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Ulmer: Time To Reflect Back

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
RELATED: Ulmer's August 17th Blog

VIDEO: Wilson - Sept. 28 | Giguere - Sept. 28 | Sjostrom - Sept. 29
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There is in the media an absolute aversion to admitting error or even acknowledging an evolving set of facts.

It has always been thus. Newspaper stories traditionally lined the bird cage a day after the ink dried. No one remembered what was written so no one complained.

I don’t claim any moral authority, but I have found it useful to go back to stories from time to time and see if I got it right. If I didn’t, I would say so.

Which brings us back to the Marc Savard story? Have you heard about nets that get tighter the more you struggle to get out? That’s the Marc Savard story.

On August 17, I argued the Leafs should acquire the slick Boston centreman (read the blog). It was one man’s opinion. Savard, I argued was the perfect storm: a player whose concussion history would deter most teams, a player whose contract length looked horrible but tapered dramatically at the end of the deal; a player toiling for a team with a logjam at centre.

Savard had a track record with Phil Kessel. He could be a short term solution to the Leafs thin crop of centres. Plus, the Leafs and Ottawa were said to be the only teams Savard was interested in playing for and the Sens already have a number one guy in Jason Spezza.

All true. But you might have heard that Savard’s post-concussion symptoms returned and it will be months before he returns, if at all.

The risk would have been a bad one. The Leafs would have had an injured player.

As the great Ron Popeil famously repeated, “but wait, there’s more.”

First, Savard’s long term injury would not have been applied against the cap. Since the players moved in exchange would have been lower case talents (Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has already conceded he would not receive comparable talent for Savard) the Leafs would not have been out critical material.

Savard’s medical condition isn’t the only element of the story in flux. After a desultory 2009-2010, Mikhail Grabovski showed up in shape and anxious to impress at training camp. 

He and Phil Kessel have been the Leafs’ best forwards and while they call it pre-season for a reason, a productive Grabovski along with the emerging Nikolai Kulemin and newcomer Clarke MacArthur should provide a viable second line.

A better second line has eased concerns about the first unit. Tyler Bozak has looked comfortable centering the number one unit and there is no doubting his compatibility with Kessel. If Bozak can become a 60 point player and guide Kessel to 40 goals, no one will be mourning the fact Marc Savard isn’t wearing blue and white. And even if Bozak was a poor substitute for a healthy Savard (indulge me), the viability of the second line would have lessened the impact of a misfiring number one unit.

In fact, countless elements make the Savard question an unanswerable one. Would a more potent fourth line with a more assertive Christian Hanson, better penalty killing thanks to Kris Versteeg and Mike Brown and steadier goaltending from Jean-Sebastian Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson mitigate against the desperate hunger for offence that would power the Savard trade? How about the rejigged power play?

Did Burke have insight into Savard’s fragile health? With Tomas Kaberle and Giguere coming off the cap, does he have an inkling he could induce Brad Richards or Joe Thornton, both 32, to sign next summer? That kind of a gut feeling would make pulling the trigger on Savard an unreasonable risk?

Is there a better deal out there? If Tomas Kaberle, motivated by his expiring contract, turns his season around, would the wait for a go-to centreman only last until the March 2 trade deadline?

Or, as Burke gambled, are Bozak and Grabovski good enough to centre the first two lines of a team reaching for the playoffs.

All unanswerable questions. In trades and seasons and projections, you stare past the torrent of possibility and take a guess what you will find on the other side.

That’s why people who make trades caution those who judge them to wait for a couple years. Odds are the culprits from either one of those two sides will be gone when the reckoning comes.
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