Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Monster of a Dilemma

jonas gustavsson sucks leafsYou see what I did with that title? That’s the type of literary genius that will get you job offers from the Toronto Sun. At least this post will have better grammar and fewer boobs than the average Sun column. I also contemplated naming this post Monster of a Situation as a thinly veiled segue into discussing the Jersey Shore. Unfortunately, that title didn’t make as much sense, so you’ll have to wait to see which Toronto Maple Leaf player is most like Snooki. Not even the Sun would print that. Luckily this is the internet and you can find anything and everything compared to the Jersey Shore.

Where is this going besides revealing my intense fascination with New Jersey's beach side? I’m trying to discuss the Leafs goaltending situation and the potential solutions available to Brian Burke.

Sorry, but I must sidetrack myself while I lament the loss of Tukka Rask. Why! Whyyyyyyyyyyy? Why did JFJ believe that trading the Leafs' most recent 1st round pick for a goalie with one good year and one horrendous year was savvy? How was Rask deemed expendable over Justin Pogge? Speaking of Pogge, I’m holding him partly responsible for this. He couldn’t become a viable NHL goalie? Fuck. The Flyers only gave the Sabres a 2nd round pick for Martin Biron, but somehow Andrew Raycroft yielded Tukka Rask!? Rask looks like he will be a top-5 goalie in the league, while Raycroft was so bad the Leafs traded for Vesa Toskala. Not much of a solution. Please wait while I go bang my head against the wall.

Okay. I think I can continue. So, it’s clear that the Leafs goaltending situation has been awful since the lockout. Re-signing an aging Ed Belfour, with a precarious back, for one more year was the first mistake made by Leafs management (although he was coming off a great year). Backing up Belfour in the first post-lockout year was the capable Mikael Tellqvist. He played pretty decent as a backup, and briefly as a starter when Eddie went down, only to torpedo his Leafs career with two stinkers in Montreal during pivotal games that eventually cost the Leafs a playoff spot. These games necessitated the reliance on J.S. Aubin, whose late audition with the team convinced management to choose him over Tellqvist. Then the summer of the Rask fiasco occurs. J.S. Aubin can’t stop a puck as Raycroft’s backup and Paul Maurice must allow Raycroft to play so many games that he actually ties the club record for wins in a season. When asked about his shitty play Raycroft references this record like he actually had something to do with it. Management sees past the record, realizes Raycroft is shit, and trades the 13th overall pick plus two 2nd round picks for Vesa Toskala, who up to this point has been impressive in San Jose. Vesa puts up a decent year, while Raycroft doesn’t and is bought out. Last year Vesa is awful and the Leafs realize that after ridding themselves of Tukka Rask, a 1st round pick, and two second round picks their goaltending situation is still a mess. Enter the Monster. Brian Burke courts the Swedish netminding sensation during the off-season. Jonas is eventually hailed as the saviour of Leafs Nation upon his signing (hey, we just dealt with Raycroft and Toskala).

The Monster’s brief career with the Leafs has shown enough promise to warrant a contract extension. While he has played inconsistently he is only a rookie who is adapting to a different style of game. More importantly, the Leafs don’t really have much choice. His play hasn’t been dazzling enough to suggest he will earn a ridiculous contract, but something around $2-3 million over a few years is more likely (depending on his play for the rest of the year). While the Monster has shown promise this year, his injuries and relative inexperience suggest the Leafs must not to simply hand the young goalie the starter’s job next year. Fortunately, there are a bevy of options the Leafs may pursue this off-season to strengthen their goaltending.

Since the Leafs don’t have Tukka Rask, which would obviously provide them with a great tandem in net, they must dip into either the free agent market or explore possible trade avenues (don’t worry, I won’t suggest Nazem Kadri for Peter Budaj). First, there is a pretty deep crop of unrestricted free agent goalies that the Leafs can pursue. Next to Evgeni Nabokov, who will likely re-sign with San Jose, the biggest name available is Marty Turco. Turco is in the midst of a mediocre year (2.84 GAA and .905 save percentage) and is 34 years old. It isn’t a given that Turco will be re-signed by Dallas and that leaves the Leafs with a solid option for a proven number one netminder. The negative to signing Turco is that he’s 34 years old and will likely command a cap figure around $5-6 million. This would also probably stunt Gustavsson's development, since Turco would play most of the games. I would probably dislike this signing, but I also disliked the Leafs signing a 37-year-old Ed Belfour in 2002 and he eventually put up some crazy statistical seasons (e.g. 10 shutouts in 2003-2004).

One of the more intriguing situations around the league is in Nashville, who seem able to consistently churn out high quality goalies since they turned Tomas Vokoun into a superstar at the turn of the millennium. Now the two goalies splitting duties in Nashville are Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne. Both of which are UFAs at season’s end. What is enticing about this situation is that Nashville’s payroll is second only to the mess of a team in Phoenix. Nashville is not a team willing to spend to the cap and are likely to choose one goalie over the other. This may also be their only choice considering both Rinne and Ellis are capable of being number 1s and will want to receive the playing time suited for a number 1. Rinne has worse numbers than Ellis (.904% to .915% and 2.83 GAA to 2.52 GAA), but is also two years younger and born in Finland (Finnish goalies are the new French-Canadian goalies). I'd be happy with either of these goalies.

There is also Ray Emery in Philadelphia who is currently making $1.5 million per year, but posting a save percentage below .900 and a GAA close to 3. Emery will turn 28 before next season, so he is still young and could potentially post numbers closer to his 2006-2007 levels given a lighter workload that he’d have by splitting time with Gustavsson. Or maybe his 2006-2007 numbers were a result of playing behind a Stanley Cup Finals defence and he should be avoided at all costs. I wouldn’t be excited with adding Emery.

The Ducks will also see a sharp increase in payroll this off-season as they must re-sign restricted free agent Bobby Ryan and unrestricted free agent goalie Jonas Hiller. I think it’s highly probable that Hiller is re-signed, considering that both Niedermayer and Koivu are candidates for deadline deals. However, what makes Anaheim interesting is that they’re paying J.S. Giguere $6 million to serve as Hiller’s backup (at least they aren't paying Wade Redden $6.5 million to pretend to play defence). Giguere enters the final year of his contract next year and might be the type of contract Brian Burke is willing to take on if he’s given a little extra incentive. The Leafs have close to $25 million in expiring contracts this off-season (of course some will go to re-signing the likes of White and Gustavsson), so they will be in a position to take on bad contracts from teams in need of cap relief or even exploit such teams. I am sure either Cam Barker or Patrick Sharp will be a Leaf by the start of next year (because of Chicago’s cap problems), but I also think taking Giguere from the Ducks would be in the Leafs best interest. Is $6 million in cap space worth a first round pick? Probably not the Ducks first round pick, but what if they trade Niedermayer for a late 1st round pick at this year’s trade deadline. The Leafs would probably have to add something of value if they wanted to receive a 1st, but I think this could work for both teams. The Leafs recoup a 1st that was lost for Phil Kessel (albeit much lower) and they add a capable goalie who can not only split games with Gustavsson, but also play the role of mentor for the young goalie. The Ducks meanwhile get an extra $6 million, which gives them the flexibility to surround Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan with better supporting players.

The Leafs can also take a flyer on a former-star like Jose Theodore, who will certainly receive a hefty pay-cut from his current $4.5 million salary. No, thanks.

If the Leafs deem Gustavsson ready to handle the number 1 job then a few backups capable of playing 20-30 games are available, such as Martin Biron, Peter Budaj, and Alex Auld. Or the Leafs can let the Monster walk, re-sign Toskala, and re-unite him with Andrew Raycroft. Memories.

Situation mentioned six times in this post. That’s the situation right there.

Note: UFA information taken from the comprehensive Sports City.


Jordan said...

Roy A. Elliot,
I don't understand you.
You bash toskala but continue to do crazy moves in fantasy hocky, like picking him off of the FA list

Alex Steen said...

If you guys get patrick sharp that would be a real shame, and it would be a big loss for chicago. Hopefully instead of getting sharp you drop some big cash and pick up CuJo, he still needs that cup ring.

Matt Horner said...

Well, at the time Vesa had a shutout going for one period. I thought maybe if he could somehow play well I'd be able to shop him around the league due to the dearth of goalies. My mistake was actually playing him.

Also, I forgot about the Cujo option. $8 million should be enough to coax him out of retirement.

Theodore said...

"My name is Jonas,
I'm carrying the weight of Leafs Nation"

Alternate Weezer cut, I believe.

Also, what's your source on this Patrick Sharp business, and remember, Pierre Maguire is NOT a credible source... or a human being.

Matt Horner said...

I don't really have source on the Sharp business. It's just that the Hawks can't keep all the players they have due to the cap and they will certainly have to shed salary. I think Sharp and Barker are the most likely (after Sopel who is for sure gone, but not big enough contract) and the Leafs will have excess cap space.

Wishful hoping on my part that one of them goes to the Leafs, but I truly believe one, maybe both, won't start next season in Chicago.

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