With the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline fast approaching, many general managers have begun to carefully assess the weak points of their teams in order to gauge which positions could potentially be improved via the trade market.
Most teams around the league fall into one of two categories—buyers or sellers—but Brian Burke has publicly stated that the Toronto Maple Leafs fall into the unique category of being both buyers and sellers.
The Leafs find themselves in a peculiar situation because of their current position in the Eastern Conference standings. Going into Saturday nights tilt with the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs sit eight points out of a playoff spot. However, the Leafs have two games in hand on the eighth place Atlanta Thrashers.
Assuming that the Leafs can win two games, they potentially sit a mere four points back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
Burke’s trade deadline strategy is thus simple and well-known—improve the Leafs going forward without subtracting too much talent that would hinder their current ability to make a push for the playoffs.
Of all the names on the Leafs roster, three continue to garner the most attention. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tomas Kaberle and Kris Versteeg each have vastly different roles on the Leafs, but each will continue to share the majority of speculation leading up to the deadline.
Tomas Kaberle has a no-trade clause, but his name continues to pop up. Burke will remain true to his word by not asking Kaberle to waive his no-trade, and Kaberle seems content on avoiding trade discussions with the media all together.
Therefore, as the situation currently stands, Kaberle will more than likely remain a Maple Leaf following the deadline. But if Kaberle were to have a change of heart and decide to opt out of his no-trade, many teams around the league would be extremely interested in acquiring his talents.
He becomes UFA July 1, so don’t expect too much in return for this potential rental player. However, considering the high return that the Leafs most recently received in the Francois Beauchemin trade, it is not conceivable to think that Kaberle could fetch a first round draft pick, plus.
Granted, Kaberle does not have the winning resume that Beauchemin does, but don’t underestimate his value. Kaberle has the sole ability to control the pace of the game from the back end and can quarterback a power play, which makes him an extremely attractive asset.
Kris Versteeg is an interesting case for a few reasons. He has played accordingly thus far in Toronto, considering that he was a third line player in Chicago. Versteeg is on pace to notch over 20 goals and 50 points, numbers that should put a lock on his future with the Maple Leafs.
Regardless, teams around the league will continue to show interest in acquiring his services because of his youth and winning resume. Versteeg proved paramount in the Blackhawks' run to the Stanley Cup. Combine his past success with his consistency in Toronto and Versteeg has become a strong trading commodity.
Frankly, Burke has to decide if Versteeg’s value on the Maple Leafs outweighs his potential trade value. If Burke has a trade on the table that is too good to pass up, he may decide to cash in the chips and Versteeg, who should otherwise remain a Leaf, will be on his way out of town.
Out of all three aforementioned players, Jean-Sebastien Giguere is more than likely the one individual that will find his name on a different roster following the deadline.
If the Leafs continue to remain in a position to fight for a playoff spot, they could use the calming, veteran presence of Giguere. However, Burke has made it clear that he does not make trades on the basis of his team’s current play.
There are currently more than a few contending teams who could be in the market for a veteran goalie with playoff experience. Giguere boasts a winning resume and although his play this year has been far short of amazing, general managers may be willing to take a chance on him if the price is right.
On a strong defensive team, Giguere could do some damage in the playoffs and with the recent success of James Reimer, don’t be surprised to see Burke pull the trigger on a deal that ships Giguere out of town, even if the return is less than ideal.
As I previously stated, I was quite surprised with the return that Burke was able to get out of the Beauchemin trade. The Leafs received back a top six forward in Joffery Lupul, a strong defensive prospect who was chosen 17th overall in the first round, Jake Gardiner, as well as a conditional pick.
The Ottawa Senators also recently received a first round draft choice and a conditional pick for Mike Fisher. Avoiding too much speculation, it seems fair to say that prices are a bit higher this season than they were a year ago. If this is the case, Burke may be able to drastically improve the future of the Maple Leafs over the next few weeks!
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