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Will ego have cost the Leafs a shot at more team speed?

            One of the somewhat under-the-radar story lines of this past hockey summer was the back and forth dance between former U.S. college player Bill Sweatt, his agent and Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs.

            We know Sweatt came in the deal with Versteeg from the Hawks this summer.  The Leafs made what looked to be a generous entry-level offer to the young, unproven speedster.  And it made sense.  The Leafs need assets that may pay off down the road, big time. And they need all the prospective talent they can get their hands on. 

            The year before they hit a double, maybe even a triple, signing Bozak as an un-drafted college player.  At least that's how it seems so far.  (Signing free-agent college grads can be a great way to pick up older, more fully-developed talent—and more and more NHL teams are doing just that, every year.)

            But the Sweatt thing got a bit nasty when the Leafs evidently “pulled” their offer before Sweatt could make up his mind.  Now, mind you, it is entirely likely his agent was playing the Leafs against other teams, and they knew where Sweatt wanted to end up.  Burke no doubt has little patience for being ‘played’, and decided he wanted to waste no more time on the player.  For good measure, he made a broad public reference, as I recall, that perhaps a “more experienced” agent might have handled things differently, putting an exclamation mark on his decision to cut bait.

            (The Leafs also made a point of saying that they were not pursuing Sweatt, after their decision to sign young Mueller from Germany.  And that may turn out nicely.  We’ll see.)

            At the time, it looked like Sweatt might have many suitors.  Then it looked like he may be stuck in hockey limbo.

            Eventually, he did sign with the Vancouver Canucks, and early impressions out of Canuck camp are, not surprisingly, very positive.  The guy can flat out skate, much like we discussed with young Leaf prospect D’Amigo earlier this week.  Now, all this said, everyone looks great at this time of year.  Guys are fresh, healthy, and going full-tilt, but only against their own “teammates”— albeit guys they are competing with for jobs.  Regardless, it’s clearly not regular-season hockey, and a far cry from playoff hockey.  Young players especially often look impressive early in camp, during pre-season games or even early in the regular season.  Caution in making early judgments is rarely a bad idea.

            Still, it will be interesting to see how this unfolds.  If Sweatt (and this is a stretch, to be sure) becomes a dependable player and a contributor with Vancouver over time, Leaf fans may say the Leafs missed one.  They may feel that already, especially given that Toronto is now trying to cobble together six names that constitute a skilled “top-six” forward set-up and has roster full of third and fourth-liners. 

            The question may be, will Leaf management ever privately regret their moment of (perhaps understandable) hubris with Sweatt?

            Whatever, as I write this, Sweatt is playing his first exhibition game with the Canucks.  I look forward to hearing some objective comments about his true potential from readers in Western Canada in the days ahead.