When Toronto Maple Leafs' general manager Brian Burke brought defenseman Francois Beauchemin into the fold via free agency almost every Maple Leaf fan applauded Burke for signing the veteran , regardless of the high price (three-year deal worth an average of $3.8 million).
At the time of the signing, Burke described Beauchemin as a “rock solid, steady defender that will add character to our team.”
With a full season in the Blue and White behind him it’s safe to say that, while decent, Beauchemin was hardly the rock solid, steady defender the Leafs thought they were getting.
Truth be told, Beauchemin struggled with the Leafs last season, posting just five goals and 26 points. While his point totals were not terrible, his career-worst plus/minus rating of minus-13 jumps off the stat sheets at you.
Beauchemin ranked second-worst on a team that, admittedly, struggled defensively and between the pipes last season.
Through it all Beauchemin gave a consistent effort, but few of his games were what anyone would call “memorable.”
With the Leafs so deep on defense the question has come up as to whether or not Beauchemin still fits into the Leafs’ long term plans?
Joining Beauchemin on the defensive depth chart are the likes of Tomas Kaberle, captain Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, Brett Lebda, Mike Komisarek, Matt Lashoff, Carl “Uzi” Gunnarsson and Jeff Finger (who may be bought out before long).
That means the Leafs have a total of nine NHL-ready defensemen on their roster, which seems a little excessive, no?
Burke recently addressed the media’s concerns over the team's depth on defense by warning everyone that as soon as you get rid of one defenseman an injury is sure to come.
That said, with Burke making every effort over the summer to trade Kaberle (unsuccessfully), one can assume that if he could pull off a deal for a forward, Burke would gladly risk trading a defensive asset.
As it stands right now, the Leafs look to have Beauchemin slotted into the third defensive paring behind Phaneuf, Kaberle, Schenn, and Komisarek.
Clearly, given Beauchemin’s suspected reduced role in 2010-11, he has become somewhat expendable.
At a cap hit of $3.8 million Beauchemin is an affordable option for any team looking to add a veteran defenseman with a Stanley Cup ring.
Beauchemin’s leadership and presence on the ice are valuable assets to have, especially for a young team that is trying to make the jump from also-ran to Stanley Cup contender.
Known as more of a shut-down defenseman, Beauchemin will compete for minutes with Komisarek (who is looking to bounce back from an injury riddled 2009-10 season) and Schenn (who the Leafs are counting on to become their shut-down defenseman of the future).
With Lebda, Gunnarsson, Lashoff and, to a lesser extent, Finger all ready to take on more minutes/responsibility on the third unit, Beauchemin could easily be moved without the Leafs feeling it.
There are numerous teams in need of a veteran defenseman. The Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, and Carolina Hurricanes (to name a few) could all benefit from adding a player of Beauchemin’s ilk.
Removing the likes of Beauchemin and Finger (who could be bought out/sent to the minors) from the Leafs' defense would knock off $7.3 million from their salary cap number, which would allow the Maple Leafs to bring in that coveted top-six forward they so desperately need and give more affordable options such as Carl Gunnarsson ($800,000), Brett Lebda ($1,450,000), and Matt Lashoff ($550,000) a chance to prove themselves.
If Burke cannot move Kaberle (who I feel would bring a better return) than a good option would be to find a new home for Beauchemin. The fact is, he just doesn’t fit into this new group…
Until next time,