And the last horse crosses the line. I assure you that this isn't a product of my sudden onset of laziness in the blogger realm. Rather, it is a calculated move on my behalf to say something meaningful after putting some thought into things. There are better blogs out there that cover the Leafs to tell you what this trade means for the Leafs and to explain to everyone the virtues of Jake Gardiner, so a day late (and hopefully a day more wise), here I go.
I liked Beauchemin. His contract was reasonable and he seemed like the kind of guy that could provide that steady veteran presence for this young team moving forward. Having said this, the Leafs were excessively deep on the backend and this has been well-documented. In terms of NHL talent, we swapped out an adequate defenseman for an adequate forward.
What We've Got
Lupul is a scoring winger. Sure, we need a center and I get that but it's tough to argue that the lineup doesn't look better with Lupul in it (and Mitchell out) and Beauchemin out of the lineup (and Aulie in it). We now have a pretty good group of wingers with Kessel, MacArthur, Kulemin, Lupul, Armstrong and Versteeg. Three lines worth of wingers seem to be firmly established on Brian Burke's proverbial 'chess board'.
At center, Grabovski has been a steal at his contract value and I would say he's firmly inked in to the team's top six. Kadri will get a chance to center two of the six aforementioned wingers next season. After that, things are kind of bleak in the middle with Bozak struggling mightily to look like an NHL player, let alone the top-six guy we thought we were getting.
Our defense is solid, but is a little short on minute-eating vets now that Beauchemin is gone. Schenn is playing like a vet and eating more minutes than Kyle Wellwood eats... well... anything. Phaneuf will continue to get top four minutes. Burke says Aulie is going to get top four minutes. Komisarek is, uhm, present. Gunnarsson will play more minutes than he has and hopefully he can regain the form that he established last season (something I'm reasonably confident in). Kaberle is here for now -- I'll get into this later. We have three good defensive prospects in Mikus, Holzer and now Gardiner.
What We Need
In my mind, our needs are fairly limited at this point. Most people think that Kaberle is out in the offseason or at the trade deadline and that will definitely be a blow to our offensive production from the backend. We have a slot on the backend that could be filled by one of the three defensive prospects that we've got but my preference would be to see the Leafs pick up a veteran to fill that role, and hopefully one that isn't too expensive.
We need a goalie. Reimer has played well, no doubt about it, but is he a goalie that you feel comfortable hanging your hat on heading into next season? In my mind, he isn't. That isn't to say that he has no longterm potential but I'm not going to hang the fate of the team on his shoulders if I'm Burke. There are two ways they could go here. They could re-sign Giguere or sign someone like him - a veteran that has something to prove that wont cost you much. Not the most reliable option and if you do this, you're probably hoping one of the kids steals the job. Conversely, you could sign or trade for a stud. Bryzgalov and Vokoun are both unrestricted free agents this summer, but they'll cost you.
We desperately need a top center. Grabovski is a good second line center but we really need a playmaking center. They're tough to come by and almost none seem to be available. Brad Richards is the big name UFA and Ottawa has signaled that they're in re-build mode with today's trade of Mike Fisher meaning that Spezza might be available via trade. I have no idea what assets we could send Ottawa for Spezza and we'll be competing with 30 other teams for Richards.
What We Can Do This Season
You have to think that at this point Tomas Kaberle is in play. Both sides are staying quiet on the matter which of course means that something is likely up. Kaberle still has his NTC and as such controls his own fate. Boston is rumoured to be interested, as is Montreal. I'd love to see Kaberle head to Boston for Joe Colborne. I've been signing this tune for a long time now and it just makes so much sense. Colborne is prototypical Burke - a big playmaking center in the mould of Ryan Getzlaf. Boston has too many centers and an ultra-deep system (you're welcome, Bruins fans). Kaberle alongside Chara? Yeah, I think Boston would like that.
Giguere said yesterday that he was going to talk to Burke about his status. I don't know what kind of trade market exists for Giguere. Apparently one exists but I can't imagine that the asset coming our way will address any of our needs for the foreseeable future.
Versteeg is apparently on the block as well and has been receiving interest around the league. I haven't read anything that looks even remotely credible but we'd have to wonder what exactly we would be hoping to accomplish in dealing him. He's young, not bad in his own zone and useful on special teams. If we trade him, we'd be creating a hole in our top three lines that we can't fill internally. If Versteeg goes, you would have to think it's either to pick up a center, pick up some futures or dump some salary. Versteeg makes about $3M a year which is a lot for a guy that has primarily skated on our third line and it's possible that Burke is looking at all his RFAs (MacArthur, Scheen and Gunnarsson among them) and thinking that he might want to be sure he leaves himself enough cash to make a splash on July 1st.
In the past little while I've heard Gustavsson's name mentioned regularly by the mainstream media. While I'm sure that some teams have been sniffing around with The Monster struggling this season, I'm also fairly confident that the offers crossing Burke's desk for the big Swede would be laughable. No team is going to part with meaningful assets for a not-so-young goaltending prospect with a wonky heart. Better to hold onto this guy and hope he develops.
Those are my thoughts on the Leafs heading into the trade deadline. I'm pretty sure that Kaberle finally does move but not sure that there will be much other activity other than maybe some moves made around the edges. Keep in mind that during Burke's press conference following the Lupul deal he alluded to both 'getting younger' and to 'not giving up on this season' which tells me that whatever Burke has in the works will probably involve acquiring roster players and futures simultaneously.
I'm excited. You're excited. Dave Nonis is, well, as excited as Dave Nonis gets. The trade deadline truly is one of the most exciting times of the year for fans of not-so-great hockey teams.