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Ulmer: Can This Rumour Turn To Reality?

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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Don’t get me going about trade rumours.

They come true about one per cent of the time.

They are often so comically one-sided as to be the calling card of the uninformed or the mentally impaired.

Who hasn’t heard something like this: “I’ve got it. We’ll trade Jeff Finger and Luca Caputi for Bobby Ryan and Anaheim’s first rounder.”

This is how deals work. You spend five per cent of the run-up time assessing your own needs. You spend 95 per cent of the time assessing the needs of a potential trading partner. That’s the hard part.

One thing is true. Most real trades were kicked around somewhere before they were consummated.  With that in mind, let’s have a look at one scenario leading up to Friday’s NHL draft and the opening day of the trade season.

The proposed deal: Tomas Kaberle and Mikhail Grabovski to Chicago for Patrick Sharp and Brian Campbell.

The players: Campbell is 31. He has six more years left at $7.1 million. He had 38 points in the regular season but only one goal in the Hawks 19-game Stanley Cup run.

Patrick Sharp is 27. He was a 25-goal scorer in the regular season and a Conn Smythe candidate in the post season where he delivered a point a game. He can play wing or centre and kill penalties or work the power play. He is a terrific player with two years left on a contract that will pay him at a bargain rate of $8.3 million, total.

Tomas Kaberle, 32. Despite a second-half swoon, Kaberle turned in a 49-point season and finished 10th in points for a defenceman. He was minus-16 on the most porous defensive team in the league. The final year of his contract will bring him $4.2 million and stands as a legacy gift from former Leafs GM John Ferguson.

Mikhail Grabovski, 26. Grabovski scored only 10 goals this year but missed 23 games with injuries. Considering how much he played, the total wasn’t bad. He comes relatively cheaply at $2.8 and $3.1 million.

Why this deal would work for the Hawks. It’s no secret that the Hawks have profound cap issues, but the numbers are staggering. They have 14 players under contract worth $57 million and are at the projected cap right now. The Leafs, by comparison, have 18 players signed at $45 million.

The Hawks’ albatross is the Brian Campbell contract, a stupendous bit of folly that would eventually cost GM Dale Tallon his job. Campbell has four more years at $7.1 but the playoffs showed him to be a 20-minute guy. Campbell had 38 points in the regular season but just one goal and five points in 19 playoff games.

There are money problems up front as well. The Hawks will pay Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa $20.5 million next season.  By comparison Phil Kessel ($6 million) is the only Leaf forward making more than three.

The Hawks can’t trade Hossa and won’t move Kane and Toews. That leaves Sharp.

Chicago would rid themselves of the lingering stench of the Campbell contract and get a player who is better and cheaper in Kaberle. Sharp is a heavy price but Grabovski can be sold as a talented young  player who might click in the right situation. Best of all, they free up $4.2 million in salary.

Why this deal would work for the Leafs. Desperate for a front line-forward, the Leafs would be trading a talented but slightly erratic forward and a talented defenceman who has seen too much losing. But remember one thing, in addition to being a quality person, Kaberle is a talented player with boatloads of experience and lots in the tank. He will be in the league six years from now. The Campbell for Kaberle element of the deal is a big win for the Hawks.

That has to be balanced against acquiring Sharp who has improved steadily with every season. Not quite a number one guy, Sharp is an excellent, honest hockey player and another desperately needed top six forward.  Grabovski may or may not be a flatliner but he has run out of chances here.

One final note:
The Leafs are not the only team with surfeit space under the cap. They are somewhere in the middle of the pack but many of those teams, the Atlantas, the Buffalos, rarely spend to the cap. There could be any number of better deals out there.
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