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Trade Deadline Looms

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Now, where were we?

Oh, yes, the trade deadline.

The Leafs play the Carolina Hurricanes at Air Canada Centre Tuesday and many players are uncertain about what they will be doing after 3 p.m. Wednesday.

That’s when the NHL trade deadline, an afterthought in these weeks dominated by the Olympics, returns with a boom. A flotilla of Maple Leafs, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak, Jeff Finger, Garnet Exelby, Wayne Primeau and perhaps, if he opts in, Tomas Kaberle , could be heading elsewhere by dinner time.

Interestingly, there are pots of players who will not.

Take Fredrik Sjostrom, resplendent in the new teeth he picked up over the Olympic break. Sjostrom came to the Leafs from Calgary and four games is a little soon for anyone to wear out his welcome, especially a smooth skating forward who can help on the forecheck and penalty kill.

“Obviously, I am in the same position as everyone else, but since I first got here, I haven’t thought about it too much,” he said. “You never know what can happen obviously, but because I was just traded I don’t think of it that much.”

The vast majority of players won’t need change-of-address cards.

Last month’s blockbuster deal s mean Dion Phaneuf, J.S. Giguere and Sjostrom aren’t going anywhere. Same goes for young players Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg.

Despite an inconsequential Olympics, Phil Kessel couldn’t be safer. The same, to some extent, goes for Nikolai Kulemin. The core defencemen of Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin and Luke Schenn are set up for next year.  Utility forward, Jamie Lundmark, claimed off waivers from Calgary, should finally get his first game.

So the story to be addressed tomorrow evening and the rest of the season is what to with the games that are left?

“Our goal is to win a lot of hockey games down this stretch and work as hard as we can at getting better,” said Phaneuf.

Seems simple, but there are plenty of questions, of course.

Will the Leafs, 28th in the league, be able to tunnel upwards and minimize the PR damage inherent in handing the Bruins a lottery pick? That would mean finishing 25th or better. As it stands today, the Leafs would need to make up 11 points in the team’s last 21 games. Granted, the Leafs may be the only team at the bottom of the standings with a genuine incentive since the team won’t see the first pick anyway, but that won’t deter GM Brian Burke from torching the lineup and letting unknowns finish things out.

The club will continue to carefully assess Gunnersson who has played well and Schenn who was improving his stock after a difficult year. More info will be needed to identify the pace of Bozak and Hanson’s improvement as well as gauge what role the speedy Stalberg will fill.

The Leafs also need to know if Giguerre, brilliant after arriving from Anaheim, can maintain his stellar goaltending. If he can, the main obstacle between the team and the playoffs would be addressed.
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