Leafs pursuing back-end insurance

With five spots on Toronto's defence already taken by (top row, left to right) Mike Komisarek, Dion...

With five spots on Toronto's defence already taken by (top row, left to right) Mike Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, Francois Beauchemin (bottom left) and Carl Gunnarsson (bottom right), who could fill the potential hole left by Tomas Kaberle (bottom middle)? (File photos)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:05 AM ET

The Maple Leafs aren’t waiting to see if one of their eager young farmhands can nail down the sixth and seventh spots on the blue line after the expected Tomas Kaberle trade.

General manager Brian Burke has stated the glaring holes at centre as well as second line right and left wingers would not keep him from signing one of the unrestricted free agent defencemen who came on the market Thursday. Especially one who fit the new Leafs’ blueprint and price range.

So after putting Kaberle on the backburner for this weekend, Burke began aggressively pursuing some insurance for Toronto’s back end and could have something firm by Monday. His targeted player isn’t clear, but there’s lots of solid if not spectacular names should he want size (Andy Sutton and Willie Mitchell), skill (Marc-Andre Bergeron), shot blocking (Jay McKee) and just plain savvy (Shaone Morrisonn, Freddy Meyer, Mike Mottau, Mike Weaver).

Excluding Kaberle, and now that injured Mike Van Ryn will miss a second straight season, the Leafs have five spots spoken for, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek and Carl Gunnarsson. The sixth spot was to be up for grabs between names such as Jeff Finger, Keith Aulie, Juraj Mikus, Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker.

But if Burke gets his UFA defenceman, he would then turn full attention to dealing Kaberle to fill a role up front.

It might not be enough for the Leafs just to find a team willing to take Kaberle. Knowing that only one year remains on Kaberle’s deal, rival GMs will be wary of committing too many resources to sign him short term. But if one of those teams was to come prepared to offer an extension, then they’d be more agreeable to Kaberle and thus more willing to meet the Leafs’ price.

Burke had planned to wait a few days until after the American holiday weekend, see which unrestricted free agent defencemen found homes and then investigate whether a better price could be fetched for Kaberle from clubs who missed signing someone.

Ilya Island-bound?

Have we been looking at the wrong end of the continent for Ilya Kovalchuk’s next destination?

It certainly has been an interesting 24 hours since New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow let it be known his team was investigating the premier unrestricted free agent of the summer, whom so many were betting would go to the bright lights of Los Angeles.

Could Kovalchuk turn down playing in the Staples Center, amid the new L.A. Live complex, not far from Hollywood Blvd., Beverley Hills and the beach, for the crumbling Nassau Coliseum. where it’s a two football fields’ trek for a burger?

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Isles’ owner Charles Wang has had the urge to splurge on a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract.

Rick DiPietro (15 years) and Alexei Yashin (10 years, since bought out) were rewarded by Wang, who now needs another box office attraction for a proposed new arena deal.

And the past few years of scrimping have at least given him the cap space to land Kovalchuk. The Isles are below the cap floor of $43.4 million US at present.

Information on their Kovalchuk aspirations is still scanty. Some say Snow was just kicking tires on the 50-goal winger and the rumours well, snowballed. Others wonder if the mischievous Isles are just trying to rattle the rival Rangers.

The Kings, if they are serious about Kovalchuk, have not been panicked into making a move after the first 72 hours of UFA shopping produced nothing.

Ice chips

ESPN.com reports there’s a chance Mike Modano might not hang up his skates after all and play in Detroit. The Dallas Stars didn’t offer him a contract, but his home state Red Wings might ... And a story on CSNPhilly.com says Simon Gagne has waived his no-trade clause ... The Oilers signed AHL playoff scoring ace left winger Alexandre Giroux to a one-year contract on Saturday. The 29-year-old played 69 games last season with Washington’s AHL affiliate in Hershey, netting a league-high 50 goals and adding 53 assists. He had 27 points in the playoffs, helping the Bears to a second straight Calder Cup.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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