ah, yes, Marian Hossa, the biggest name on the market. I'm not sure what the folks down in Pittsburgh are smoking but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's some pretty good stuff. The Penguins, by trading Colby Armstrong (age 25), Erik Christensen (age 24), Angelo Esposito (age 19), and a first round draft pick to boot, grossly overpaid for Hossa and journeyman Pascal Dupuis. They basically gave up three first round picks (both Armstrong and Esposito were selected in the first round of the draft) and a young player with decent finish around the net to acquire a soon-to-be free agent who disappears in the playoffs.

It's one thing if they were getting a proven playoff performer, but Hossa's playoff stats are abysmal. In 55 career post-season games he's managed to score only 13 times and put up an uninspiring 35 points. Dude's invisible when the games really count. Last season, when Atlanta was swept by the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, Hossa went out with a whimper, registering only one assist and a -6. Grossly overpaid is an overstatement. I know the Penguins wanted someone to play with super Sidney Crosby, but they gave up a nice chunk of their future to get Hossa, who I'm not even sure they'll be able to re-sign after they hand Evgeni Malkin a blank cheque (seriously, when did Malkin become the league's leading scorer?!?!?).

If Hossa could command such a price from the Penguins, imagine what Sundin would have gotten the Leafs in terms of young players and draft picks? It definitely makes you think. While I'm more than happy Sundin is still in Toronto, I can definitely understand why Fletcher was peeved. The Untradeables really made his job a lot tougher than it needed to be, and Fletch only has John Ferguson Jr. to blame for that.

Now that the deadline has passed the games start to get really interesting. The intensity kicks up a notch as the playoffs creep closer and closer. This is what it's all about. This is the time of year I live for, especially since the Leafs don't make the playoffs anymore. Unfortunately, the stretch run has become my "playoffs." Here's hoping, err, praying, that changes.

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