Leafs distracted by trade deadline
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
The Maple Leafs can talk all they want about not letting the trade deadline distract them the next 72 hours.
But two newly-emptied stalls on Friday were a stark reminder that this is break-up time for many NHL teams. Forwards Darryl Boyce and Jay Rosehill were on waivers, with one Marlie coming up the road, and more significant moves likely by 3 p.m. on Monday.
In the middle of this uncertainty is one of the most important games of the year (we really mean it this time) on Saturday against the Washington Capitals. It’s possibly the Last Chance Saloon for one or two bubble players or an unsuspecting bloke who didn’t think he was moving. General manager Brian Burke, who was talking about bulking the Leafs up to go for a long playoff run not too long ago, could now be forced into making a deal just to save face and get a playoff spot.
“There is a lot swirling around,” winger Joey Crabb agreed after practice. “I think you can make a pretty big case out of every game and this is obviously a big one.”
Forwards Matt Frattin, Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri are among the candidates for promotion at noon Saturday when Boyce and Rosehill presumably clear. Frattin’s $1.3 million cap hit is equal to the total of Boyce and Rosehill combined.
But until Monday afternoon all the Marlie prospects are in play for Burke, who is trying to keep his seat at the poker table for a big-name player.
The Leafs, who began the weekend in ninth spot due to a 1-6-1 funk, could be bounced lower if the Caps don’t have their full attention.
“It’s up to different individuals,” coach Ron Wilson said of how his team is trying to stay sane through Deadline Monday. “Some guys don’t give it any thought at all. Others struggle a bit with it in the back of their minds — ‘am I going to be one of the guys who has to move’ when they don’t want to?
“Some people will find an excuse that affects their performance, ‘I have the flu, I don’t feel well.’ We just have to find a way to think about the game, then the deadline will be over and we go from there.”
Captain Dion Phaneuf took umbrage with media suggestions that the team should expect a shuffle, based on its recent skid.
“When we were getting points a month and a half ago, whether it be wins or (overtime losses), you guys weren’t asking about the group we have,” Phaneuf retorted. “I definitely believe in the group we have. We’ve worked very hard to put ourselves in the position we’re in (closest to playoffs in the Burke-Wilson era). We’ve played a lot of good hockey throughout the year.”
Young defencemen Luke Schenn and Jake Gardiner have been mentioned constantly in trade rumours and possible unrestricted free agent centre Mikhail Grabovski could be on the list if Burke thinks contract talks aren’t going in the right direction.
“There shouldn’t be anxiety (in the room),” Phaneuf argued. “This time of year is part of the business. Trading is part of of the game, movement is part of the game. Every year there’s a deadline, every year there are rumours. It’s definitely a tough part of the year for guys whose names come up, but that’s all it is.
The guys mentioned have done a really good job handling it. We’re focused (on the playoff race), not about the deadline, not about what could happen.”
Wilson said making a call-up had been discussed for a few days, likely accelerated by three straight losses.
“We’ve wanted to clean up some space before Monday,” Wilson said. “We were going to bring someone in who can maybe provide a spark.”
Dry-docked winger and alternate captain Colby Armstrong will be back in the lineup Saturday. But fellow alternate, defenceman Mike Komisarek, who is stalled on 499 career games for a week, doesn’t know his status yet.
“We’re excited for this game,” Crabb added. “Whatever else happens, we want to make the playoffs this year.”