Wake Me Up When September Ends
The rebuilding of the Toronto Maple Leafs continued today with the long-awaited signing of once-dominant force Eric Lindros. Despite his history of eight concussions and recent major shoulder surgery, I think the signing wasn't a bad one. Sure, the guy's one nasty hit away from retirement and he's seen better days, but he's still only 32, taking a hometown discount, and he doesn't have the pressure of having to carry the Leafs on his shoulders. He'll be the team's third-line center and if another team sends its goons after him, Toronto's got plenty of muscle of its own to throw around (Tie Domi and Wade Belak, anyone?).
The Lindros signing comes a few days after the Leafs signed defenseman Alexander Khavanov away from the Blues and re-signed Belak and d-man Aki Berg. Before that, they landed another oft-injured star, Jason Allison, brought Domi back in the fold, and acquired former Carolina sniper Jeff O'Neill in a draft-day trade. GM John Ferguson Jr. frustrated Leaf fans everywhere by failing to buy out any contracts to clear up room under the cap, meaning the Leafs couldn't compete with other teams for players like Scott Niedermayer and Peter Forsberg. In addition, the club has refused to sign players to four- or five-year deals like a lot of other teams have.
So how does the lineup look?
Line 1: Mats Sundin-Jeff O'Neill-Darcy Tucker
Line 2: Jason Allison-Tie Domi-Alexei Ponikarovsky
Line 3: Eric Lindros-Matt Stajan-Chad Kilger
Line 4: Nik Antropov-Wade Belak-Alexander Steen (rookie)
Other forwards: Clarke Wilm, Nathan Perrott
Defensive pairing 1: Brian McCabe-Ken Klee
Defensive pairing 2: Thomas Kaberle-Alexander Khavanov
Defensive pairing 3: Aki Berg-Karel Pilar
Other defensemen: Carlo Coloaicovo (rookie), Staffan Kronwall (rookie)
Goalies: Ed Belfour, Mikael Tellqvist
While the team now has one of the biggest groups of centermen in the league (Allison is the shortest of the four at 6'3"), its forward depth remains a bit sketchy. After all, the team has also lost Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk to the Panthers, and it doesn't plan to bring Alex Mogilny and Owen Nolan back; all four players are talented but in their late 30s and brittle. There has been talk that Ferguson is trying to sign UFA Anson Carter, which would be a good move. Rumors also persist that Ed Belfour will be dealt; at 40 with a bad back and making $4.56 million, I'm not sure who would want him, but there you have it. That would clear up some cap space to sign a guy like Roman Hamrlik, who would definitely bolster the defense, and pick up a decent goalie like Curtis Joseph on the cheap. Khavanov makes up for the loss of Brian Leetch to free agency with a skilled defenseman who doesn't score nearly as much but is a little younger.
Other teams in the East have made decent moves: Philly and Boston have definitely improved (especially with the B's re-signing Joe Thornton for another three years), but the Leafs should have a half-decent team, barring any serious injuries and the failure of Allison, Lindros and O'Neill to return to their former high-scoring ways. There's a lot of "if's" involved, and I have no expectations that the Leafs will challenge for the Cup, at least not as the team is currently constituted. However, the new NHL is one where parity (or as I like to call it, mediocrity) means there is no dominant team and everyone has a shot at getting to the playoffs, so the Leafs should be competitive at the least. But come October, who knows what the team will look like? I can't wait to find out.