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With the trade freeze in effect, Leaf players are safe, but for how long?

 

 

Brian Burke was brought in to rebuild the Maple Leafs and turn them into a contender sooner then later. He has had a few weeks to evaluate his club and once the trade freeze is up on the 26 th of this month all bets are off as to who will be ending the season in Toronto. With the exception of rookie stud defence Luke Schenn, any player in the blue and white could be used as trait bait to rebuild this storied franchise.

Burke says he wants to have an entertaining team with lots of size and toughness. Right now, the Leafs are far from it but coach Ron Wilson has done a pretty good job with what he’s got. But you can be sure that’s not going to stop Burke from making some moves, no matter how close the Leafs are to making the playoffs come the March 4 th trade deadline. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what each Maple Leafs player brings to the table and what might happen to them come trade deadline.

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Forwards

Jason Blake - The speedy forward has not lived up to expectations after signing a 5 year, 20 million dollar 2 summers ago. Yes, he has had to battle a bout of cancer, but he just hasn’t produced the way he should. He is still an effective player, but at 4 million a year you expect more from him and with 3 more years left on his current contract he would be almost impossible to move unless he was part of some big package deal. Expect him to be bought out in the summer.

Niklas Hagman - The former Dallas Star has been a nice addition to the Leafs this season. At 3 million a year for 3 more years, the Leafs have a very good contract in place. He’s a good all-around player and isn’t shy to play a physical style that Burke likes. He does have some good trade value but he’s in his prime under a good contract and would definitely help the Leafs in the future.

Alexei Ponikarovsky - Over the past few seasons, Ponikarovksy has become a consistent 20-goal player. He’s a good skater, has some great size that he could use more and has a good shot. He’s got another year left on his contract at a cap hit of 2.1 million so he is very affordable and should he get traded the team knows they have another year left at a decent price with the big Ukrainian. A team looking for some depth at forward could make a pitch for him close to the deadline.

Nik Antropov - The big center has had an injury prone career thus far but in the past few seasons has shown some more potential and is in the prime of career. At 6’6, he’s a big body who has learnt how to use his size more effectively in the corners and driving the net. He is a lot like Ponikarovksy and does have some decent value. Expect him to almost certainly be moved, as he is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

Lee Stempniak - the recently acquire forward came over from St. Louis and hasn’t impressed. The former 27-goal scorer has yet to regain his scoring touch from 2 years ago, but still has the potential to get back to that level. At a cap hit of 1.88 million he is very affordable but needs to be with the right players to produce. He is also a good pick up for teams seeking forward depth going into the playoffs.

Matt Stajan - The 24-year-old center is off to the best start of his career. He has done well with the extra ice-time and is making the most of it by leading the Leafs in scoring. Stajan is a good all-around player and is still going to get better. At 1.75 million a season he comes at a great price and loves playing in Toronto close to his hometown of Mississauga. I expect him to be around Toronto for a few more years.

 

 

 

Jamal Mayers - After spending his entire career in St. Louis, Mayers was traded to Toronto to add some toughness and speed up front. He is the type of Brian Burke player who will skate up and down his wing, bang some bodies, stick up for his teammates and pot some goals here and there. His trade value isn’t too high, but a team looking for some toughness might try and land him for a low draft pick.

Dominic Moore - a responsible two-way center, Moore comes to the rink everyday and works his hardest every shift he’s given. Primarily used as a 4 th line player, Moore excels on the forcheck and penalty-kill. His offensive talent is limited, but his hard work nets him some points here and there. He’s a UFA at season’s end, so he could be shopped or re-signed for close to his 900,000 he is earning right now.

Mikhail Grabovski - the 24-year-old Belarussian finally earned a spot and some regular playing time and has found some nice chemistry with linemate Niklas Hagman. He has good speed, hands, shot and offensive creativity. How he plays until the deadline will dictate what Burke decides to do with the smallish rookie.

Nikolai Kulemin - The 22-year-old rookie Russian had a pretty good start but has tailed off since. Known for his good hands and goal scoring ability, the left-winger still has plenty of time to develop and is one of Toronto’s young talents. It all depends on how good Burke thinks he will get. Kulemin is a good prospect.

John Mitchell - Mitchell has only 25 games under his belt has been average so far as a rookie. He is known more as a point producer but is still adapting to the faster pace of the NHL. Still only 23, he does have some upside and is only playing for the league minimum. He does not have much trade value at this time.

Ryan Hollweg - In the past few seasons, Hollwegg has quickly become one of the most hated agitator’s in the game today. Sometimes crossing the line with questionable hits, as he has already been suspended twice this year. Hollwegg is a good forchecker when doing it correctly and always keeps opponents on their toes. He brings virtually no offence to the table, but is there to cause havoc and nothing else.

 

 

 

I would say the only untouchable on the team is Luke Schenn. He’s going to be a player to build around, is only 18 years old and more importantly, the type of player Brian Burke loves. Everybody else could possibly be moved. Of course he’s not going to trade the whole team away. Guys like Niklas Hagman, Mikhail Grabovski have shown some great chemistry together. Matt Stajan has had a great first quarter to the season and Mike Van Ryn who was acquired in the Bryan McCabe deal was playing very well before getting injured. At the very least though, all of these players have some trade value should Burke decide to move them.

When Burke does make moves this season, it’s expected they will be for prospects and draft picks. Something the Maple Leafs have been in desperate need of for years. But this is another reason why we shouldn’t expect much from the Maple Leafs in the first couple years of Brian Burke being the general manager. It takes time for teams to rebuild, no matter who is the general manager. When the time is right, Burke will also make some moves via free agency. Toronto does have some available cap space now and should have more in the summer. There will be plenty of money to make a splash come July 1 if Burke sees a piece of the puzzle his team could use.

The signing of Brian Burke by the Toronto Maple Leafs is a great move. He is the most logical choice of GM for a team in the state the Leafs are in right now. He turned a weak Canucks team into a constant playoff team and helped the Anaheim Ducks to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. He is also a long-time friend of coach Ron Wilson so that should do wonders with communication and the feeling out process of the team in the initial stages. But there’s a reason why Burke signed a 6-year contract and with some time, Burke should show the hockey world why he is the right man for the job.

 

Defense

Pavel Kubina - The big Czech rearguard has had a decent stint in Toronto so far despite battling through injuries in the first 2 seasons of his big 4 year, 20 million dollar contract. Kubina provides solid defence, a big shot from the point and can play a physical game as well. Kubina does have a limited no trade clause to pre-specific teams. At 5 million a year he won’t easy to move but does have only 1 year left on his contract.

Tomas Kaberle - Playing in his 10 th season in a Leafs uniform, the smooth skating defence continues to show his value as one of the better puck movers and power play quarterbacks in the league. He does not play a physical game and can be overwhelmed sometimes in his own end but he is a good one-on-one player. With 2 years left at 4.250 million a season, Kaberle does have a no trade clause so his fate is in his hands.

Jeff Finger- The Leafs signed the relatively unknown right-hander to a questionable 4 year, 14 million dollar contract in the summer and he has done a decent job. Finger is a stay-at home type defenseman that plays a physical game. The jury is still out on this signing and given his price tag, he will be hard to move. Burke might just have to hope Finger can continue to play a solid game and take care of his own end.

Mike Van Ryn - After coming over in the Bryan McCabe deal, Van Ryn looked very steady to start the season until he suffered a concussion and shoulder injury after going hard into the end boards. The former captain of team Canada at the World Juniors, Van Ryn doesn’t do anything great but is good in most areas. Teams interested in a top 4 D-man may show some interest in him come deadline day.

Luke Schenn - The 19 year old rookie hasn’t looked out of place at all and is gaining valuable experience while playing about 21 minutes a night. He is a hard hitter, solid in his own end and is still working on his offensive game. This is one player that is not going anywhere, as he will be looked upon to anchor the blueline for year’s to come. This is exactly the type of player Brian Burke loves to see in his line-up.

Ian White - After being in Ron Wilson’s doghouse for the start of the season, White has played pretty well when given a chance. He has shown nice versatility by playing both the forward and defensive positions. A natural defence, White does struggle with larger opponents in the corners but is a good skater and moves the puck well. He comes at a very cheap price but could be trade bait come March.

 

Goalies

Vesa Toskala - Toskala has struggled a bit this season but has started to play better in recent weeks. He had a strong first season with the Buds last year and was rewarded with a 2 year, 8 million-dollar contract. One of the better contracts John Ferguson Jr. gave out the Finn is a top 10 goalie when on his game. Any deal involving Toskala would be pretty huge, but I don’t expect Burke to trade him away unless he gets an offer he can’t refuse.

Curtis Joseph - His days as a number 1 are long gone, but Cujo is still a decent back up. He has struggled this season but a team looking for some goaltending experience might look to add him as insurance going into the playoffs. At $700, 000, he comes very cheap as well.

As you can see, Burke does have some trade value to work with, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Plus, some of his best trade chips, most notably Tomas Kaberle, have no trade clauses. Burke also lacks top 6 forwards, something teams going into the post-season are seeking to bolster their depth. It will be interesting to see what Burke does, but I expect lots of action after the New Year and leading up to the trade deadline.

 

 

By Mark Stewart
ProHockey-fans.com Toronto Maple Leafs Correspondent

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