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Answering the Questions

Posted By Ben Fisher On Jul 29 2010 @ 4:58 pm In Toronto Maple Leafs | No Comments

I realize that my last post was on the Leafs’ marquee signing of Marcel Mueller (okay, so he’s an intriguing talent, but hardly a groundbreaking acquisition at this stage), but the truth is that there hasn’t been much going on in Leafs Land.

Sure, Mike Van Ryn retired (shocker!), the team signed a few minor leaguers (stop the presses!) and Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong were introduced at a team function (nice, but hardly news-worthy), but the Leafs are mainly stuck in wait-and-see mode as the Ilya Kovalchuk mess plays itself out.

So instead of checking out what’s going on in Leafs Nation, why not explore some of the questions surrounding the club right now, including whether there are any more free agents out there and what to make of the Tomas Kaberle situation.

Who else is out there?

Unless this Kovalchuk business takes a REALLY surprising turn (I hope not), the Leafs aren’t going to find a linemate for Phil Kessel among the unrestricted free agents left on the market. However, that isn’t to say that no one is left in whom the Buds could have interest.

The name most thrown around is Raffi Torres, the epitome of a Brian Burke type in that he plays with a nasty edge while also having a bit of a scoring touch. While he would fit seamlessly onto a checking third line with, say, John Mitchell and Fred Sjostrom, it all comes down to cost. It would be hard to justify any more than $2 million per year for Torres, especially considering the Leafs have a ready-made third line option in Luca Caputi who will cost just over $850,000 this season.

Beyond Torres, all of Maxim Afinogenov, Paul Kariya and Lee Stempniak remain available, but Afinogenov has the kind of questionable motor Burke can’t stand, Kariya is at a stage in his career where he can afford to be part of a rebuilding effort and Stempniak will only be back in blue and white if Darryl Sutter begins making the team’s personnel decisions.

What’s Kaberle’s status?

The team is taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach regarding Kaberle, figuring that whichever of the Kings or Devils lose out on Kovalchuk will be looking to make a splash and the oft-rumoured defenceman could be a fit.

You’d have to figure that the Leafs would love the chance to trade with L.A., given its rich crop of young forwards that includes Wayne Simmonds, Oscar Moller, Teddy Purcell and maybe even Dustin Brown (Anze Kopitar is, of course, a distant pipe dream). The Devils, meanwhile, have significantly fewer appealing options, but could dangle Travis Zajac, David Clarkson or prospects Mattias Tedenby or Adam Henrique.

Of course, the Kaberle market may not be limited to the Kings and Devils, but Burke will clearly aim to get at least one of the two involved before making a deal. For now, though, the team is in a holding pattern and there’s no guarantee that a deal will get done, at all. As it is, the clock is ticking before Kaberle’s no-trade clause comes back into effect.

Maybe Schenn instead of Kabby?

Call it baseless speculation on my part, but if Burke is truly exhausting all options in his bid to improve the Leafs, surely he has considered the possibility of putting Luke Schenn on the market and holding onto Kaberle.

The initial reaction is a simple one: why would Toronto hold onto a 32-year old set to be a free agent after the season at the expense of a budding 20-year old who has yet to approach his substantial potential? But you’d have to factor in the added value you’d get in a return package, along with the strong opportunity the Leafs will have to retain Kaberle. For instance, you’d have to figure that the Ducks would not begin to consider a Kaberle-for-Bobby Ryan deal, but would at least have to think about Schenn in exchange for their unhappy restricted free agent.

I am not a proponent of valuing Kaberle over Schenn, but simply support the idea of looking into any possibility when it comes to solidifying the team’s top lines.

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