There was significant talk in Leaf country yesterday about the free-agent signing of a rather low-profile defenseman, Brett Lebda of the Red Wings.
I wanted to let the signing sit for a day before I commented. I can’t pretend to be an expert on this guy, but I know this: any good NHL team has to be ten-deep on the blueline if you are serious about getting to and then advancing in the playoffs. Teams have to assume at least two key injuries on defense, and/or guys not performing as a long season wears on. So blueline depth is obviously important and Lebda seems to provide that right off the bat.
Two things jump out at me right away: this past spring, he played in only two playoff games for the Wings, but in the spring of 2009, he played 23 playoff games for a Red Wing team that was one win away from another Stanley Cup. And he was a +8 in those 23 playoff games. This, after playing 19 playoff games for Detroit when they won the Cup in ’08.
Bottom line, he was good enough to play minutes with one of the best teams in hockey for the past five seasons. He’s not big or particularly apt to put up a lot of points. But if he can play as he has so far in his career and be a 4-5-6 defenseman, he certainly can fit here. And given what I see some guys pulling down in our inflated salary sports world, I’m OK with his contract.
This is not, by the way, the “move” I spoke of a few days ago, when I suggested Burke still had something (other than moving Kaberle) significant in mind. I believe that’s still coming.
Jay Feaster was not that long ago acknowledged as one of the best GM’s in hockey. How else can you figure that the once sad-sack Lightning, playing in a non-hockey market, could ever have built a team capable of winning a Stanley Cup?
So while I have been among those to question some of the moves made over the past few months by Sutter and the Flames, hiring Feaster as the new Assistant GM in Calgary makes a ton of sense. In fact, I would have given Feaster the keys to the car, but this will at least allow him to (presumably, if Sutter will listen) provide useful input and help shape the course of the franchise going forward. And they will need help. I don’t believe they have tons coming up in terms of young talent (the rival Oilers are way ahead of Calgary in this regard) and Iginla and Kiprusoff won’t play forever. But Feaster brings some additional hockey smarts to the front office.