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.
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...
But you never know...