Well, I'm back. After a layoff of 82 days from writing about the Toronto Maple Leafs, I have returned to offer my insight on what the club must do to re-establish themselves as a player in the Eastern Conference.
It all starts with clearing the decks.
General Manager Cliff Fletcher has stated that there will be at least five to six new faces in the Leafs' line-up come October, and that is music to the ears of Leafs Nation. The new faces must be brought in to replace a group of veterans that are no longer of service to this hockey club.
First on the list—Bryan McCabe. The overpaid defenceman has a no-trade clause but will almost certainly accept a move to Long Island, where his wife is from and where the family presently resides awaiting the birth of their second child.
McCabe clearly has no problem with his kids being born as Americans, so let him stay there and establish his family.
A swap of McCabe and the seventh-overall pick to the Islanders for the fifth-overall selection seems to be a fair exchange. That leaves the Leafs free to take a player who might not be available at No. 7, while also unloading a large contract and a defensive burden.
Second, amicable winger Darcy Tucker must go. While it will break the hearts of Leafs fans everywhere, it is a change of scenary this is necessary for both club and player.
Tucker, coming off one of his worst seasons in recent memory, could use a switch to get a fresh start and rejuvenate his career. In return, while the Leafs would lose valuable leadership and grit, a player of Tucker's ilk is available in cheaper and younger versions through the draft and free agency.
Since Tucker has a NTC, he will have to be bought out, but at a price of $1 million per season for six seasons, that won't be much of a worry.
Third, veteran captain Mats Sundin cannot be brought back—at least not for the price he will likely be demanding. There is absolutely no reason that Sundin deserves to be paid $8 million a season. He has once totalled over 100 points in his career, and that was in 1992-93, his last season with the Quebec Nordiques.
Sidney Crosby is set to earn $8.7 million per season. Does Sundin really deserve close to that type of money when his most notable statistical accomplishment came 15 years ago, in a jersey other than Toronto's? I think not. It will be a sad day for Leafs fans, but it must be done for the better of the rebuilding of the team.
Also, Sundin stated at the trade deadline last year that he would retire a Leaf. Now he turns around and throws this at the club? In a sense they deserve it for putting him through the trouble of asking him to leave the club in midseason, but there is no feasable way for Sundin to return to the club for anything over $6 million. Maximum. Enter Evgeni Malkin.
I can hear all the cries of astonishment and disbelief from the readers. I originally thought it crazy myself, but the idea was put forth by a critic of mine and I have to say it makes sense. Malkin will not enjoy playing second fiddle in Pittsburgh forever, and the Penguins may not have the space to sign him anyway, especially if Hossa gets locked up this year and Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury follow.
Fletcher should throw the Pens everything including the kitchen sink, its plumbing, and the marble vanity around it. This guy is worth it.
The Leafs should offer up two first round picks, Nik Antropov, Alex Steen, and Staffan Kronwall. I know it sounds like an enormous price (who will he play with, you ask), but a player of Malkin's type is extremely rare and no price is too high.
Malkin would be an elite leader, which the Leafs haven't had since Doug Gilmour, or perhaps Darryl Sittler. He's a 100+ point man, and thrives in the spotlight. There is none brighter than the one that shines on the offensive star of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While the Penguins may be hesitant to complete the deal, the fact remains that they likely won't be able to afford Malkin at the end of next season, and his stock is extremely high right now. It's an inevitable win-win.
Bottom line, no player on this team is untouchable. I believe Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle will return next season. Jason Blake, Andrew Raycroft, Alex Ponikarovsky, and Kyle Wellwood are among those likely to be in a different uniform by the start of the 2008-2009 NHL season.
So here is my mock draft in anticipation of the real deal tomorrow at 7:00 in Ottawa. (Provided no trades occur.)
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
No explanation necessary.
2. Zach Bogosian, Los Angeles Kings
With rumblings of the Kings taking Filatov, the club realizes they are short on defenceman and already have a Doughty-type player in Thomas Hickey. They select Bogosian, a stronger version of Doughty. He's a Rob Blake type, and the Kings need an heir on defence.
3. Drew Doughty, Atlanta Thrashers
The offensive defenceman they need. His selection becomes automatic after he's not taken by the Kings.
4. Luke Schenn, St. Louis Blues
Adding Schenn to a defence corps that already includes Eric Brewer and Eric Johnson means penetrating the zone may become difficult for Blues' opponents in the near future.
5. Alex Pietrangelo, New York Islanders
Also in need of a defenceman, the Isles gladly accept the stud that lands in their lap at No. 5.
6. Tyler Myers, Columbus Blue Jackets
After the Blues raise some eyebrows by taking Schenn, Columbus takes the next best defensive option, monster Myers, in the first shocker pick of the '08 draft. While offence is an issue too, that must be solved through trades/free agency first.
7. Nikita Filatov, Toronto Maple Leafs
To replace the scoring lost when Mats Sundin leaves for Detroit, the Leafs bring in Nikita Filatov to join another Russian prospect, Nikolai Kulemin, and the three Niks (Antropov the third) form the top unit on the rebuilding '08-09 roster. If Filatov is gone, Colin Wilson, Cody Hodgson, and Mikkel Boedker are all acceptable.
8. Colin Wilson, Phoenix Coyotes
Being compared to Ron Francis, Wilson will fit perfectly into the system Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky employs.
9. Mikkel Boedker, Nashville Predators
The scoring winger adds punch to a pretty potent young offence in Tennessee ,and will be setting up Alex Radulov for years to come.
10. Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks
The 'Nucks end their search for a solid scoring centre. Hodgson is a smart two-way player who can not only score goals, but set them up too. He can also win key faceoffs.
In the coming weeks, if/when Mats Sundin ends his tenure with Toronto, I will be writing an article highlighting the best moments in his Maple Leaf career, as well as weighing in on who will replace him as captain of the storied franchise.