This past Thursday I had the chance to sit down in-depth with good friend Darren Dreger, an NHL on TSN insider, to discuss the latest news and rumours leading up to trade deadline day, which is March 4th at 3 PM. In a twenty plus minute chat, Darren and I touched on such topics as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vinny Lecavalier, Alex Kovalev, and more. Here is the transcript from the interview.
Derek: With the NHL trade deadline just a few weeks away, there are certainly a lot of interesting storylines to follow. Let’s start in Toronto, where there are more than enough candidates to move.
We spoke yesterday about Brian Burke talking of a trade proposal being announced, and then subsequently TSN reported the rumours of Antropov being moved to Pittsburgh. Burke denied those rumours quickly. So, is that the deal he was speaking about in London, or is there another deal still on the table?
Darren: Well that’s a good question. I did a little bit of checking and no one can verify that there was actually a deal tabled. I mean, sure there is a chance Brian Burke had a chat with another NHL general manager, but if there was a deal tabled, Brian didn’t feel compelled to alert his management group about it.
It’s very possible there was a deal that was reasonably significant, but that’s what we can expect over the next few weeks leading up to the deadline. Teams will be calling Toronto. I don’t know if there is a connection with Pittsburgh or not, but there are teams interested in Antropov, and Brian Burke has informed them that the asking price for Antropov will be a first round draft pick.
Derek: Another Leafs player who has been virtually joined to the hip of Antropov is Alexei Ponikarovsky, the other half of the twin towers. I know a lot of people, you and me included, have been very critical of Ponikarovsky this season for his lack of effort. Still, is there a market for a player like Ponikarovsky?
Darren: No, not recently. I know there has been mild interest over the course of this year. When Alex Ponikarovsky is on his game, he can be somewhat attractive to a couple of teams, primarily because of his size, and the fact that he does have some offensive upside. But right now he is not showing that, and is battling inconsistency yet again this season.
It should be interesting to see how, or if, the Toronto Maple Leafs can turn Ponikarovsky into a draft pick, or include him into a bigger package. Let’s say I don’t get the idea that teams are banging down the doors for Ponikarovsky.
Derek: Talk quickly about the two Czech-born defenseman, Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina. It has been a tough situation to figure out, as it seemed early in the year Kaberle would be on the move, with Kubina possibly staying.
Now it seems as though Burke has flipped and all indications would say that he is likely going to keep Kaberle and shop Kubina. Earlier this week there were reports that they had given Burke a list of teams. What is the real story with the two blueliners in Toronto?
Darren: Well first to clear something up, Kubina has not submitted a list of teams because the Maple Leafs have not asked him to.
Tomas Kaberle did however present a list of teams a few days ago and it’s no surprise that they are all Eastern conference teams. But, one look at Tomas Kaberle and it’s pretty simple to understand why Brian Burke would like to back off talking about trading him, and in talking to Brian (Burke) I never really got the sense he was actively shopping Kaberle to begin with. He came in as the new GM and his job was to assess this team top to bottom.
In three months he has done that, and in doing so, he recognizes that Kaberle is valuable to the rebuild, partly due to the fact that he is a good hockey player, and also due in part to the fact that he is signed under contract for the next two years, at a great price.
Pavel Kubina is a little bit different. I think for sure there would be interest in Kubina, but Brian Burke has gone on record several times now that he won’t ask players to waive their no trade clause.
If Pavel were to want out of Toronto, than it would be his job to alert the Leafs between now and March 4th, otherwise he does face the possibility of being moved at the NHL entry draft when the window opens and his no trade is lifted. As of today, Pavel Kubina has not submitted a list of teams, and has not asked to be traded from Toronto.
Derek: What about some of the Leafs' utility guys, players like Dominic Moore, Ian White, and Jason Blake. Obviously Blake is playing better, but his contract is a bit of an albatross, is their a market for him, and what about Moore and White, two versatile guys who could really help a team in a stretch run?
Darren: Let's start with Ian White, where there is interest; it all boils down to what teams are willing to give in return for a player like him. Ian White is very versatile as you described. He showed that at the start of the year when he was asked to play forward, and did so in an admirable fashion. He can play at the NHL level no question. There is interest for sure, and I think certainly he could be moved.
Dominic Moore is different. He is in the final year of his contract, afterwards he becomes unrestricted, and according to Brian Burke, he would rather sign Dominic Moore than trade him. At this point there is nothing that clearly indicates that will happen. However, there is willingness from Dominic Moore to negotiate.
He wants to stay in Toronto and has been a bright spot for sure. Having said that, his name has come up in trade circles this year and so Brian Burke is going to have to do some thinking before March 4th, and he’ll have to possibly make the decision as to what’s more beneficial: having Dominic Moore here long-term, or the return he could bring in a trade.
Jason Blake is a moving target, and you hit it right on the head, it speaks directly to his contract. If Blake had two years left on his deal, it’s safe to say there would be considerable interest based on the way he has played, but right now there is too much money and too many years left on the deal.
Another thing to look at with Jason are the issues that seem to be following him from year-to-year (speaking of the rumours he isn’t a well liked teammate.) He would be a tough sell. I think right now the Leafs are happy with the way he is playing, and are committed to his contract. They don’t have much choice. Now having said that, if he can keep this play up until next year this time, there may be a window to deal him.
Derek: What should the Leafs do about their goaltending situation? There are some who feel Toskala should be traded, others feel his value is too low right now, and Justin Pogge perhaps isn’t ready to carry the load. What are your thoughts on the Maple Leafs goaltending situation, and have you heard anything on what they might be doing over the next couple weeks or months?
Darren: You know, if the Leafs could trade Vesa Toskala, they would. Right now there isn’t much of a market for him at all because of the way he has played, but also because of the contract that he carries. Toskala has shown glimpses that he can be a very good goaltender in the NHL.
Unfortunately he has also shown he can go through long stretches of struggle, and then you also have the lingering issue of poor health. There is speculation from some that Vesa will require surgery this summer, and these are all things other GM’s will factor in if they were to consider taking Vesa Toskala off of Toronto’s hands.
When Vesa is on his game, he is an above-average starting goaltender, and I don’t think there is reason for Toronto to be overly concerned, but I think they are.
And this is why we see Justin Pogge getting more starts now. The Leafs are trying to assess where he is at, because if he isn’t the answer for the Maple Leafs, then they will have to look at their options and that may include putting a premium on drafting another goalie.
Derek: Branching out into the NHL now, what’s the latest on the Vinny Lecavalier situation? It would seem that Vinny himself is downplaying it, Tampa owners have been on damage control doing the same, but the fact that the rumours won’t go away I think would point to some substance. What’s the latest on the Lecavalier situation, and how do you think this will play out?
Darren: I don’t think anything has changed there.
Did the Lightning have conversations with Montreal, Edmonton, and possibly the New York Rangers? Yes they did. Were those discussions about Vincent Lecavalier and whether the Lightning would consider trading him? Yes they were, absolutely.
I don’t, however, think the conversations ever got to the “Okay throw in this, this, and that and let’s get a deal done” stage. There were however discussions on the type of framework for a deal the Lightning may accept.
I think what happened, once the story broke, Tampa Bay gauged the reaction from their corporate community, sponsors, and fans and realized that they better not do this trade, because sponsors see Vinny Lecavalier as the face of the franchise.
The only reason Tampa would ever consider a move like this is because of the enormous money they owe him once the extension kicks in this July (11 years, $85 million.) Still, that’s a real bold move, and I think they got a taste of the backlash and thought better of it. As we have this conversation today Derek, I don’t think Vincent Lecavalier is seriously included in trade discussions.
Derek: What is the latest news concerning Alex Kovalev?
Darren: This one could be interesting to follow. I spoke to Alex yesterday (last Wednesday) and he is disappointed and embarrassed. He is also committed. Committed to getting back in the league, and getting back into the Montreal dressing room and proving he can be the superstar he has been in the past. He knows he has to. He has to play better, and he is committed to doing so.
The question is, are Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau buying it? All I really know is this. Are the Montreal Canadiens better with Alex Kovalev in their lineup? No question about it. He has offensive flare and is a gamebreaker when he is on his game, but he has to be on his game, and he knows that.
There is a chance there won’t be a fit, and that too much damage has been done during this process. And if that’s the case, then Bob Gainey has to seriously consider moving him, and if he does embrace the notion of moving Alex Kovalev between now and the deadline, there will be lots of interest.
Derek: And what about a guy like Kovalchuk?
Darren: Honestly, I grew a little tired of asking Don Waddell that question. He answered it in the exact same fashion everytime. When you have been told by a GM three times he is not trading Ilya Kovalchuk this season, then I think you finally have to absorb it. I don’t think there is a chance Ilya Kovalchuk gets traded this season.
They showed they clearly think of him as a valued piece of the organization when they named him captain earlier this season. More realistically, but still significant is moving someone like Kari Lehtonen.
Even that could be a stretch, but with Pavalec coming up, this is something that could help them to continually embrace the rebuild. And perhaps he revisits trading Kovalchuk this summer, but I can’t see it happening within the next two weeks.
Derek: And what about in Florida? A team finally in playoff contention, and yet still the biggest storyline may end up being what happens to Jay Bouwmeester?
Darren: Jacques Martin will take this to the eleventh hour, I don’t think he has any choice.
And I think the reason he waits until that time is because there is always a chance that Jay Bouwmeester has a change of heart and decides that the way the team has grown this year, and the fact that they are in the playoff mix for the first time in a long time, there is promise inside the organization.
And that is largely due to the guidance of Peter DeBoer as head coach, and perhaps Bouwmeester does have a change of heart, and decides to look at short term deal possibilities with Florida.
Barring that, I don’t think there is any doubt that the Panthers are going to have to move him, and they are talking to teams right now. The scenarios are multiple. I had one team tell me they want a forward, defense, and a package of draft picks in return. That was from one team though, and it seems to change, depending on who you talk to.
Derek: Like Florida, Phoenix could be very interesting to follow, with all that is happening there.
Darren: I think Phoenix stays status quo in the way that they will not sell off their talented youth. They have a great mix of young players, not dissimilar to the Florida Panthers. So the players you have to keep an eye on are veterans players.
One being Derek Morris. A free agent at the end of this year, I know Phoenix would like to move him. There is also whispers that Ed Jovanovski could be available as well. Then there is Olli Jokinen, who is available.
Phoenix is looking to trade him, no question. The only problem is, a lot of GM’s around the league are wondering why the Coyotes want to move him so soon, after paying a pretty steep price this past Summer to bring him in.
These questions might scare teams away, but there is no doubt, Olli Jokinen is available.
Just a reminder to visit Bleacher Report on NHL Trade Deadline day for all the breaking news of any trades. Be sure to join me as I host my second annual Trade Deadline Day live blog, updated all day long. The moment a trade breaks, I will bring it to you, the BR faithful, complete with full details and analysis of each deal.
Also, I wanted to quickly say I am absolutely thrilled to have been named the Co-Community Leader for the NHL section. It is truly an honour to work alongside each and every one of you talented writers every day here on this website.
Along with being NHL Co-Community Leader, I will maintain my position of Toronto Maple Leafs Community Leader, though in the next few days I will be announcing a Co-Community Leader for the Leafs section to help me out with the daily tasks.
I will strive to do the absolute best I can for you. If you need anything at all, always feel free to get in touch.