Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke didn't get up on the wrong side of the bed yesterday.
He fell off it.
A few hours after expressing his frustration and disappointment over the rebuilding Leafs not making the playoffs (for a franchise-record fourth straight season), Burke's club was nailed with a $500,000 US fine by the National Hockey League for paying rookie defenceman Jonas Frogren a $755,000 signing bonus, which violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Leafs also have to give up their fourth-round pick in the 2009 entry draft, meaning that the March 4 trade they made with Tampa Bay essentially amounts to a lot of nothing.
Following the team's morning skate at the Air Canada Centre, in advance of last night's 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, Burke talked at length about the state of his franchise. But when the news came down in the afternoon about the Frogren sanction, Burke declined to speak to the media, instead issuing a brief press release: "The Toronto Maple Leafs acknowledge and apologize for the error of judgment. The club accepts the punishment handed down by the League and will not be commenting further on the matter."
Cliff Fletcher, the Leafs' GM at the time of the Frogren signing, also refused to comment.
Frogren reportedly used a portion of his $755,000 signing bonus, supposedly $400,000, to get out of the final year of his contract with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League.
The Leafs gave up Marlies defenceman Richard Petiot to Tampa for an '09 fourth-round draft pick and three players (goaltender Olaf Kolzig and defencemen Jamie Heward and Andy Rogers), all of whom likely will not play for the Toronto. Basically, the Leafs gave up Petiot and swallowed $400,000 in salaries for nothing in return.
Frogren signed a two year contract with the Leafs last July and this decision by the NHL will not impact his contractual status with the team.
Last night, the Leafs demonstrated that they will not go quietly into the night even though they are officially out of the playoff picture.
The Flyers are fighting to maintain fourth in the Eastern Conference, thereby guaranteeing home-ice advantage for the playoffs. But their hold on fourth is precarious, as they are now tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins at that spot. Still, it was the Leafs who took the play to the Flyers, improving their record to 32-32-13, while the Flyers dropped to 41-25-10.
Lee Stempniak scored his 14th goal of the season and added an assist while Jamal Mayers and Ian White also scored for Toronto. Arron Asham replied for the Flyers.
The Leafs held a 3-1 lead late in the third, but with Stempniak in the penalty box for holding the stick, Claude Giroux scored with 2:51 left to make it 3-2.
Goaltender Curtis Joseph turned aside 32 shots for the win, including a huge save on 41-goal scorer Jeff Carter with 16 seconds left.
"He's a good player, so I'm going to take that," said Joseph, who slid across the front of the net to make the save on Carter's one-timer. "I'm going to watch that replay."
"I think probably his mind's a little clearer," Leafs' coach Ron Wilson said of Joseph's improved play of late. "His personal life's a little more settled now than it was earlier and that can affect anybody -- and your most important player is your goaltender and he has to play clutter-free in his mind and unfortunately for Cujo earlier in the season, that wasn't so."
Joseph has reportedly gone through some domestic problems this season.
The Maple Leafs are working hard to add another college free agent to their roster, highly touted forward Tyler Bozak. The former University of Denver star reportedly has narrowed his options to three teams, including the Leafs. Bozak reportedly has been in town this week.
BYE BYE BIRON
Ian White's soft goal from the point 13:03 of the third period was enough for Flyers coach John Stevens. With his team trailing 3-1, Stevens pulled starter Martin Biron and replaced him with backup Antero Nittymaki.
Biron stormed off the ice, headed for the Flyers dressing room, before he was corralled by a Flyers trainer.
It was White's 10th goal of the season, the first time he has hit double digits.