Sports Media Already On To The Next

Funny how quickly we move on to the next thing. The 2008-2009 regular season is not even completed yet and already the media reports complete with speculation about the 2009-2010 squad are everywhere. Last night Howard Berger took a shot at analyzing Burke’s options, and to be fair did a good job. Tonight, it’s Darren Dreger’s turn. Here is a run down on both…The only sure thing about any of this, is that there will be a ton of speculation before next season’s team even shows up at training camp.

“The evidence and challenge lies in the numbers: Including Notre Dame collegian Chris Hanson – signed as a free agent earlier today – Burke has 17 players under contract for 2009-10… nine forwards; seven defensemen and one goalie. Only six are committed for 2010-11. The forwards signed through next year are Hanson, Jason Blake, Niklas Hagman, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan, Kulemin, Mitchell, and Jamal Mayers. The defensemen are Pavel Kubina, Tomas Kaberle, Jeff Finger, Mike Van Ryn, Schenn, Jonas Frogren and Ian White. And, the goalie is Vesa Toskala

This isn’t rocket science by any means, but this is the type of stuff Howard used to do back in the day when he did really good work for the Fan 590. These, my friends are the cards Burke has. So while Burke and Wilson take about change, as in overhaul, it is not going to be easy to make as any changes as are needed. Berger focuses his microscope on Stajan, Ponikarovsky, Mayers and Stempniak as forwards who could be on the move:

Stajan is a reliable, every-game player and a terrific person and teammate, but he seemed to plateau early this season when he performed briefly at a point-per-game pace alongside Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov. He’s not likely to re-assume that offensive posture. The Leafs need a more aggressive presence in his spot and Burke could likely obtain a middle-round draft pick from any number of teams in a deal.”

Well, thanks to Cliff’s errors the Leafs are now once again shy a 4th round draft pick. Funny how Stajan was once talked about as captain material. There are two issues Burke has to consider here. First, does the current management team think this guy is part of the solution. Do they think Stajan is going to be part of their team when it goes over the hump? If the answer is no, then they need to decide when this asset will be at it’s peak value, if that time has passed then they need to move on now. Otherwise they need to try to maximize it. The other question is, to the best of their ability can they realisticly think they can improve on what they are getting from Stajan? He is cheap, he is good in the room and he may still be coach-able. How easy will it be to find guys like that to fill Stajan’s spot? I don’t know the answer, but they better be able to answer it.

Ponikarovsky is prime trading material at the moment. He’ll finish this season with a career best in goals [likely between 25 and 28] and Burke would be wise to strike while the iron’s hot. Pony has one year left before unrestricted free agency and may never be a better player than he is right now. He’s worth a second-round pick and a prospect from the right team.”

It’s hard to disagree with any of that rationale. Cliff blew it by not trading Vesa Toskala at his peak, Burke can’t do the same with others. The issue with Poni is, how do you replace those goals. The guy has come into his own of late and can the leafs afford to be without that production? Again, I don’t know the answer, but Burke had better before he deals him away.

“Though Mayers is a respected veteran and a good guy, the Leafs must replace his spot on the roster with a younger player. Burke can easily buy out the remaining year of his $1.4-million contract.”

I am not in the locker-room so I don’t know what Mayers has brought to the room. I for one, however don’t think we got that which was advertised when the deal was made to bring him. I have to believe Burke would have given him away at the deadline if he could have. I don’t see him being any easier to move with a whole year left on his contract. This reeks of buyout.

Stempniak is a decent forward, but not worth a roster position on a restructuring team. He might be tradable, given that his cap hit [$1.882 million] is less than his salary [$3.5 million]. Otherwise, Burke has the flexibility to buy out his final year as well.”

This one worries me the most. It worries me because this was a gross miscalculation of talent on the part of talent. The Leafs can’t afford to make these types of mistakes going forward. I don’t know if this was all Cliff, his pro-scouts or Al Coates or anyone else. I hope Burke in part judges his team of scouts based on this trade. He needs to learn who on his pro scouting staff missed on this and why.

“The blueline presents a tougher challenge. You can be certain that Burke will trade Kubina if a rival team steps up to assume his $5 million contract [and cap hit] for next season. But, to me, that’s a big if. First, another GM has to determine that Kubina is worth $5 million… almost assuredly, from a club that considers itself a Cup contender, and a team that believes the addition of a mostly one-dimensional rearguard is worth the cash. Most importantly, the team must have cap room to work with, and choose to spend it on one player….Burke should not be seeking any sort of return here. If he can give away Kubina’s salary, he sheds mammoth cap space and opens up a valuable roster spot for next season. But, again, that won’t be easy.”

That is hard to imagine, giving Kubina away. While I may not be totally enamored by Kubina, I don’t see how they can just give him away either. I know the value of cap space but I would like to think (and maybe I am crazy) that Burke will find a way to get more then nothing for this asset. We got more then nothing for McCabe and McCabe’s value at the time was probably lower then Kubina’s will be this summer. Either way, I find it hard to imagine Kubina being at training camp next season.

Kaberle is a better trade option, given that he still has two years left on his modest $4.25-million pact. That allows an opposing team to slot Kaberle into its budget for 2010-11. But, it’s also a prime reason in Burke’s mind to retain the Czech blueliner. He has to balance Kaberle’s easy contract; his skill-set, and his low-maintenance demeanor against the convenience of hanging on to a player that knows almost nothing about winning at the NHL level. When next season begins, it will be more than five calendar years since Kaberle last appeared in a playoff game. Barring the unforeseen, that interval will likely grow to seven years, as the Leafs aren’t expected to push into the top eight before 2011. At that point, Kaberle will be 33 and at the end of his contract. Therefore, striking a deal this summer – or next trade deadline, at the latest – is imperative for Burke.”

I know I am in the minority here, but I think he has to deal TK this summer. This is where Burke was to start the building in earnest. This isn’t a knock on Kaberle. It’s simply a matter of making sure you get the most for the assets you have.

“If Burke and Wilson are keen on moving Oreskovic into a full-time role, Ian White presents a good trade option. I know Burke has stated on several occasions that he likes the maturing defenseman, but Oreskovic could provide the Leafs some much-needed sandpaper on the back end [he first has to be re-signed as a restricted free agent]. White will make only $950,000 next season and has proven to rival teams that he can play regularly, if a bit too passively for the Leafs’ growing needs.”

This one is hard for to imagine, but I guess anything is possible. White makes little coin and certainly has done everything that has been asked of him. However, he is no different then any other asset Burke has. The same questions have to be answered and the same evaluations made with White along with any other player. I can’t see him getting much value back in a trade. If I were a betting man, White is back.

Darren Dreger looks a little more at who may be coming back the other way. Burke was on with Brady and Watters this afternoon, he gave his usual interview, he basically said that today, the day the Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs is a day that everyone within the organization has to wear the badge of failure. He continued that his goal is to win a cup and that to do that you have to build properly and his short term goal is to make the playoffs next year. You could hear the exasperation in his voice when said that when he told reporters that his short term goal was to make the playoffs next season how quickly they started asking if that meant this “rebuilding” plan was off and to get ready for quick fixes all over again. He answered that you can build a franchise properly and still aim to the make the playoffs in the same fashion. I had really hoped Brady or Watters had asked Burke just how frustrating it is dealing with the media in this town. I clearly get the impression that it is the media who is a lot less impatient the the fans are. Maybe it’s the free playoff junkets or something….

Brian Burke says changes will be made in the off-season to ensure Toronto is a playoff contender a year from now. Acquiring a first line center is the Maple Leafs’ top priority, followed by adding toughness, more reliable defensemen and a backup goaltender capable of challenging Vesa Toskala.”

I think “ensure” is a dangerous word, but they that’s just semantics. Burke and Wilson have both been preaching patience, which I am ready to say I have a lot of right now. I only hope that Burke doesn’t blow his was on filling his wish list too early. It would be great if he could fill some of these needs this off-season. I really don’t see the need to go drastic on them right now. If the cap is going to drop after next season the ability to get someone phenomenal on the cheap is going to present itself.

“Sources say the Leafs will show interest in impending unrestricted free agents Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Mike Cammalleri, Marian Gaborik and Jay Bouwmeester.”

Sorry DD, but there is no news in saying the leafs will show interest. Rest assured Burke will call the agents of almost every major free agent to at least test the waters. Whether or not he gets involved in active “bidding” for their services is a completely different matter altogether. Again, I know I am not in the majority here, but i am not a huge fan of the Sedins and am also not a big fan of GM’s who reacquire players they have had on other teams.

“However, if any of those players are seeking six million or more, then the Leafs will seek alternative means to plug their holes.”

I know the economy is shit, but these GM’s do silly things on July 1, usually at the instruction of their owners. It says here, each gets big bucks from other teams and that is okay.

“Both Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina are expected to become trade bait again at the NHL entry draft and if the return includes a top line centre and a fifth or sixth defenceman in the package, a deal might get done.”

Now that is interesting. In terms of Kubina, it certainly is better then no return whatsoever. I know I said it above, but I really hope Burke finds a way to move both these guys.

“With the salary cap possibly falling from $56 million to as low as the high 40s by the 2010-11, long term, big money contracts will be avoided. Every team in the league knows Toronto has an abundance of cap space and is aware Burke anticipates his phone will ring when teams either pressured by the cap, or the economy are forced to make a move. If this is the case, the Maple Leafs will be ready and will happily trade for a top-line forward, an upgrade on their blueline, or a qualified goaltender.”

I much prefer the trade route to the free agent route personally. I can’t see the cap dropping below 50 million. That would be a huge drop and a big fat bitter pill for the players to swallow. However, provided Burke doesn’t do anything stupid contract wise this summer, the farther the cap drops the better off the Leafs are (despite what Richie MacLean says). Burke not only has cap space (and the more the better) he also has owners who are fully willing to spend it. That is a lethal weapon in the NHL these days.

“Yet, as eager as Burke is to make the playoffs next season, he says the rebuild will remain on track and while he will continue to add players, he will only do so as long as there is no risk of jeopardizing the teams long term success.”

Let’s hope that is right. As I said, the fans are a hell of a lot more patient then the press are that’s for sure. I have no urgency for Burke to fill every hole this summer. I don’t have any patience for getting it wrong though. In the cap world there is no margin for error. No stupid long term contracts that we will be saying a year from now, how they hell do me move that contract. That would be way worse then not making the playoffs next season.

You can read Dreger here and Berger here.

About the Author