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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Leafs Trade Talk, and the uniqueness of the 2010 Draft Week

As I stated in my last post, we are mere hours away from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and the tension is palpable.

Most years, we await (ironically) the sight of Gary Bettman taking the podium and officially opening the festivities to the delight of those in attendance and watching across the globe (thank you, TSN live stream for our friends across the pond.) I am convinced that a part of the anticipation is the buildup, the possibilities and question of what may be. For the weeks between the end of the Stanley Cup to the draft opening, we are bombarded with questions and possibilities, rumors and innuendos, columns and radio interviews... and this was before the birth of Twitter!

This year it is different. Why? A complete dearth in the free agency market quite frankly. There isn't much to be had out there, and the few decent parts that are out there are bound to be highly overpaid for their services. Even for those teams that are willing to pay the silly amounts that are certain to appear, they still have needs and holes to fill - a rabid fanbase and anxious stockholders may see the practicality of not spending twice a players worth in a sellers market, but that doesn't mean they'll accept it.

As a result, teams are going the other route - trades. This week alone, we have seen a series of big time deals that would typically light up the crowd in the first round of the draft. My memory goes back to when I had the good fortune of sitting in the lower bowl of Scotiabank Place during the 2008 draft, about 12 feet away from Bob Gainey and the Montreal Canadiens draft table. In the first hour of the draft, we saw big trades - Mike Cammalleri to Calgary, Olli Jokinen to Phoenix, R.J. Umberger to Columbus, Alex Tanguay to Montreal. It was a great night, but it was resigned to the one night.

We started last Friday. Around 2pm, there was clearly a 'disturbance' in the force.... the force being the Montreal Canadiens fans in my office. It was a quick surf to later than I saw the Habs had traded their Stanley Cup playoffs hero, Jaroslav Halak, to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for top tier prospect Lars Eller and decent defenceman prospect Ian Schultz. The weekend then carried through to Sunday with the Flyers acquiring the negotiating rights to coveted free agent defenceman Dan Hamhuis from the Nashville Predators. This isn't the first time it's happened - Philly has done this once before when they acquired the rights to Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timmonen in 2007 and subsequently signing them to some big time deals. The reason this was significant is because typically it's a draft pick going for negotiating rights, not highly tangible assets. In this case, the return was Ryan Parent - a physically huge defenceman who, while mediocre in the regular season, was a very solid performance on a Stanley Cup finalist. Maybe this doesn't seem like the most impactful deal, but it's significance in the marketplace can't be understated - teams are trading hard assets just for the CHANCE to sign the few solid free agents this summer.

Just when we thought that was surprising, we quickly got the news that the Predators had pulled off another deal - this time dealing captain Jason Arnott to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for prospect Matt Halischuk and a 2011 2nd round draft pick. This had many people raising an eyebrow, as Jersey had already given up a pair of draft picks in the deal to acquire Ilya Kovalchuk at the trade deadline - again, another sign that teams are paying a premium in a climate where they may very much walk away with nothing after free agency. It is also a bit of a feel good story, as Arnott goes back to the team where he scored his Stanley Cup winning goal in the 2000 Cup finals.

A pair of trades in a day? Not bad. Enough to me by until Friday, I thought. That's when the big names were getting dealt. Horton. Kaberle. Byfuglien. Blackhawks cap issues.Drool......

Alas, it was not long for the storm to start brewing. Monday afternoon, the Boston Bruins pulled off a big time deal, and some may say heist, in acquiring former #3 overall pick in the 2003 draft Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell for Boston's 1st rounder this year (15th overall), 3rd rounder in 2011, and Dennis Wideman. You're kidding! This is supposed to happen on the draft floor! Early Christmas I say!

We're not done yet. Just today, the most surprising of all - Atlanta acquires playoff hero and mountain man Dustin Byfuglien, along with Brent Sopel Ben Eager and solid prospect Akim Aliu, in exchange for a kings ransom - a 1st round pick this year, a 2nd round pick this year, a solid prospect in Jeremy Morin and Marty Reasoner. AWHA? You've gotta be kidding me! Egads Batman!

This is unheard of. Very uncommon in this day and age. And a real treat, I'll admit. The best part is there is a very real chance it doesn't stop here.

The Maple Leafs still hold the card of one of the premier offensive defencemen in the league in Tomas Kaberle. Let's face it, he's not going to be wearing a Leafs jersey next season and will be converted into a more useful asset. As a Leafs fan this is a cause for much excitement - is it because I think Brian Burke is going to notoriously rip off some dim witted GM counterpart and pull of a crazy heist? Many Leaf fans would say yes - but I say no.

I will be happy because it will signify change. Change for the better, and a change in direction.

Many people, knowing me as someone who has likely devoted entirely too much of his life thinking about hockey, have asked me what I think is fair for Kaberle. So I'll take a few minutes to talk about it.

I agree with Brian Burke in acquiring a top 6 forward as part of a trade for Kaberle. The Leafs are desperate for scoring, and as much as I want to see high draft picks come back, they will not help us next season or, in the range of 15-25 which we would likely get for Tomas, the couple of seasons after that. While those would be great if we were in the midst of fully rebuilding, it doesn't work now. That said, Burke has to formulate a deal involving some picks coming back as well. It is a necessity in my mind that we continue to stock the prospect cabinet. Recent rumours have come to light about a possible deal structured largely around Tomas Kaberle to Boston in exchange for Marc Savard. Is it a wise idea to trade your prized tradeable commodity for a 32 year old player who, albeit immensely talented, is signed for another 7 years at 4M$ per season, and has had a history of concussion problems? Maybe, maybe not. If it were a straight deal, I'd say no - that said, there is a deal to be made, that I'm sure of... and I think the rights to Nikolai Kulemin, a player I think is greatly talented but who is dreaming in technicolour if he thinks he deserves 3M$ per season, could maybe help fill the gap if we can snag a solid prospect or player. It's hard to say, but I think there could be a fit there.

If you like rumors and trade talk like I do, stay tuned - it's going to be a great few days.

Would love to hear your trade thoughts, idea, and opinions guys.

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