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Toronto Maple Leafs Close to Landing Chicago Blackhawks' Brent Sopel?

Mark RitterSenior Writer INovember 22, 2009

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 19:  Brent Sopel #5 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on during the NHL game against the Colorado Avalanches at the United Center on October 19, 2007 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter

During tonight’s Hockey Night In Canada broadcast, Pierre LeBrun, a very reliable source in the past, lamented that the Chicago Blackhawks may be pursuing a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The rumored deal would involve the Blackhawks shipping defenseman Brent Sopel, who has one goal and two points in 19 games played, to the Leafs along with a second round pick, for an undisclosed player from Toronto.

Sopel is currently making $2.5 million this season, has a $2 million cap hit in 2010-11 and, with the Hawks doing everything they can to save a little dough in order to squeeze in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith into their long-term plans, he might be a player the Hawks are willing to part with.

In attendance at tonight’s game vs. Washington, (a game the Leafs won 2-1 in a shoot out by the way), was none other than Blackhawks assistant general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, adding some bite to the tasty rumor du jour.

As for which player or players would be going to the Hawks, it’s still a mystery. One has to believe that the apple of the Hawks' eye may include Nikolai Kulemin, Matt Stajan and Jiri Tlusty, all of whom are still young, all of whom have low-budget contracts which are expiring after the 2009-10 season.

There is also the possibility of a much larger deal at stake. The Hawks have long yearned for Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle, but his $4.25 million cap hit in 2009-10 and 2010-11 would likely prove to be a stumbling block.

That said, if the Leafs could take a couple of contracts off the Blackhawks hands, say Sopel and centre Patrick Sharp, the Leafs may be willing to dangle the likes of Kaberle, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

Chicago needs to win now. Everyday that passes the Hawks look to be further and further under the gun to get a hold of their apparent salary cap issues.

To be honest, with Kane, Toews, Keith and others all in need of a big raise, the Hawks cap issues will only get worse, clearly, the time is now for Chicago.

No doubt about it, many in Chi-town will ask, “hey Ritter, what are you, high?” and, for the most part, I get your angst.

That said, when you consider the long-term cap space the Hawks would amass and the talent they would get back in return from the Leafs, this deal has the potential to be a blockbuster and a reality.

In order for a deal involving Kaberle to take place, Kaberle would have to be willing to waive his no-trade clause, which, historically, Kaberle has been hesitant to do in the past.

The carrot in the face of Kaberle is the opportunity to join a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, something that may take him 4-5 years to experience as a member of the Leafs.

The obvious question is: will Kaberle bite? It remains to be seen, but my bet is, given the Leafs huge struggles, Brian Burke may be willing to deal Kaberle and, if approached by Burke, Kaberle may take the opportunity and run with it.

One thing the Leafs are glaringly missing is a legitimate first-line centre. Clearly, Sharp would answer that need and, while it would be tough for the Leafs to see Kaberle go, as the saying goes, "you need to give up somehting to get somehting back", right?.

One thing is for sure. Anytime an assistant general manager or GM of any NHL club is in attendance at the Air Canada Centre, rumors will fly.

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It’s often just fodder, but this time, I think it very well may be a case of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”...how much smoke, nobody knows just yet...

Until next time,

Peace!

*** all Salary Cap numbers were found on nhlnumbers.com

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