Northeast is growing

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:22 AM ET

OTTAWA — Of all the weapons the Maple Leafs will need to get an edge in 2010-11, a gargantuan defenceman seems to be in order.

Not that one would call Mike Komisarek and Luke Schenn shrimps, or hard-hitting Dion Phaneuf a softie, but the woods are full of mighty oaks if you glance around the blueline depth chart of the Northeast Division. With 6-foot-6 Andy Sutton joining the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline, everyone within the lodge the Leafs must play six times a season now has a big man back there.

There’s 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara in Boston, the hard-shooting Norris Trophy winner. On to 6-foot-8 Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres, who was Schenn’s teammate with the WHL Kelowna Rockets and picked eight spots behind him in the first round of 2008. One-time Leaf Hal Gill of the Montreal Canadiens won’t pound you like Chara, but he has a way of spreading his 6-foot-7, 250-pound wingspan to make him one of the best home-sticking defencemen and penalty killers in the league.

And now the Senators have Sutton, having made a mistake in letting Chara get away a few years ago before his hockey mind put a steering wheel on his tractor trailer body. Other teams in the East use a big man back there, too, such as old reliable Chris Pronger in Philadelphia.

Sutton, who was getting tired of watching playoffs from his sofa after years with the Thrashers and Islanders, is elated to be included in the Eastern Conference arms race.

“I think more and more teams are crashing the net, so the more strong guys you can have in front is great,” Sutton said. “Especially down the stretch (in March and April). Guys crash harder at playoff time and then into the playoffs itself. It’s something I hope I can help them with here.”

As a man who prides himself on building big, menacing teams from the blueline out, Toronto general manager Brian Burke isn’t ignorant of developments elsewhere. That’s why he insisted the Calgary Flames put Keith Aulie into the Phaneuf trade in late January.

The 6-foot-6 Aulie was chosen 116th in 2007 and was sent right to the Marlies for more seasoning, only to suffer a shoulder injury that will shelve him until the summer.

But expect to hear a lot about this Saskatchewan farm boy in the next few years.


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