Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Year of Living Dangerously

By The Meatriarchy

Remember if you will the "free agent frenzy" that occurred this year once the NHL lockout came to a close. Teams rushed to scoop up the oodles of unsigned talent out there and some players landed in the most unlikely places. So you had long time Colorado defenseman Adam Foote moving to Columbus, Devils defensive stalwart Scott Niedermayer departed as the Ducks spent every dime to get him to Anaheim (apologies to the Vandals for that one), Pronger to Edmonton, Hamrlik to Calgary, Forsberg to Philadelphia etc, etc,.

In the meantime those who have the pleasure of reading the Toronto papers were being told that things weren't going that well. For one thing John Ferguson Junior was missing out on all those great players (one wag suggested that McCabe Kaberle and Klee should have been bought out to make cap room. I guess a defense core where Aki Berg was suddenly number two on the depth chart didn't scare that fellow). And he let Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Bryan Leetch and Alex Mogilny bolt to other teams.

Then to top it off what did Ferguson do? He went out and signed a bunch of brittle has beens. At least he got them cheap and only signed them for a year went the conventional wisdom. So after their careers ended and the Leafs came in last place at least JFJ could get on with rebuilding the team from scratch. Which for some reason or other is something the media in Toronto has been clamoring for since, well since as long as I can remember.

Now, it is very early in the season and Lindros and Allison have barely played a week but one thing has become clear: neither of these gentlemen are past their prime. In fact if they can remain healthy the Leafs go from not just being a strong team with an excellent chance of making the playoffs , but in my opinion one that has an actual chance at the Cup itself. And before you Sens fans start up about your team being the equivalent of the Habs from 76-79 combined with the Red Army team from 1972 and how you are going to go 82-0 this year and sweep your way to the Cup, let me leave you with two words to chew on: Brian Smolinski. Yup when the best you can offer as a second line center is Brian Smolinski you haven't exactly cemented your names on Lord Stanley's mug yet.

Anyway back to more important matters. The play of Lindros and Allison as well as Jeff O'Neil has certainly silenced some of the critics (albeit temporarily) and now we have the sudden rehabilitation of Brian McCabe who has gone from someone who wasn't supposed to be able to compete in the new league because he couldn't use his patented "can opener" technique (which for those who remember was being called as tripping the last time we played) and if he could only be more like that darling Wade Redden just up the road things would be so much better.

Well now people are musing that he could be one of the defenders to patrol the blueline for Canada in Turin in February. To which I say - what a difference one game makes!

I speak of course of the recent 9-1 drubbing of the Thrashers which saw Allison, O'Neil and McCabe vault their stats to the top of the league. You can do that early in the season when a 3-5 point night effectively doubles your totals. McCabe for those who are paying attention however is still at a -1 and he and Kaberle are already logging a monstrous 30 minutes a game. This has led to a continuous spate of rumours that have the Leafs dealing for Witt, Brewer, Keith Carney or some combination of the three.

Which is a very very long way of me saying that it is a long season and it is far too early to tell what might happen. However. If we continue on this trend. If Allison and Lindros continue to play at the level they are playing at now (and as long as they are healthy there is no reason to think they won't) and ditto McCabe the Leafs, JFJ and the fans will be faced with a daunting problem come next summer.

Allison, and Lindros you see are signed to only one year contracts and are free agents once the season ends. In addition Bryan McCabe's contract expires this year as well and he becomes a free agent.

So, with the salary cap restrictions and with the likely raises that these guys would command how likely is it that JFJ would be able to hang on to them? And which one do they hang on to? Allison in his pre injury days was making in the 9 million range. Which means in the new era he could command 6 million. Lindros if he continues to impress could be in the 4-6 million range as well.

McCabe would suddenly as well vault into the 5 million range (and we shouldn’t be surprised that he is playing his brains out in a free agent year) as well.

This could mean that between these players and Sundin the Leafs would be on the hook for about 22 million.

So we are in the midst of an interesting year. Each path is a dangerous one. The Lindros, Allison, O'Neil trio becomes a bust if they fall to injury and the teams fortunes plummet; if they do well we could see any or all of Lindros, Allison and McCabe departing for other teams.


Update: For a perfect example of how the Toronto sports media faces up to the fact that they were dead wrong about something see Steve Simmons' column today in which he attributes the Leafs signing of Lindros as pure dumb luck.


  1. I don't read much from the Toronto media, but the point I saw in the broader hockey media was not that Allison or Lindros were necessarily past their prime in terms of playing ability, but that they were huge risks in terms of their health and overall durability for a complete NHL season. Everyone acknowledged the risk/reward ratio of these guys, and they were priced accordingly.

    The reality is that these guys have a recent history of injury proneness and an increased chance of reinjury. A fast start doesn't change that fact.

    Hey, anything can happen. The Leafs could go 100% injury free the rest of the year. The older players might not suffer any fatigue, and maybe their bodies will perform just as resiliently as a 25-year-olds'. But I wouldn't bet so much on it that I'd be predicting a Leafs cup just yet.

    With a physically demanding 82 game schedule, its not how you start, its how you finish.


  2. Spezza and Smolinski aren't Lecavalier/Richards or Yzerman/Fedorov but if you add in Fisher then I'd argue that they have better centerman than the Devils did when they won last.

  3. Neiwendyk

    For their all-around game (2-3 years ago) I'd take these guys in the playoffs!

  4. "the Leafs ... [a] team ... that has an actual chance at the Cup itself"

    For a team that's playing around .500 (3-1-2), that's a lot of smack! You may be reading a bit much into the fact that they managed to (soundly) beat a team that's 2-4.

    It's a bit early to plan the parade route down Yonge.

  5. Three wins out of six games is .500

    I think you're confusing the "winning permillage" (percent: /100; permille: /1000) of 500 with the "points permillage" of 666. While I understand your Canadian-bred desire to make two losses into a win, I care more about winning.

    And what I quoted is what you said. I don't hold your optimism for your team against you; it's laudable. Sure, most pundits wrote the team off and didn't expect them to be at .500 this early in the season. Good for them.

    Just as smack was (fairly) called on Sens fans' exuberance over the first couple wins, all I'm sayin' is that your own exuberance is just that.

  6. When playing actual hockey (not a skills competition) the Leafs have won 3 games, tied 2, and lost one by a single goal. Ottawa when playing actual hockey has 3 wins and 2 ties. Doesn't seem like a huge difference between the two teams, especially when you consider the 2 ties came against each other. Oh, and the Leafs did that playing without their best player.

  7. So if a team goes 40-0-42 are they a .500 hockey team?