The Maple Leafs have acquired a new defenseman...again.
It's becoming a trend, doesn't it seem? The Leafs will sign or trade for another defenseman rather than focus on another forward.
This time it was 28-year-old Brett Lebda and 25-year-old Danny Richmond.
Lebda, who has spent his entire five season, 326-game NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings, signed a two-year, $2.9 million contract on July 7th. He's a smooth skating, stay-at-home defenseman, but he can score too. Lebda has a career total of 18 goals scored in addition to 50 assists and a +/- rating of 31.
Danny Richmond, the another free agent acquisition, has no goals in 49 NHL games, and three assists to along with a -12 rating.
After spending the majority of his career in the minors and a split last season between Peoria and Rockford, Richmond won't likely achieve a roster spot with the Maple Leafs at the start of the 2010-2011 season. Especially considering the amount of defencemen the Maple Leafs already have set to play in the NHL.
The signing of Brett Lebda gives the Maple Leafs eight NHL-ready defenseman to fill seven spots at the very most; Mike Komisarek, Jeff Finger, Carl Gunnarson, Tomas Kaberle, Dion Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin and Luke Schenn are the other seven.
But just because those eight are on the roster right now doesn't mean that they'll still be there by the start of game one of 82.
Of those eight defensemen, Jeff Finger is the most likely to be eliminated from the Leafs' roster once the season begins. Finger is set to make $3.5 million next season, which is much more than he appears to be worth. Most hockey fans will tell you that Brian Burke is going to send Jeff Finger to the minors; a move that could ruin his career.
Those hockey fans are wrong.
Based on what he's done in the past, they will either trade him or place him on waivers.
When Ilya Bryzgalov was stuck behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Anaheim, Burke looked hard for a trade for Bryzgalov. And he didn't give up even when he couldn't. Ultimately, Burke placing him on waivers where he was claimed by the Phoenix Coyotes. He went on to lead his new team to the playoffs for the first time since the post-lockout era began.
When Burke came to Toronto, troubled Mark Bell was stuck in the minor leagues. Burke saw potential in Bell and immediately placed him on waivers. Bell was claimed by the Rangers, and though he didn't succeed with his new team, it was still a class-act by Brian Burke.
Needless to say, the American Hockey League is not an option for Brian Burke when it comes to Jeff Finger—unless he can't find a team that wants to take him.
Of course, Jeff Finger is not the only Maple Leaf defenseman that is heavily involved in trade talks right now.
32-year-old Tomas Kaberle has been mentioned in trade rumours league-wide for the last two years and has been attracting a lot of attention from as many as six teams. None of that attention, however, has been worth the Maple Leafs' time...so far.
Do not expect him to be traded before the 2010-2011 season begins, as his trade value will only increase as time wears on.
Moving on to the projected starting defence, you will realize that one of the biggest problems the Maple Leafs have is their amount of left-handed shooting defencemen. Tomas Kaberle, Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Francois Beauchemin and even newly acquired Brett Lebda all shoot left-handed. Mike Komisarek and Luke Schenn are the only two players who are right-handed of the projected starting six.
Left-handed shot, Tomas Kaberle, will be playing in his regular spot to begin the season; top line, left side.
Dion Phaneuf is the most likely one to accompany him on the top line. As the captain, Phaneuf will be starting the season atop the defence corps and if he plays anything like he did last season, he will be staying there. Even though he shoots left-handed, he should fit in well on the right side, being an offensive defenceman.
The second pairing will take on more of a shut-down role, consisting of Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek. Both right-handed shots, Schenn and Komisarek are both stay-at-home defencemen.
Luke Schenn has a great first pass and jumps in on the offence when he deems necessary. This makes him the better of the two to stick on the left hand side.
Mike Komisarek has scored just 12 times in 395 career games. The 28-year old should be playing on the right hand side due to his lack of offensive skill.
Carl Gunnarsson posted three goals and 12 assists in 43 games in 2009-2010, nearly putting him on pace for a 30-point season. Even with those impressive numbers, Gunnarsson still has a lot to learn, such as how to improve his own end and how to earn his ice time. He has the stuff to make it to the NHL, and most likely will. That said, Gunnarsson will need to start next season at nearly the bottom of the lineup and work his way up.
With so much to learn, the 23-year-old is best suited to play on the left side of the third, paired with a veteran like Francois Beauchemin.
Beauchemin first struggled to make it to the National Hockey League, but when he did, he flourished. In fact, he even won a Stanley Cup in 2007 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. His great work ethic and leadership would be great for Carl Gunnarsson, especially if they can build some chemistry.
Brett Lebda is likely to be used as a seventh defenceman/healthy scratch on most nights,though he could manage to sneak into the top four if he can impress when given the chance. Lebda is widely regarded as one of the smoothest skating defenceman in the entire league, and could prove to be a very useful player down the road.
So to recap, here are my predictions on the Maple Leafs' defence for the 2010-2011 season:
Be sure to check out Buds In Blue by going to www.budsinblue.wordpress.com for more in depth analysis and opinion. You can also follow Buds in Blue on Twitter @lukas_bib for even more up-to-date information on your Toronto Maple Leafs!
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