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"Good" defencemen hard to get

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Heading into the second season of Leafs TV, anchor Brian Duff knows what's happening in Leafland on a daily basis. You can watch Brian hosting pre and postgame shows on Leafs TV for all the breaking news surrounding the Blue and White.

by Brian Duff

Question. What do Jiri Slegr, Igor Kravchuk, Dave Manson, Joe Reekie, Cory Cross, and Darren Van Impe have in common?

Answer. All are well-experienced defencemen without NHL jobs at the present time, a time in which there is no shortage of teams seeking help on the back end.

And while they are probably not starving after having earned good bread during their careers to date, perhaps those in this city who were salivating at the thought of acquiring Slegr or Kravchuk at the trade deadline last March should be made to fast, say until this year's trade deadline. (Okay, maybe just until Christmas.)

Jiri Slegr is a capable NHL'er. A one-time, 11-goal scorer, Slegr is a player who's usually good for five goals a year. In the last seven seasons, he has broken the 30-point plateau twice.

Pat Quinn had him in Vancouver, but only for a couple of years before dealing him to the Oilers for Roman Oksiuta. You remember him right? (I do, only because I was in Edmonton at the time.) Since then Slegr has been moved three times for 3rd round picks, and Yuri Butsayev.

Pat Quinn used some smarts in acquiring Robert Svehla writes Brian Duff.
Graig Abel Photography
Ah, the price of stardom. And while his latest shuffle took him from Atlanta to Detroit and the chance to have his name engraved on the Cup, it seems to have taken him off the NHL map as well. Or maybe it was his reported demand of $3 million per season. (Hey, if Craig Rivet can get it, why shouldn't he?)

In fact, we may have forgotten about him completely had he not stepped in for the suspended Jiri Fischer in the Wings Cup-clinching victory, which was Slegr's only appearance in the post-season.

Igor Kravchuk has been on the downside of his career for a few seasons, and after "earning" 9.2 million over the past 4 years with Ottawa and Calgary, he is reportedly back home in Russia, "earning" a little more.

The point here, and this may be hard for some to accept, is that the Maple Leafs were right by not overspending at the deadline to acquire these guys.

Does that mean they weren't interested? No. But it does mean they used common sense. And they would appear to have used more of the same when they made a deal with Panthers on July 18.

In a highly unpopular move with fans, Dmitry Yushkevich was sent south for Robert Svehla, a player who was ready to retire. But after negotiating a deal with the 33-year-old Czech, the defenceman came to camp, had a so-so pre-season, and has been nothing if not poised throughout the first 2 weeks of the regular season. A rating of plus 6 over the first 5 games, that also included a 4-game points scoring streak. His pairing with Tomas Kaberle has been, at times, a real treat to watch (Montreal's second goal Saturday night notwithstanding).

Svehla appears to be capable of everything his track record would indicate. An average of 9 goals per season, 40-plus points, and 300-plus hits (scratch the latter, the NHL did).

Another thing that doesn't appear on the stats line is how he sets up goals, or at the very least, great opportunities. His accuracy from inside his own zone to a man through the middle should make fans lobby for the abolishment of the two-line offside. And not so coincidentally, I've talked with many people in the last week that can't believe how good this player is.

So while the Leafs did not land the big free agent that so many had hoped for, and while they did part with one of the great modern day warriors in Yushkevich (whom it's worth repeating is represented by Mark Gandler), the early returns on No. 67 are more than favourable. Ignoring of course the thought process behind him selecting that number.
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