Well, that went over well, didn’t it? What was intended as a fantasy-based respite from the mind-numbing doldrums of this infernal lockout turned,
somewhat predictably, into a round of vitriolic indignation based on an apparent failure to grasp the purpose of the exercise. Since the reaction was so widespread, I must blame myself for not clarifying the obvious intent, in a more obvious manner. My bad…
The request for reasonable and rational solutions to what could soon be a real issue for Burke’s Leafs was eclipsed by the overwhelming desire to hurl expletives my way for those “terrible” trade proposals. I get that they were overblown. That’s why they were described as “impossible”, “far-fetched”, “ridiculous”, and more. But the premise, I will maintain, holds water. Good Ship Burkie could soon be bailing at a feverish pace if the outstanding issues regarding contract extension and cap contraction are not seen-to in relatively short order.
This is not a criticism of Burke; I tend to admire the hell out of him and the braintrust he’s assembled, and I think they’ll manage this just fine. Still, I think we have to ask “how”.
Burke has no guarantee that Joffrey Lupul, a UFA upon the conclusion of this nightmare of a non-season, will re-sign in Toronto. Lupul has earned every right to “play the field”, and find a place to play where he can A) succeed; and B) earn maximum dollars, as well as favourable conditions, for his services.
What are the odds he finds those in Toronto? Greater than fifty percent? I honestly doubt it, for a number of reasons.
With Grabovski fetching 5.5 million a copy for the next 4.5 years, plus Kessel due for a hefty raise in a year and a half, I can’t see Lupes staying put for less than 6 million a year. How about you? Are you going there, after one impressive, yet truncated campaign?
While Kessel has proven he can get it done regardless of who centres his line, he certainly benefited from Lupul’s presence on the left side almost as much as Lupul benefited from working with #81. I really like Lupul; he’s got a nose for the net, he plays with some jam in the attacking zone and he’s got a nasty release. Is he a 6 million dollar man in this, the coming age of the shrinking cap ceiling? Compared to Grabovski and his
new pre-CBA deal, hell yes. But as of today, and the new economic reality facing the game, maybe not so much.
I think with the pressing need for a true 1C, it’s safe to say he would need to accept a bit of a hometown haircut to stay in Toronto, a city likely another year away from playoff contention (optimism intentional). I tend to think the deal he signs would come with term and conditions as needed to afford the kind of security that players want, and GM’s are loathe to hand out. Can it happen? Sure, anything is possible. Do you really think committing long-term to Lupul, based on all the factors both pro and con, is the way forward? No 1C, and question marks between the pipes leave me nervous about commitments like this one.
I’d rather see JVR assume that first line left wing gig. He’s big, he lives in the paint, and he wins all kinds of battles in dirty areas with his size and reach. He’s got some nifty puck-protection skills and he’s ready to take the next step in his evolution as an NHL’er. A top line with JVR on the wing makes sense to me. A top line with JVR in the one-hole is a 6’3’’ question mark. Tying up 30% of the team’s projected cap space for 66% of the top 6, with no 1C in place, makes no sense. Not to me, anyway.
I also really like Phil Kessel as a player, despite the knock on his “one-dimensional game”. Over the last two years, I’ve observed some growth. The body language has improved, even if the fitness level, something Coach Carlyle holds in high regard.
By the end of last season, Kessel had begun to show an increase in second-effort, chasing down his own rebounds for a nifty feed to Lupul in the slot, or by taking a second whack at a loose puck as opposed to the one-and-done style of play he has been known, and often criticized for.
While I am not suggesting there is, or even will be a serious issue between Kessel and Carlyle, what I will say is simply that the optics may not favour the club long term, and here’s why.
- 1.Kessel is a pending UFA after next season.
- 2.Kessel will command maximum money wherever he plays.
- 3.Kessel has a no-trade clause which kicks in prior to the final year of his
- 4.Kessel does not, at this point, fit the mould of a prototypical Carlyle-style player.
- 5.Kessel does not fit the mould of a prototypical Burke-style player, either.
- 6.Kessel soon has the power to choose his own destiny, and that may not be to Toronto’s advantage.
If you think the pressure on Mats Sundin to accept a trade in his final year was a distraction, please consider that with the price paid for Kessel, unless the Leafs are winning, and by winning I mean a lock for the playoffs, fans and media will be screaming for either a king’s ransom in return for Kessel, or Burke’s head on a platter. Quite possibly both, delivered simultaneously. The pressure Kessel will face in his final year will make what Sundin and Kaberle encountered look like a cordial exchange of pleasantries. In short, all eyes will be on Phil, and make no mistake; Leafs Nation will be torn asunder on the issue. He’s not a big spotlight guy, our Phil. Highlight reels, sure. That’s where he belongs. Interviews in which the same questions are repeated ad nauseam, not so much. Those questions will come, make no mistake, and sooner than later in rapid succession. I think he’ll want to go play hockey somewhere that appreciates his skills and stand a chance at winning, without doing battle with the press day in and day out.
Brian Burke, in his own words, isn’t paid to speculate. That’s why he didn’t speculate on how a reduced cap ceiling would affect the signing of Grabovski to an extension. He was proactive in this case and acted in the best interest of the team. He locked up his best centre as opposed to taking a step backward by either flipping him for picks or letting him walk come year’s end. Ballsy move. How he and his staff manage the new economics remains to be seen, and that he needs to cover his bets concerning Kessel is now becoming obvious. He certainly must be proactive, and he will be. Either Kessel agrees to an off-season extension, or he’s dealt. It’s that simple. Burke can ill-afford to wait until the balance of power shifts completely to the player, who will enjoy the protection afforded him by the no trade clause in his contract. Such a stance exposes Burke to a degree he will not and simply cannot, agree to.
Dealing from a position of weakness sucks for any GM. Ask Mr. Murray in Ottawa about Heatley, or check Scott Howson’s opinion about having to give up Rick Nash for spare parts. Burke will fare no better if he allows the leverage he possesses until June 30 2013 to lapse. The assets that ultimately produced Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton, and Jared Knight for what could amount to middling picks, a top 6 guy and a prospect or two is just bad business, and Burke is switched-on enough to know it.
To this end, I humbly submit that Kessel’s assets are quite possibly best maximized in the form of a trade for a skilled centreman, or another cornerstone-type asset. The list is pretty small. Getzlaf, or Kesler, or maybe a young guy like a Couturier or Johansen in a package deal which includes multiple picks makes the most sense. Maybe one of Edmonton’s kids could be had. Maybe JVR’s buddy Colin Wilson in Nashville, another talented, physical former first rounder, could be a piece of the puzzle, along with other assets. Hell, maybe Shea Weber is an option. With a reduced cap, Nashville will feel the squeeze even more next year, and perhaps a deal that bails the Preds out while giving them a nice piece to work with means more than an albatross contract engineered by a competitor, which they were forced to match. Would you move Gardiner and Kessel plus prospects for a package of Wilson and Weber? For a 6’4’’, right-shot, perennial Norris candidate, I’d offer that, and more. I’d probably throw in Kadri, to be honest, and tuck this year’s first round pick safely in my back pocket. Not sure Smashville agrees with any of this, and I’m sure a number of you will call it ludicrous, but they sure as hell wanted Kessel a few years ago, and the economics of retaining Weber to a monster deal hurts them, all day, every day, especially with the predicted lower ceiling.
I’m just speculating here. I’m not Burke, so I get to do that. Think I’ll stop now, and avoid another round of backlash. Sorry to those of you who got butt-hurt in the process. The point is, there are better options than waiting around for Kessel and Lupul, who happen to be Burke’s top offensive weapons, to quite possibly repeat the antics of the Muskoka Five. What’s your take?