Might Lou Go Bigger At The Deadline?

TORONTO (Feb. 8) — Corralling a company secret from Lou Lamoriello is the rough equivalent of a dentist trying to pull a tooth from a live shark. It may not be as hazardous, but you’ll achieve the same result.

Back in the day, when doctors treated patients for emotional trauma, they would inject small amounts of Sodium Pentothal (larger amounts were used to render loss of consciousness before surgery). It was known as the “truth serum.” While under its influence, people would divulge subliminal information.

“That drug would have had no chance with Lou,” laughed a National Hockey League informant on the phone earlier today. “If Lou had been ‘Deep Throat’ from the Watergate scandal in the 70’s, Nixon would have completed both terms. But, I can tell you this: He’s looking beyond his pending UFA’s and role–players heading up to the trade deadline. Don’t be surprised if some bigger names are off–loaded from the Leafs.”

This only makes sense — particularly if the Board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has given Brendan Shanahan the green light to pursue Steven Stamkos this summer. Stamkos, of course, would need to spurn the Tampa Bay Lightning and become available as an unrestricted free agent. Were that to happen, he’d also become the biggest hockey name since Wayne Gretzky (in August 1988) to switch teams (traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles). The winning suitor will be required to commit up to seven years and $85 million to the marksman from Markham… and that will require long–term salary–cap manipulation.

16-loueditedLOU LAMORIELLO IS THREE WEEKS FROM HIS FIRST TRADE DEADLINE AS GM OF THE MAPLE LEAFS.

The Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do.

Right now, only 12 players are on the book for 2016–17: Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Daniel Winnik, Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Stephane Robidas, Jonathan Bernier, Nathan Horton (injured), Tim Gleason (buyout) and Phil Kessel (retained salary with Pittsburgh). According to nhlnumbers.com, the Maple Leafs are committed to $43,183,000 in cap space. That number, alone, isn’t daunting. It becomes more–so, however, when factoring in that five restricted and eight unrestricted free agents–to–be are currently on the roster. Among the RFA’s, Lamoriello will work on retaining Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly and, perhaps, Peter Holland. The lone UFA of interest is goalie James Reimer. But, the Leafs still need to carry a 23–man contingent, of which 20 are in uniform for each game. Accommodating an annual burden of $11–$13 million for Stamkos will wreak havoc on the club’s cap figure and management.

Off–loading such UFA’s as Michael Grabner, Shawn Matthias, Nick Spaling, P.A. Parenteau and Roman Polak will minimally impact the Leafs’ salary structure and expectation of return. Polak might fetch a second or third–round pick; Parenteau maybe a fourth. The others, if they generate interest, will procure next to nothing. Lamoriello won’t trade Kadri or Rielly. Reimer is more of a mystery, though it’s my belief — based solely on gut–instinct — that Mike Babcock is not comfortable moving ahead, long–term, with either of his goalies. Bernier’s $4.15–million cap hit through the end of next season will be difficult to peddle, which leaves Reimer, in my view, as a very real possibility to be playing elsewhere come the beginning of March.

That opens to question players under contract beyond the current schedule, and it dovetails with the conjecture of my NHL management source that Lamoriello might be looking more broadly before Feb. 29.

16-reims-2editedOPTIMUS REIM HAS PERFORMED GENERALLY WELL AMID THE LEAFS’ GOALTENDING CAROUSEL THIS SEASON, BUT IS HE INCLUDED IN MIKE BABCOCK’S LONG–TERM OUTLOOK?

If the GM could jettison the remainder of Dion Phaneuf’s contract (four years; $7 million cap hit), he would… and likely without hesitation. Such a move, however, is more apt to be made in the off–season. More immediately, what could Lamoriello obtain for Gardiner from a playoff-bound team that is looking for mobility, skating and puck–movement on the back end? For Bozak, who has fared surprisingly well, in my opinion, without Kessel? For a career performance from Komarov and his manageable $2.95–million cap hit through next season? For the nomadic Winnik, whose competitive fire might attract deadline interest once again? And, as a long–shot, for the veteran Lupul, who has missed only five games this year but has scored a mere 11 goals… and who carries a hefty $5.75–million cap hit for two more seasons?

Assuming Lamoriello is bent on maximum return (high draft picks and prospects), and wishes to create a cap environment that would accommodate Stamkos, these are the players he’d best deliberate in the next three weeks. As mentioned, the summer is also available for roster movement, but the trade deadline presents a unique opportunity for arm–twisting. Given the Maple Leafs are not planning strategically for the remainder of this season — and possibly a couple more — Lamoriello is hardly under the weight of restriction. He could well use his experience to flip a current asset for slightly more than market–value.

Just don’t expect to hear about it beforehand.

Not even the “truth serum” would conquer Loquacious Lou.

BURNED AT THE OMNI

The Maple Leafs kick off their annual visit to western Canada on Tuesday night at the Saddledome in Calgary. Toronto has a lifetime 23–38–7 road record against the Flames, who played in Atlanta from 1972–80. The Leafs and Flames first met on Nov. 5, 1972 at the Omni in Atlanta. Philips Arena — home to the NHL Thrashers from 2000–2011 — was built on the same site as the Omni, adjacent to CNN’s world headquarters in downtown Atlanta. These items from the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail indicate a rather discouraging result for the Maple Leafs in their first road match with the Flames:

RSCN9937edited-XRSCN9946edited-XLEGENDARY LEAFS

RSCN9920edited-XI found myself leafing (pun intended) earlier today through Punch Imlach’s 1969 autobiography (above) — one of two that he wrote in conjunction with Neil Young’s father, Scott, a long–time columnist with the Toronto Telegram and Globe and Mail. The photo, below, was snapped after the 1967 Stanley Cup:

RSCN9926editedTOP ROW (LEFT–TO–RIGHT): IMLACH, MARCEL PRONOVOST, GEORGE ARMSTRONG, RED KELLY, ALLAN STANLEY. BOTTOM ROW: JOHNNY BOWER, TERRY SAWCHUK.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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