October 1, 2008
Leafs may have trade bait
By STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA
It was only a suggestion, though some of the greatest events in world history began as mere suggestions, like the suggestion by some Mesopotamian that malted barley is much more palpable in liquid form.
Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, who has been coaching in the NHL for a long time, although certainly not as far back as the Bronze Age, when Mesopotamia was a boomtown, suggested yesterday that it may be time to trade a defenceman for a forward, to give the rebuilding Leafs some needed firepower.
Wilson said that the current Leafs roster is deeper on defence than any other NHL team he has been associated with and that, perhaps, they can take advantage of that situation.
"We've got a lot of people who can play (on defence)," Wilson said yesterday, prior to the Leafs hopping on a plane for St. Louis, where they will face the Blues in pre-season action tonight. "Therefore, any decisions we make, (GM) Cliff (Fletcher) has assets. And if we need to use guys to get other parts for our team, those are decisions that we'll be talking about, whether it's on the plane trip or early next week before we get ready to play Detroit (in the regular season opener on Oct. 9)."
The bottom line is, there are 10 quality defencemen at camp, and the Leafs really can carry only seven, meaning that two or three will have to be shipped either to the Marlies or, in Luke Schenn's case, to junior.
Schenn, the 18-year-old who was selected fifth overall in the 2008 entry draft, is making any decision the Leafs make concerning their starting defensive core that much more difficult.
The Saskatoon native has been rock solid defensively in four pre-season games, and has displayed the occasional flash of offensive prowess, including his game-winning shootout goal against the Blues at the ACC on Monday.
It's likely the Leafs will send him back to junior, but there still will be some tough decisions to make and Wilson said they won't jump the gun until they see what Schenn can do in the next four pre-season games against the likes of the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Detroit Red Wings, in back-to-back games this weekend, and the Blues tonight.
"You don't have to make all your decisions in the pre-season. You don't want to be premature in your judgements," Wilson said. "That's why we try to play Luke against the better people on the other teams. But we also understand that those players aren't playing at the same intensity they will be playing when the regular season starts."
The Leafs will be starting a young lineup against the Blues tonight. Players who did not make the trip to St. Louis included veteran forwards Jason Blake, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov, defencemen Pavel Kubina, Tomas Kaberle and Carlo Colaiacovo, and goaltender Vesa Toskala. Wilson will start Justin Pogge in net and will dress the likes of Richard Petiot on defence and Kyle Rogers on forward for the second straight game.
Wilson also juggled his lines some more at practice yesterday, putting Antropov and Ponikarovsky together with centre Alex Steen -- a combination that he went to late in the Leafs' 4-3 win over the Blues on Monday.
Wilson is looking for the right mix with the forward combinations and clearly isn't satisfied.
Antropov hopes that the coach decides soon, so he can find a comfort level.
"As a player, I'd like to know who I'm playing with. But it's up to the coach," the 6-foot-6 Antropov said yesterday, following the team's practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "Our business is to just go out there and compete hard."
Antropov, whom the Leafs are expecting to shoulder a big part of the scoring responsibilities this season, said he is perfectly content being matched with his long-time linemate, the 6-foot-4 Ponikarovsky, Steen, or newcomers Mikhail Grabovski or Nikolai Kulemin.
"For the past couple of years I've playing with big guys, including Mats (Sundin), who can use their bodies," he said. "So, yes, you can say that it's easier to play with Poni than Grabby. (Ponikarovsky) can out-skate any big guy, and that's his advantage. But (Grabovski) is a sneaky guy. If you create some room for him and dish him the puck, he can do some damage."