There is still over three months to go before the 2009-2010 NHL season gets underway, and there are many variables yet to be determined. There is, however, one thing we are quite sure of.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will be far nastier and meaner when it's time to drop the puck.
Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was busy on the opening day of free agency, adding to the team's image by signing Colton Orr and Mike Komisarek, and trading for Garnet Exelby.
Orr, one of the NHL's biggest pugilists, racked up 193 penalty minutes with the New York Rangers last year. While he is certainly a one-dimensional player, there is little doubt the Leafs won't be a little more respected this upcoming season with a fighter like Orr who will surely take some of the heat of youngsters like Luke Schenn when it comes to dropping the gloves.
Bringing in Orr for $1 million is a slight over-payment and the four-year term is also a little puzzling. Still, for a team who was thrown around the last couple of years, the addition of Orr is a welcomed sight for Leafs Nation.
Later in the afternoon, Burke got a little busier, first making a deal with an old friend, Don Waddell, the GM of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Burke sent blueliner Pavel Kubina and the rights to center Tim Stapleton to Atlanta in exchange for Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart.
While losing Kubina's offense from the back end will hurt Toronto in their pursuit of goals, a defenseman like Exelby gives them a very mean and nasty player, who loves to throw big hits.
Komisarek meanwhile is coming off an injury-riddled season, but is also a mean defenseman who enjoys playing a physical game. While offense isn't his thing, he is good for 20 to 30 points a season.
Adding Komisarek also brings a new, interesting element into the storied Toronto/Montreal rivalry.
The term of the Komisarek deal is also great news for most of us in Leafs Nation. Bringing in the rugged defenseman for five years at an annual cap hit of $4.5 million is a price the Leafs can live with in this salary cap era.
After today's developments, it will be interesting to see what the Leafs decide to do with sought-after defenseman Tomas Kaberle.
While the Leafs have improved their defense, they are also now lacking in the puck-moving D-man department, which may have them thinking Kaberle should stay around.
On the other hand, it's a team that right now looks like it will have trouble scoring. Trading an asset like Kaberle will certainly help to cure that ail.
According to NHL on TSN insider Darren Dreger, the Leafs are certainly still exploring the option of trading Kaberle.
If you were grading teams based on their first day into the free agent foray, you would certainly have to give the Leafs a passing grade.
While they didn't make any moves to completely solve their problems, or improve their team by leaps and bounds, they did hand out good contracts to good players.
With the addition of Exelby, Komisarek, and to a lesser extent Orr, you have to look at this team and say the Leafs are better today than they were yesterday at this time. It was a team last year that weren't tough enough, nor intimidating. They were terrible in their own end and especially on the penalty kill.
Now, whether or not that has improved dramatically is up for debate, but there is no question it is improvement.
Just one step. One of many in this rebuild phase.
Now, to find someone who can score...
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