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Don't Fret Leafs Nation

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Wayne Karl is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. With a specialty in sports and sports business, particularly hockey. Karl publishes Hockey Business Report, a newsletter for the hockey industry. His freelance credits include The Hockey News, The Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail and other publications. 

March 1, 2007

(TORONTO) -- Fear not, Leaf faithful.

The cynics in Leafs Nation are sure to criticize Toronto Maple Leafs vice-president and general manager John Ferguson's relatively quiet trade deadline day, punctuated most notably by the signing of Darcy Tucker to a four-year contract. Tucker would have become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Sure, the Leafs re-acquired centre Yanic Perreault from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for defenceman Brendan Bell and Toronto's second-round pick in 2008, but that deal can't quite be considered a "blockbuster" or a major trade.

And that's what's good about it.

Yes, it's always painful to part with a young player, especially a defenceman - who are always the hardest to find - and one originally drafted by the Leafs in the 2001 Entry Draft as Bell was.

But, in Perreault, the Leafs are getting a player who will have a far greater positive impact than the weight of his salary under the cap system, or any possible disruption of team chemistry. Not only is he a master at taking face-offs, with a winning percentage north of 62 per cent, he brings that skill to the table at a time when the Leafs are struggling, losing their last two games and four of their last five.

Wouldn't some additional defensive responsibility and puck possession skill have come in handy at crucial moments last week when the Leafs failed to hold a 2-0 lead against the New York Islanders, allowing a goal with less than a minute left in the second period, and then giving up another in the third before eventually losing 3-2 in a shootout?

Perreault's 19 goals and 14 assists in 49 games may not sound too impressive initially, but that first stat immediately ties him for third in goal scoring on the Leafs, along with Tucker. Only captain Mats Sundin, with 26, and Jeff O'Neil, with 20, have more goals, but both have also played a lot more games - 57 and 64, respectively.

It all certainly begs the question why no NHL team signed Perreault, until the Phoenix Coyotes did on October 30, this, after registering 57 points in 69 games with the Nashville Predators last season.

Perreault is sure to have an impact. He will be a calming, controlled and smart complementary presence to Sundin - something the Leafs will need as they play out the final quarter of the schedule and press for a playoff berth.

Ferguson may well have had little wiggle room under the salary cap to freely pursue any of the "big name" talent made available on Tuesday - none of whom, of course, come with any kind of money-back guarantee. Even with a fully loaded trade deadline gift card, GMs in 2007 must shop with an eye to the future more than ever. It's a different era now, and as Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke loves to point out, only one team can win the Cup. Most other clubs that spend feverishly or deal away prospects and draft picks in search of that magical, quick-fix, often end up paying a longer-term and more painful debt.

In my opinion, the one area it might have made some sense for the Leafs to address on Tuesday is goaltending. After recently providing exactly the kind of star netminding the Leafs had hoped for when they acquired Andrew Raycroft last summer, the 2003-04 Calder Trophy winner has struggled in the last week. He was pulled in his last two starts, Monday's 5-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens and then the following night's 6-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

Getting the hook itself is not so unusual, but what's questionable in my opinion is why Leafs coach Paul Maurice didn't give back-up goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin a kick at the can at some point in the last week?

The last time Aubin started a game was December 29 - December 29. If the Leafs are not going to give Aubin a rare start - this, after he went 9-0-2 down the stretch last season and gave the Leafs a fighting chance to make the playoffs - and give Raycroft the occasional night off, it's a strategy that grows increasingly risky the longer the team stays south of the top-8 cut-off point.

Hopefully, with Perreault on board and a healthy and freshly re-signed Tucker returning over the next couple of weeks, it won't even become an issue.

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