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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Buying Low: Peter Mueller

The Toronto Maple Leafs have spent over $66.5 million on unrestricted free agents since Brian Burke took over in 2008. Of that, only $12.5 million, divvied up between Francois Beauchemin and Clarke MacArthur, was spent wisely.

The rest of the money has gone to Colby Armstrong, Mike Komisarek, Tim Connolly, Brett Lebda, Colton Orr, and other even less notable names.

Burke once promised that “July 1 would be our draft”, but the list of names that have arrived in Toronto has made Leafs fans wish Burke traded his “picks”.

So far this off-season Burke has resisted overpaying any of the underwhelming free agents. Aside from Jay McClement, who inked a reasonable two-year deal worth $1.5 million a season, the Leafs have watched other teams feast on the UFA buffet. Brandon Prust did not become Colby Armstrong 2.0 and Bryce Salvador did not get the Mike Komisarek treatment.

Barring a miraculous signing of Ryan Suter or Zach Parise (which isn’t happening, sorry), the Leafs' best chance is to wait for the market to cool and take a flier on a player later in the summer. Burke did the same with MacArthur in 2009, waiting until late August to sign what would be a 60-point scorer for only $1.1 million.

The player the Leafs could take a chance on this year is former eighth overall pick Peter Mueller after the Colorado Avalanche failed to offer Mueller arbitration, thus making him an unrestricted free agent at the age of 24.

The major downside (or bright flashing warning sign) is Mueller’s history of concussions, the most severe of which was suffered at the end of the 2009-10 season, knocking him for all of the following year. Although he was healthy to start 2011-12, it took only three games for post-concussion symptoms to flare up again, this time forcing Mueller to sit out 41 games.

After returning in January, however, Mueller scored 16 points in 29 games. Not a crazy pace, but respectable for his first extended action in over a year and, if produced over 82 games, the type of production typical for a good second line winger.

The injury history also works in Toronto's favour as Mueller can’t command a large sum, and will likely be open to a 1-year contract worth around $1 million a year. The type of contract that Mueller can use to show that he’s healthy and productive, with the hope of a strong season to cash in on a contract next year.

Encouragingly, there is some precedence to coming back from severe concussions. Patrice Bergeron suffered a major concussion at the same age as Mueller, forcing him out for essentially all of 2007-08, and came back strong, registering four consecutive seasons of increasingly more points. In his first season back, Bergeron scored 0.61 points per game, slightly higher than the 0.55 Mueller scored after rejoining the Avalanche in January. The major difference between the two players, or course, is that Bergeron was a higher scorer before his concussion than Mueller.

Another example, the Leafs' own Matthew Lombardi, was able to play again after missing most of 2010-11, although his production (18 points in 62 games in 2011-12) is far less encouraging.

But at only 24 years of age, and a former top-10 pick, there is still potential to be seized. Mueller showed a glimpse of that after initially arriving in Colorado, scoring 20 points in 15 games before having his bell rung.

In addition to some scoring punch, Mueller adds size up front, one of the areas Burke stated the Leafs must address this summer. Listed at 6’2, 204 lbs, Mueller would be the largest forward next to only James van Riemsdyk and Nikolai Kulemin. He will throw the odd body check, but his game isn't overly physical.

As for where Mueller fits: he is listed as a centre, but was predominantly a winger in Colorado since Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, and Ryan O’Reilly were all ahead of him on the depth chart. But even in Phoenix he never took a large number of draws, and when he did he never won more than 50 percent.

For Mueller to have a place on the roster as a winger the Leafs will have to disrupt the log jam that is currently bogging down the forward group. To even get into the top-9 Mueller would have to provide more value than at least two of Nikolai Kulemin, MacArthur, Matt Frattin, and Nazem Kadri, a group that doesn't even include Tim Connolly and Lombardi (who are likely trade bait).

Peter Mueller represents a good "buy-low" opportunity for Brian Burke and could give the team some added size and skill to the forward group. Unless a trade is on the horizon, however, a packed house means Mueller might have to hand out flyers elsewhere.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Burke can call Eric Lindros while he's at it.

Nancy Tex said...

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Jessica Colin said...

This mod will never come out .
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