Since we last spoke (okay, so it’s a pretty one-sided conversation), the Leafs formally placed the ‘C’ on Dion Phaneuf, made a little bit of noise at the NHL Entry Draft, reportedly toyed with the idea of adding Marc Savard and have been mentioned in countless trade rumours.
Was any of it headline-worthy? Not particularly (the Phaneuf decision had been widely known ahead of time, and Bradley Ross still has a ways to go), but, then again, these are the Leafs we’re talking about. That being said, let’s break down what’s been going on in Leafs Nation and what it all means going forward.
You knew Brian Burke couldn’t sit out for too long without making his presence known at the draft. True, it took until day two but I believe Burke when he says that team brass had Ross projected as a first rounder. In order to snap up the feisty, pest-like Darcy Tucker clone, Toronto sent un-signed prospect Jimmy Hayes to Chicago in exchange for the No. 43 selection.
Ross won’t offer the natural talent of his Portland Winterhawks’ linemates (No. 4 over-all selection Ryan Johansen and No. 5 Nino Niederreiter), but he’s clearly a ‘truculent’ player in the Burke mold. His gritty style could help get him fast track towards the NHL. Don’t expect the same from the team’s other selections, as players like Greg McKegg (No. 62) and Sondre Olden (No. 79) are quite raw and will need some seasoning in the minors.
For those seeking more immediate returns on investment from the Buds, Burke also picked up tough guy Mike Brown from the Ducks for a fifth round pick (No. 122 over-all). While this simply wasn’t going to be “a great draft” for Toronto, as the ever-objective Leafs TV talking heads termed it, the team did well to add several promising prospects and an NHL veteran while surrendering little down the road (a 2012 third rounder in exchange for the Olden pick).
Like most fans, I was sceptical of the addition of a 32-year old pivot with a big contract and a concussion history at anything more than 60 cents on the dollar. But with word that Boston isn’t seeking more than that to unload Marc Savard and the $7 million a year he’s owed for each of the next two seasons, the prospect of reuniting Savard with Phil Kessel became all the more appealing.
The Bruins find themselves facing salary cap and roster woes, as they look to free up money as well as minutes for No. 2 over-all pick Tyler Seguin. In a strange way, the Kessel deal (more later) and the Leafs’ poor season may have had a direct correlation to Savard being available at a discount rate. While any Savard-to-Toronto trade is far from a done deal (Burke seems to be in no hurry and Ottawa may also have interest), getting a guy who can serve as the team’s No. 1 centre while also mentoring Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri seems well worth a middling prospect and/or low future draft choice.
The Leafs, according to reports, don’t intend to venture anywhere near the biggest UFA on the market in Ilya Kovalchuk. Sure, the highly skilled Russian would offer the team a vaunted one-two sniper combination, but it’s hard to justify a $7 million per year cap hit on what will likely be a long-term deal for a player that has never led his teams to any postseason success.
That’s not to say that Burke won’t be active. He covets Dan Hamhuis for the right price, which could be a challenge given his tough negotiations with Cup contenders Philadelphia and now Pittsburgh. He could also look into acquiring toughness up the middle in Matthew Lombardi or Matt Cullen.
One intriguing and oft-mentioned possibility lies in the restricted free agent market, where Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan resides. While he faces contract uncertainty with the Ducks and there would undoubtedly be interest on the Leafs’ end for a reunion of Ryan with the man who drafted him, Toronto likely doesn’t have the assets to offer up in a sign-and-trade deal (even Luke Schenn may not sweeten the pot sufficiently for Ducks brass).
With the draft behind us, the Kessel swap becomes a little more clear in terms of just what the Maple Leafs gave up for the 22-year old scoring winger. The obvious sacrifice is Tyler Seguin, whom the Bruins selected with the No. 2 pick acquired in the deal. Not to mention second round choice (No. 32 over-all) Jared Knight.
While the development of those prospects, plus whatever value Boston gets from Toronto’s 2011 first rounder, will go a long way in determining who got the best of the blockbuster deal, they weren’t the only assets currently benefiting the Bruins from the trade. The B’s also picked up 25-year old power forward Nathan Horton from Florida in exchange for, among other assets, their own first round pick, a pick they likely would have been reluctant to move without the No. 2 selection. Horton had been a player eyed by the Leafs, thereby meaning that their own earlier deal had essentially prevented them from acquiring another asset.
That isn’t to say I am prepared to assert that Boston got the better of the Kessel swap, but these are tangential elements of the trade which must be considered in a big picture evaluation.
About the Author
Written by Ben Fisher