Sunday, February 26, 2012

Top Leaf-Related Storylines of the Trade Deadline

Happy Trade Deadline!

There's no denying that last year's deadline was a bust and this year's may not show much promise from a league-wide perspective but there are lots of interesting storylines with regards to the Leafs.

In the spirit of the day, we've decided to list the biggest Leaf stories to follow as the day wears on.

Grabovski: Will he stay or will he go?

Negotiations with Mikhail Grabovski have taken a turn for the weird.  Last week it was reported that Grabovski was seeking 'Kessel money' ($5.4M) but that Burke was offering $5M.  Looking at those figures, one would expect that a deal was eminently reachable.  With less than 24 hours to the deadline, there's no deal in place and it's suddenly decision time for Brian Burke.

If Burke sees Grabovski's departure as a 50:50 proposition, it's likely that Grabo will be plying his trade elsewhere by Monday evening.  Even with the Leafs fighting for a playoff spot, the rebuild is still very much ongoing and there's no way this team can afford to lose a player of Grabovski's calibre for nothing.


There's little doubt that the Leafs' goaltending has been one of the primary reasons why the team isn't currently occupying a playoff spot.  Burke finds himself in an awkward situation at the moment as veteran goaltenders like Nabokov or Khabibulin are believed to be available but Nabokov and Vokoun could both be had as free agents in July.

Do you spend assets in the middle of a rebuild to bring in a stop gap or do you wait until the offseason to address the position?  Either way, it's clear that a change needs to be made by next season.

Clearing Cap Space

There's actually a chance that some good players will be free agents this offseason.  While Suter seems likely to stick around in Nashville, the likelihood of Zach Parise re-signing in New Jersey seems slim.  As mentioned earlier, both Vokoun and Nabokov will likely be available on July 1st as well.  All of this says nothing of the possibility of high-priced players hitting the trade market.

With lots of money committed to non-core pieces (Lombardi, Armstrong, Connolly, Komisarek) Brian Burke would do well to move some of these players out while the demand for experience exists.  The return may not be great (or existent) but getting the contracts off the books heading into the summer is reward enough.

Addressing the Center Position

While it's unlikely that the Leafs will add their coveted first-line center by the deadline, Paul Stastny's name has popped up again.  While he's had a couple of down season's in Colorado and his $6.6M cap hit is more than a little daunting, there's no denying that he has top-line talent in him and Kessel and Lupul may be just the wingers to extract it.

If the cost of the deal is futures, then why not make this deal at the deadline rather than in the summer?  If the goaltending improves a bit, Stastny might provide that added push we need to secure a playoff spot.

The First-Round Pick

Seems like a long time since the Leafs have used their own first-round selection in the NHL Entry Draft.  A few weeks ago when asked if the pick was in play, Burke responded, "absolutely."  Since that time, the team has gone into a tailspin and one wonders if, given the team's present position in the standings, Burke might have changed his tune on this.

What kind of asset would it take for Toronto to part with their first-round selection?

Who's a Part of the Longterm Plan?

By 4:00pm tomorrow I expect we'll have a much clearer picture as to what the core of this team is moving forward.  The prospects kept, the positions where players are sent out, and whatever assets are brought in will all provide important clues as to which Leafs are likely to wear the Maple Leaf when the team finally rises from the proverbial ashes.

Already, we can be fairly certain that Jake Gardiner will be a Leaf for the longterm after several teams have been told to take a hike, in not so many words, when they inquired about the young blueliner.  Expect a little more clarity tomorrow afternoon.

Is There Another Kaberle or Beauchemin Deal Out There?

It's easy to say this because both deals worked out so well but as a fan with little faith in this year's roster, I would love to see another deal like the two moves Burke made last deadline.  Even had the deals not worked out so well, I would probably feel the same (see Caputi, Luca).  Trading a guy who isn't in the longterm plan for a prospect who is a year or less away from the NHL is the kind of move I'm really hoping for.

The trick with these deals seems to be --as we learned from the Caputi experience-- to put a little stock in draft pedigree even though the player is a couple years removed from when they were drafted.  Both Gardiner and Colborne were former first round selections and they seem to have worked out very well so far.  Let's hope there's another one like these this deadline.

That's it.  Those are our stories to follow this deadline.  Check us out on Twitter at @bcphockeyblog tomorrow where we will undoubtedly be at our snarkiest -- especially if the Habs or Senators make any moves.

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