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Answering All The Pertinent Questions

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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Closing time.

After filling this space nearly every day with all things Maple Leaf, they have taken away all the games and all the players. Only the conjecture remains and even that depends on the flow of people and words.  It’s like losing the cake but keeping the icing.

A better man would promise to only write the important stuff, but with the NHL draft set for June 24 & 25, precisely 70 days from now, who can wait?

You have a team. I have a mortgage. Let’s help each other.

Consider this the definitive conclusions from the season just completed except for the fact that similar conclusions have been rendered all season and many more will come. I figure what I lack in currency I make up for with searing retrospect.

In that spirit, I will answer the following questions generated by, uh, me.

Hey, Mike. Love your blog. It’s the best thing going. Really incredible.What’s your take on the free agent sweepstakes?

Glad you like the blog. The praise of people like you who harbour no agenda gladdens my benevolent heart. Now, to your question. Let’s use a hypothetical. If you add a Brad Richards who addresses your needs for a top centre, playmaker and power play point man you have dramatically improved your team. And while you have sheared your cap space you have left your roster intact.  Brian Burke has eschewed ridiculously long term deals so he would have to pile the money up front. I am guessing that means $8-$10 million and there is absolutely no guarantee that the New York Rangers, who have comparable cap space but fewer expiring contracts, would trump any Leaf offer.

So signing Richards is a home run? By the way, have you ever considered starting your own religion?

Way too soon for that. Getting Richards should be the first option even with new deals for Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson and James Reimer. It gets no easier. In 2012-2013, you have to deal with expiring contracts for Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Keith Aulie and you don’t have J.S. Giguere’s $6 million coming off the cap.

So what are you saying? Your blog rocks, by the way.

You are too kind. A monster signing would effectively decimate the team’s opportunities of making smaller but still significant roster adjustments through free agency. That can be chancy. Look no further than the New Jersey Devils who must now mollify restricted free agent Zach Parise after signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $102 million deal.  So when you make that move, that’s your team.


Wilson is quite right about the difference three impact players would bring. Obtaining them via free agency is nigh on impossible. Despite a fine trading record in the last 24 months, it’s a bit much to ask Burke to sign a stud and steal two more.  But because of its impact, its immediacy and the commitment involved, signing Richards would be the Leafs version of pushing all their chips into the middle of the table and going all in.  I like the feel of that.

Okay, what are the other options?

People, the words matter too. You can wait for your prospects to develop but that will take a few more years. While Frattin may be ready to step into the lineup, it will probably take Joe Colborne another year or so with the Marlies. That means the team’s most pressing need goes unanswered and your investment in Phil Kessel continues to pay only moderate returns.

Hey, Mike. You are dead on about everything so how many goals do you think Phil Kessel could score with the right centre?

I think he could score 50. Honest. Kessel slumps because he isn’t scoring and he isn’t scoring because he has to manufacture too many of his own opportunities. Because of his footspeed, his instincts and his hands, I think Kessel could lead the league if he got six or eight slam-dunk empty-netters a season. The only way that happens is with a comparable centre. This guy needs goals like the rest of us need oxygen.

So a trade to get a centre is the best route? Named my kid after you, by the way.

Thanks. Get that a lot. Well, it’s just as big a gamble as free agency. Even in 2012-13, there is really no one who meets the Leafs needs quite so neatly as Richards.

Can you paint me a scenario, most wise and knowledgeable one?

Let’s throw a hypothetical out there, just for fun. Say the Leafs had targeted the Avs’ Paul Stastny. He has been supplanted by Matt Duchene but he is still  making top centre money, $6.6 million a season over the next two years . The Avalanche have the second choice in the draft, they will be eligible to select one of the two top centres: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jonathan Huberdeau.

With Duchene the go-to centre and an heir apparent on the way, the Avs could now reinforce their team through trades. Stastny, an excellent offensive player whose footspeed and commitment has been questioned in Denver, could be the apple that falls from the tree.

So what would he cost the Leafs?

This is an absolute guess: either Nazem Kadri or Mikhail Grabovski and either Colborne or Frattin (I don’t think the Leafs would part with defenceman Jake Gardiner).  Throw-ins and draft choices would help both sides bridge the gap. You might have some give on the roster player and some play on the prospects but as they say, you’ve got to get to give.

Would this be a good deal, omnipotent seer of all things hockey?

You tell me.
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