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Deadline facing the Leafs; The Hawks walk away from another Cup

Being a NHL General Manager is certainly more complicated now than ever before. There are so many teams, and players playing their craft in more places, it seems, than ever before. The salary cap also ensures that there is always work to do, to stay competitive within financial parameters.

The Leafs are one of the “monied” teams who, in years gone by, were able (if willing) to outspend other clubs in their quest to attract superstar players (e.g. Curtis Joseph) and useful high-end role players (e.g. Gary Roberts). They are still “monied” but can’t outspend everyone -- just some of the teams who are limited by self-imposed budgets.

They are a certainly a much better team on paper heading into camp next month than they were two years ago. Versteeg brings some nice skill and Armstrong some sandpaper to build on the likes of fellow forwards Bozak, Kulemin and Kessel, all young players with their peak years just around the corner.

Leaf fans have waited patiently to see if the Leafs will get something substantial in return for Kaberle. The trade window is closing quickly. What would not be good is for the Leafs to do nothing now because the deal is not perfect, then spend the next few months playing hide and seek with Kaberle’s agent to see if and when he would be prepared to (once again) consider waiving his no-trade clause during the season.

We’ve seen this move before, and it’s not good for Kaberle -- and certainly not good for the Leafs.

The Hawks took their run at the Cup and it worked. And now they’ve had to dismantle a solid group.

The decision to walk away from the Niemi arbitration award affirms what I suggested when I was a guest on the Preds on the Glass podcast last week. The Hawks won’t be able to repeat.

While they have kept their superstar core together, they have not being able to keep a number of valuable contributors, Niemi not the least among them. We can argue that he’s no Tony Esposito (a reference for Hawk fans from the 1970s), or even one of the top five goalies in the present-day NHL. But, like the long under-appreciated Chris Osgood in Detroit, he was good enough to win a Cup, and that counts for something. (I’ll be very interested to see where he ends up -- and how much his next contract will be worth.)

Long story short, when you lose your best goalie and replace him with a guy who is at the end of his career, you’ve taken a step back. I like Marty Turco as much as the next guy. He’s had a very solid career. At 35, I just don’t see him as the guy do help Chicago repeat. I recognize he’s in much the same boat as when the Leafs acquired Curtis Joseph and later Eddie Belfour -- though Joseph was clearly more in the prime of his career and a bit younger, while Belfour was a bit older. Both those guys helped the Leafs.

But the Hawks are taking major steps backwards, and the team in front of Turco will not be the team that played in front of Niemi. Byfuglien is gone, as is Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Adam Burish and Brent Sopel. Yes, even championship teams need new blood, and can’t stand still- or stand pat. But that’s a lot of toughness, grit -- and skill -- washed away.

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