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If the Leafs want Schultz, they may have to turn on Hogan’s Heroes

A quick side note to thank everyone who took the time to comment on yesterday’s post here at VLM:  It goes without saying but I’ll say it:  the individuals who visit the site and comment here make the site what it is.  I know that not everyone is comfortable posting comments routinely.  I appreciate everyone who visits the site and especially those who make it a part of their regular “reading”.  The comments yesterday were particularly heartwarming.  As much as I’d like to see the site grow in the years ahead, I’m thrilled if it has earned a small niche in people’s minds.  Thanks again.

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My guess is most Leaf followers don’t really believe that the organization has any legitimate shot (a nicer way of saying no hope in hell…) at signing Parise or Suter in the hours after the July 1 free-agency period opens up.  Not that they wouldn’t be very useful pieces for a club that could use such additions, but there are, what, 29 other teams in the league who likely feel the same way.  And just like Jordan Staal ended up in Carolina largely because his older brother plays there, there are reasons Suter and Parise might land somewhere else that are simply out of Brian Burke’s control (e.g. Parise was born in Minnesota; Detroit has money to spend and is a perennial contender, etc…)

It is what it is and most of us are O.K. with that.  We understand.

Now when it comes to Alexander Semin, I don’t know who will be crazy enough to give that guy what he wants. (In fact, one of the summer hockey highlights for me will be watching to see if any NHL owner pushes their GM to sign this guy to a lucrative, long-term deal.  You just know someone has to take that step…It happens every summer.)  If ever God made a hockey player who screamed talent but was destined to make fans want to hammer their own heads against the wall, it would be Semin.  He is so naturally gifted, but seemingly un-coachable. I guess we’ll see where he lands.  I just want to hear the GM’s comment when Semin is signed, explaining the rationale behind the madness of spending 50 million dollars or whatever on the enigmatic winger.

This brings us to, in a fairly thin free-agent class,  the young defenseman that is making headlines every day, and has been for some time now:  Justin Schultz.  I’ll be honest.  I wouldn’t know the guy if he ran over me.  We’ve all seen some highlights and some of you have no doubt seen him play for his college team on television, but I’m essentially going on his much-ballyhooed reputation.  He’s been talked about for months, because it has been clear he will not sign with the team that drafted him (the Ducks). I don’t think I’ve read one uncomplimentary thing about the young man’s hockey ability, so the fact that he is what, 22, if that, is a total free-agent and comes with a big build-up, well, you just know that a lot of NHL teams would love to sign a guy who only costs “money” and cap space- and not other assets.

His connection to the Leafs?  He was drafted by the Ducks, where Burke used to be GM.  He played in college with Leaf rookie Jake Gardiner, and I’m sure young Jake has had a few conversations with his old school chum about how great life could be together with the blue and white.

So what are the odds of Schultz actually signing here?  I have no idea.  Apologies for the build-up and predictable letdown, but does anyone really know?  We’ll all seen and heard reports that crop up daily that he is destined for New York, or that the Canucks are in on the bidding, etc..  While it would be a neat story for the Leafs and certainly for us as fans, I have a difficult time getting my head around the idea that he would choose to come here.

Why?  Well, it’s not like our track record of developing young players (i.e. most recently, Luke Schenn) is exactly awe-inspiring.  Also, we sometimes assume that because guys are “friends” they automatically want to play together.  Maybe Gardiner and Schultz are dying to do just that.  But it may just as much be the case that Schultz does not want to follow in Gardiner’s “footsteps”, that he wants to carve out his own niche independent of any ties with his old teammate.  With Gardiner already having the makings of a “star”, is that something Schultz wants to walk into in a market that will no doubt start comparing the two from the get-go?  (By all accounts they have different skills and are quite complementary on the ice, but we all know how these things can go…)

I think the Leafs, as I posted last week, will be in on a number of third and fourth-line type of free-agent talks.  There are some contributors available out there, guys who can muck it up and create space on the ice and who would be very useful come playoff time.  But I’d be a bit surprised if we were heavily involved in free-agency beyond that, though I well remember, as many of you also do, I’m sure, that Curtis Joseph was headed to Philadelphia when he suddenly found a new home as a UFA in Toronto back in 1998.

My guess (and it is surely only that) is that the Leafs have a shot, but that the young defenseman is already leaning in a direction that is not here.  For a young player like Schultz from Western Canada, well,  he has some great Canadian markets to choose from, eh? (And reports suggest his “list” includes primarily Canadian markets, including Ottawa and Vancouver.) But there are also some excellent U.S. franchises that could be attractive and would give him an opportunity to start from day one, whether it’s New York, Minnesota, Chicago or perhaps even Boston. 

Hey, Schultz may surprise me and end up here next week.  But if I had to bet, I’d say the only time there will be a Schultz in the Leaf dressing room in the near future is if one of the players switches the TV dial to some old-time channel and re-runs of  the 1960s comedy, “Hogan’s Heroes” (with the infamous co-star “Sergeant Schultz”)  ends up on the screen.

But you never know...

13 comments:

  1. Schultz "I see nothing!" LOL. Like you Michael I have no idea to what extent the Leafs are in on the Schultz sweepstakes. It is at least interesting to know they are in the mix.

    Here are a few additional (yet maybe meaningless) points to consider...
    * Leafs have had a good history of courting and signing available college players (e.g. Tyler Bozak).
    * Leafs don't have a lot of young talented players that will all be seeking huge contracts once their ELCs expire. Edmonton may have huge problems there.
    * Leafs have a new coach (a former NHL defencemen), who stresses defence.

    I could go on, but as I said, the points may be meaningless. in turn, his agency (Newport Sports) has not exactly had a great track history with Burke and the Leafs.

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  2. There are compelling cases for each of the Canadian teams Schultz may end up with:

    Ottawa: with Kuba not re-signing, Karlsson's wing is wide open for a player like Schultz, but it's Ottawa and Ottawa sucks

    Edmonton: perennially on the upswing, guaranteed ice time, no defensive competition, but it's Edmonton, and Edmonton sucks

    Vancouver: home town, perennial contenders, but hard to crack lineup due to solid depth already there.

    Toronto: Schenn's departure means hey look, Gardiner doesn't have a partner right now, plus if you have to go to the minors, you're still in the same city, and BFF is here, but Toronto is a ways away from being a contender.

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  3. The problem with the Leafs likely being in on many 3rd and 4th liners (and I agree with you that it's likely they will be), is that the leafs have a metric f**k-ton (pardon) of 3rd and 4th liners already.

    Assume the top-line shakes out as Lupul-JvR-Kessel or remains Lupul-Bozak-Kessel, with a second line of either JvR-Grabo-Mac or Kule-Grabo-Mac, that leaves us with a plethora of players for the bottom 2.

    Between Lombardi, Armstrong, Komarov, Steckel, Brown, Frattin, Kulemin, Bozak, Connolly and potential youngsters like D'Amigo and Kadri, do we really need to be wasting money on role players?

    We have to assume some other top 6 forward will be moved as part of some trade coming up as there simply isn't room (Mac, Frattin, Kulemin, Kadri - one of them is gone by september). Run a third sheltered scoring line, and have brown-steckel-komarov as your fourth. That leaves guys like armstrong/lombardi/connolly without any role on the team meaning there's hardly any space to go out and sign other versions of them.

    If Burke acquires some more space-wasters this offseason it will pretty much dry up the last drops of support that people in Leafs Nation have for him.

    He needs to do very few things now in this offseason: Get a defenseman, get a goalie (optional), get a top-line center or a better 2-way center, dump salary.

    That is it in my opinion.

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  4. the Surreal McCoyJune 29, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    well said Michael, and I tend to agree.

    he may be Gardiner 2.0, or he may be Gilroy 2.0, though that seems less likely, by all indications. Either way, I don't think the Leafs have this "all but wrapped up" as some fans seem to think. I'll be pleasantly surprised if he chooses Toronto. The fact that his parents are (reportedly) 'Nucks season ticket holders, and the fact that both Toronto and Ottawa are (again, reportedly) on his short list, tells us that he did not grow up cheering for the boys in blue. My best guess is that he chooses one of Vancouver or Edmonton.

    Cheers good sir, and enjoy the long weekend!

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  5. You got the Schultz reference!

    I like all of your points, TML__fan, but as you said, we likely have no real clue where the Leafs are in this story.

    (Aside...I have to wonder how the Oilers are going to pay for all the U25 guys they are going to have in a couple of years. Each of those guys will command huge dollars. I guess they know what they're doing...)

    The Newport piece is another angle. So who knows?

    We may find out by tomorrow, if not before. Thanks TML__fan.

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  6. Darryl...your breakdown of Schultz' possible Canadian destinations makes sense. (I enjoyed that the common thread between Ottawa and Edmonton is that the both "suck"- no offence to our friends in Ottawa and Edmonton, both wonderful cities...just old-time hockey rivalries still thriving!)

    As for the third and fourth-line scenario- you're right. And I've posted here myself in the past that we have a virtual team full of third and fourth line guys on any given night. I'm just not sure where the high-end additions will come from this summer, but I guess we'll see.

    They will try to move salary and upgrade up the middle and in goal if they can, agreed.

    Thanks Darryl. Good stuff as always.

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  7. Thanks Anthony (the Surreal McCoy)- We'll find out soon! You have a great weekend as well.

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  8. I skimmed through some comments, so apologies if it's already been mentioned, but there are five teams in on the Schultz sweepstakes:

    Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, and the Rangers.

    If this kid wants to win, and be part of something exciting, I think that Edmonton is the place to go.

    Vancouver and New York have defensive depth. So I think they're on the bottom of this short list.

    Ottawa has Erik Karlsson, and I think comparisons to him will be heavier than those made to Gardiner. Other than that, I really don't know much about Ottawa's defense other than that I hate it. They're young already, right? I think they're third on my list. Right in the middle of the pack.

    Toronto has the most links to Schultz, but I'd say they're still in second place.

    Edmonton, because they have no defense and may boast a Hall - Yakupov - Nugent-Hopkins line. There's no competition for this kid on that team. He can essentially be their anchor if his skills do in fact translate well to the NHL, which they are expected to do.

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  9. It's funny, Anon, I wasn't taking the Edmonton possibility all that seriously, but what you say makes sense. They certainly have all kinds of potential in terms of their forwards, but a crying need on the blueline....Thanks.

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  10. I know nothing about this young man, but if I was In his shoes, the young talent upfront and the wide open opportunity for a Dman in Edmonton would sure look good to me! Maybe there would be trouble down the road when contracts expire but why would I worry about that now? Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead on a dynamic young team where I can make a difference and win a Cup!
    But then again if I was him, I would be young and invincible and not swayed by sober second thoughts and reasonings. It will be fun to see if he lives up to the hype, won't it?

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  11. It's so true, Ed. This may be the closest the Oilers (or just about anyone else for that matter) will get to being like the '80s Oilers with Gretzky and Coffee, etc.. With those kids up front and if Shultz signs there and is as advertised, who knows?

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  12. I might add the reflection that, while he is touted as being another potential Gardiner and that players of that skill level are never to be sneezed at, another young, NHL-untried defenseman is not exactly on top of our list of needs.

    Personally I'd be dropping my pants (up to and possibly exceeding $7m/year) for Suter or trading for that mystery first line centre.

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  13. I have no particular insight at all on Suter, KiwiLeaf, but while I agree we could sure use a guy like Suter, it seems he is destined to sign with someone like Detroit.

    A center is important, but the Leafs are unwilling to pay a high price to get one, it seems. That may be prudent, but I'm not convinced we have anywhere near enough strength down the middle right now to be a good playoff team.

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