August 15 2012 10:12AM
One of the major concerns about Brian Burke's tenure thus far in Toronto is his inability to find a first line centreman for Phil Kessel, and, to a lesser extend, Joffrey Lupul. (This is ignoring that Burke already has a first-line centre in Mikhail Grabovski, but I think recent history has shown that you can't go too far without two good guys down the middle. There's still that need.)
I've looked at it before and if there is a concern about the Leafs not having a goaltender, it's because they missed out on Kari Lehtonen, Craig Anderson and Jose Theodore, and possibly even Jaroslav Halak. Using the same sort of analysis, are there centremen that have been moved in Burke's tenure that were both attainable and good enough to be on Toronto's first line?
Okay, wait a second. Tim Connolly is sixth in this? Since Connolly hasn't exactly worked out in Toronto (he has only played the one season, mind you) we may be better off looking at guys ahead of them on the list.
The big board:
Well, he signed a 9-year deal worth $60M, one that I don't think was a particularly shrewd investment by Glen Sather. I don't think this one will pay off, and while he was a popular option, I doubt that New York will see many more 60+ point seasons out of Richards, who is 33 next season.
Mike Ribero was traded at the draft for Cody Eakin and a 2nd round selection. That's pretty good value, but Ribeiro only has a year left on his deal before he's a UFA. That's a lot for Toronto to give up when they shouldn't expect to compete this season. If he makes it to the UFA market and the Leafs are still lacking a centreman, Burke really ought to make a pitch with all the players on the Leafs also reaching free agency.
He got moved twice. Philadelphia got a great package that included the eighth overall pick and Jakub Voracek, assets that the Leafs neither had nor the flexibility to give up. Less than a year later, Columbus traded him for Jack Johnson and a conditional first round choice, and I'm pretty convinced the Leafs ought to have paid a price to acquire Carter. He's a pretty good hockey player that was missed out on.
(FYI: The reasons given for why Carter wouldn't fit on the Leafs in this Toronto Star piece are hilarious.)
Last summer, Richards went for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second-round pick. Who knows what opportunity the Leafs had to put together a package, but that's a pretty steep price and falls into Nazem Kadri territory, but also an important roster player Toronto probably didn't have. Here's Steve Simmons making himself useful:
The Leafs won’t confirm this, but they would have made the Richards deal for Kadri and Kulemin if Holmgren would have accepted it.
Bottom line was, Holmgren was looking for more. When Los Angeles offered up centre Brayden Schenn, winger Wayne Simmonds and a second-round choice, the Leafs have nothing they could offer of similar value — and Philadelphia found their price met in exchange for the man they no longer wanted as captain.
This is the difficulty Burke often finds in the trade market. There are players he wants who are available. There are deals to be made.
But with a limited roster, it’s tough to close on a big trade when you have so few cards in your deck.
"The Leafs won't confirm this, but Nikolai Kulemin tried to poison my drinking water."
A divisional foe giving up a good player for a guy like Steve Ott to be able to compete physically against the Bruins? How many big top-six forwards with play-driving ability do the Leafs have to give up?
And the rest:
Okay, maybe only Jeff Carter (second time around) was available for the Leafs. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a good amount of centremen who have been moved with the defensive ability to allow Kessel and Lupul to do their thing.
Checking Behind the Net.ca, here are players listed as centremen with positive relative Corsi numbers (signifying they are plus-possession players) in at least three of the last four seasons who have been moved:
Brad Richards-Brandon Dubinsky
We've already crossed off both Richards', Mike and Brad, and I think we can take the axe to a few more names. Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky were traded for Rick Nash. Dominic Moore and Matt Stajan have already been here, with mixed results. Mike Modano is old, Paul Gaustad went for a first-round pick and Scott Gomez is Scott Gomez, and too expensive for what he brings, although he is still a serviceable defensive forward.
Here's the amended list:
Brad Richards -Brandon Dubinsky
-Matt Stajan -Mike Modano
Here's what these players were moved for:
Andrew Cogliano: A second-round pick in 2012.
Antoine Vermette: A second-round pick in 2012.
Benoit Pouliot: Unrestricted free agent.
Brian Rolston: Available (!)
Edward Purcell: Jeff Halpern.
Eric Belanger: Unrestricted free agent.
Jason Arnott: Available (!)
Jordan Staal: More than the Leafs can afford.
Marcel Goc: Signed as a UFA in both Nashville and Florida (to a three-year Dale Tallon special).
Rich Peverley: In a package with Boris Valabik for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart. Also, listed at C, but plays on the wing.
To me the only ones available were Cogliano, Pouliot and Goc. I'm not sure if the team could use Rolston or Arnott at this point right now, and Belanger took three years in Edmonton that probably wasn't worth the hassle. It would have been interesting to know if the Leafs had any sort of interest in Vermette, who still has three years left on his deal and could have been a good pickup with the long-term in mind.
When some of the guys you're looking at are Andrew Cogliano and Benoit Pouliot, you know it's a pretty dry age for player movement. There are a couple of guys who went to other teams for value Toronto could have provided, and, like with the goaltenders, Burke failed to pull the trigger.
Guys like Cogliano or Pouliot or Goc pop up every season, but getting those good Cs who can play both ways like Carter and Vermette who are on contracts are the players Burke needs to target. The problem is until guys are moved, we don't really know who is available.
If Colin Wilson is an option, I think Burke can sacrifice a prospect. The worst case scenario in 1-for-1 deals is you're trading a player who could become an NHLer for a player who is an NHLer, and nuts to ceilings if the team is trying to compete now. Burke can't go through another period of rebuild.