Saturday, June 23, 2007

Leafs take some risks.

Last year the big deal in Leafland was picking up Andrew Raycroft in exchange for a goalie prospect Tukka Rask. Raycroft turned out to be, perhaps the worst starting goalie in the NHL last season. His one good stat was that he was among the top ten goalies with 37 wins. He was also among the top ten goalies in losses. He was number one for most goals allowed. He also ranks near the bottom of the pack for GAA and Save percentage.

The Leafs finished a dissappointing one point away from a playoff spot last season. Andrew Raycroft couldn't lift his game to give that extra nudge the Leafs needed. Instead, the ever important nudge, in a three way battle for the remaining playoff spot, came from the Islanders backup goalie.

With essentially the same team. A slightly older Sundin, a defense corps who could use one more D specialist, and a solid foundation of forwards. The Leafs again pulled the trigger on a trade - their current philosophy seems to be why draft and raise players when you can trade and improve right now. A philosophy I personally don't like as it seem to ensure long term mediocracy. To be honest, I'd prefer short term failure in exchange for a shot at a superstar, and even the cup a few years down the road. In their existence, the Leafs have never had a superstar. While in Pittsburgh's brief reign, they've had two, arguably three or even four if you count Paul Coffey and Malkin.

But with a base of fans screaming for success, it's hard not to make "now" trades. One thing I like is to see a lot of familiar faces back. That in itself is not a bad philosophy considering the Leafs did have a solid season. A goalie who could have picked up one more win would have put the Leafs in the playoffs. A goalie who could have picked up five more wins would have put them in contention for fourth or fifth spot.

While the Leafs young talent pool might be lacking. Few people expect to pick a superstar midway through the first round - especially given the Leafs history at the draft. After the top ten or fifteen, it's a lottery, with some later picks never even making it as regulars to the NHL. With Bell, they have an underacheiving player with potential, traded for none other than the great Martin Havlat only a year ago. Bell was expected to be Thorton's wing man last year.
The true gem of this deal though was Toskala, who at the very least can't be worse than Raycroft. Raycroft is probably a nice guy. He had one amazing season a few years back. I don't know why he can't repeat it. Age? Injury? Vision? Training? Or he's just lost the edge that brought him into the NHL on fire. With a better goalie, all else being equal, on paper the Leafs should be able to make the playoffs this season.

There is still five million bucks of wiggle room left under the salary cap. They would be wise to show patience with it and shave off a few more million in trades starting with Raycroft. Kariya or Lindros would round the team off nicely. Peca hopefully is coming back, which should put them in great shape to take a run at top four spot in their division.

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