by Brian Duff
Now that we've all exhaled with the passing of the trade deadline, it's time for a few Maple Leafs to bite their tongues.
While 24 skaters at each and every practice may be a great thing for the media (LeafsTV included) it will undoubtedly leave six players somewhat sour before, during, and after each and every game. Let's start with the defence, all nine of them.
Bryan McCabe and Glen Wesley, Tomas Kaberle and Robert Svehla are the top four. Once healthy, one would assume that Phil Housley is either number five or six. So that leaves Jyrki Lumme, Ric Jackman, Aki Berg, and Wade Belak to fight for the last spot.
| Wesley bolsters the Leafs defence. |
Based on NHL tenure and service under Pat Quinn, Lumme would appear to have the inside track. He's averaged more than 21 minutes per game, and is miles ahead when it comes to playoff experience.
Aki Berg has appeared in more games this season than any of the four but continues to frustrate blue and white followers by not using his 6 foot 3 frame to his or the team's advantage (except when blocking the odd pass on a 2 on 1).
Wade Belak had appeared in only 11 games up until Christmas but has been scratched only 3 times since. He's literally fought to stay in the lineup, but how much can he do that come April?
Ric Jackman , in the words of Pat Quinn, has been a project. Which makes it hard to project what kind of ice time he can expect from here on out. The interesting note with Jackman is that when he has played, he's had more 20 minute games than either Berg or Belak. However, he is a team worst minus 7.
My guess . . . when healthy, it's Lumme and Housley rounding out the back end. Up front there are now 15 forwards, one full line of extras.
Again we throw in the disclaimer "when healthy", but there's no need to talk further about Sundin, Mogilny, Roberts, Nolan, Antropov, and Renberg.
Despite his offensive struggles and recent suspension, it's hard to imagine Darcy Tucker sitting out. Ditto for Tie Domi.
That leaves 7 players fighting for 4 spots. Robert Reichel hasn't missed a game all year, and he's 6th in team scoring. 6 players - 3 spots.
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Will Doug Gilmour play every night? 5 players - two spots.
Let the battle begin between Corson (7 times a healthy scratch), Green (a one-time healthy scratch), Hoglund (also a one-time healthy scratch), Fitzgerald (who's missed time only due to injury) and Healey (who's thought of as an insurance policy).
Will feelings be hurt? Absolutely. Are the Leafs a better, deeper team now than before the trade deadline? Without question.
But it would appear as though the same can be said for the Senators, Flyers, Bruins, Islanders and Rangers. The Devils turned in a disappointing effort on the penultimate day of this year's trading period, acquiring only Grant Marshall, and the vastly over-rated Richard Smehlik. In fact, given their needs, you could argue the Lightning did a better job of addressing them by adding blueline depth in Marc Bergevin, and Janne Laukkanen.
So who's the favourite in the East? I'm not as high on my pre-season pick of New Jersey as I once was, but maybe Lou Lamoriello simply didn't want to tinker.
Any team with Martin Brodeur has a chance.
The Senators are tougher on paper but they must be tougher where it counts. We shall see. The Flyers remain an oddity. A great collection of scorers who don't score.
The Rangers might be the most dangerous of them all. Luckily for the East, New York is still unlikely to make the dance.
I can be sure of only two things at this point in time. Washington and Boston will not advance to the second round.
Beyond that. . . I see nothing but 7-game rounds, and a very difficult road ahead for the eventual Eastern Conference representative in this year's Stanley Cup Final.