Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Leafs pull off three minor deals

When defenceman Pavel Kubina agreed and then later refused to waive the no-trade clause in his contract, Cliff Fletcher lost his last chance to move any of the five Toronto Maple Leafs with those clauses in their contracts and had to settle for three smaller deals on trade-deadline day.
Maple Leafs-Panthers Preview
Though they're tied in the standings, the Toronto Maple Leafs were the sellers and the Florida Panthers were the buyers when the teams completed two deals before the trade deadline.

Perhaps the reason was the result the last time these two teams faced off.

The Leafs will look to avenge their worst loss of the season on Wednesday when they visit the struggling Panthers, who are coming off their own worst defeat of 2007-08.

The teams face off one day after completing a pair of trades. Toronto sent left wing Chad Kilger to Florida for a third-round draft pick and right wing Wade Belak to the Panthers for a fifth-round selection.

Kilger will fill the void created with the injury to Richard Zednik, whose carotid artery was sliced at Buffalo on Feb. 10. Kilger had 10 goals and seven assists in 53 games with the Leafs this season.

``With the Richard Zednik injury we needed a big, fast and skilled winger to be able to play on one of our top lines,'' coach and general manager Jacques Martin said. ``Chad can play that role for us. He is a gritty, character veteran that will bring experience and a positive attitude to our locker room.''

Later in the day the Panthers (28-30-7) traded Ruslan Salei - their second-highest scoring defenseman - to Colorado for Karlis Skrastins and a third-round pick.

The Panthers were recently in contention in the crowded Southeast Division, but they've lost four of their last five to fall into a tie with Toronto (27-28-9) near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

They were hardly equals on Feb. 5, when Florida earned an 8-0 win at Toronto, chasing goalie Vesa Toskala after just 28 minutes. Zednik had a hat trick in that game.

``We can't roll over like that in any game,'' Toronto's Matt Stajan said that night. ``It's embarrassing to lose like that on home ice.''

Toronto hasn't embarrassed itself much in the last five games, winning four times. The Leafs are coming off a 5-0 win at rival Ottawa on Monday, when Darcy Tucker had two goals and an assist and Mats Sundin scored in his first game since refusing to waive his no-trade clause.

Sundin had been widely rumored to be on the trading block, but he chose to stay in Toronto, where he has spent the last 13 seasons. Instead, Toronto only dealt Kilger and Belak to the Panthers and veteran defenseman Hal Gill to Pittsburgh for draft picks.

``I think everybody's kind of happy,'' Toskala said of the Sundin situation. ``We know what's going to happen now. We don't have to guess anymore and I think that relaxed the room a little bit more.''

Toskala had 31 saves against the Senators for his third shutout of the season, and he's stopped 55 of 56 shots in the last two games, both Toronto wins. He has started 15 straight for the Leafs, going 8-6-1 with a 2.35 goals-against average over that span.

``We've played pretty well since we've had a fuller, healthier lineup, especially with our defense,'' Tucker said. ``Vesa's played great for us in net and our defense has played well and given us an opportunity to win every night. That's obviously the team that everyone expected us to be.''

The Panthers have been worse than they hoped in recent games, including a 5-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday. Goalie Tomas Vokoun is on a personal four-game losing streak with a 4.19 GAA over that stretch.

``We don't play well, that's why we're losing,'' Vokoun said. ``It's not by accident or about bad luck.''

Vokoun has a 3-1-1 record and a 1.60 GAA in five career appearances against the Maple Leafs, while Toskala had been 3-0-0 with a 1.33 GAA against Florida before the blowout loss earlier this month.


'We're happy with the trade results': Leafs GM Fletcher

With five players who refused to waive their no-trade clauses, Toronto Maple Leafs interim general manager Cliff Fletcher could only make a handful of minor deals prior to Tuesday's NHL trade deadline.

Toronto started the day by sending forward-defenceman Wade Belak to the Florida Panthers for a fifth-round pick in this summer's NHL draft.

Toronto Maple Leafs interim general manager Cliff Fletcher, left, made three minor trade deals on Tuesday.
(Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press) The Leafs then traded away forward Chad Kilger to Florida for a third-round pick this year, and dealt defenceman Hal Gill to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a second-round pick in June and a fifth-rounder in 2009.

"It's been a very busy two days. Lots of dialogue and lots of telephone calls, but the reality of the situation in the Maple Leaf world is that we weren't skating in the same arenas as some of the other teams," Fletcher told reporters Tuesday.

"I'm dealing for draft choices today, and my son is dealing for Marian Hossa," Fletcher joked, referring to his son Chuck, an assistant GM with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who acquired Hossa in a blockbuster deal with the Atlanta Thrashers.

Many Leafs fans were hoping Fletcher could pull off a couple of big trades to help rebuild a team that currently sits 12th in the Eastern Conference and is in danger of missing the playoffs for the third straight season.

But Fletcher's hands were somewhat tied behind his back as five marquee Leafs - forwards Mats Sundin and Darcy Tucker, and defencemen Pavel Kubina, Brian McCabe and Tomas Kaberle - had declined to waive no-trade clauses in their contracts.

In spite of that, Fletcher said he felt Toronto made some good deals.

"We felt that we accomplished what we were trying to do today. We picked up some draft choices that will be very important to us moving forward in the future, and we're happy with the results of the day," Fletcher explained.

"It's been well-documented about the five players who had no-trade clauses in their contracts who exercised their rights and said they would not accept a trade. So moving on from there, we went to work and were able to put four draft choices in the bank to help us go forward starting in June."

Fletcher revealed that one of the players decided to waive his no-trade clause on Monday, but then changed his mind after Toronto's 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators Monday night.

Some NHL teams asked Toronto about the availability of Nik Antropov, but Fletcher said there was little chance the Leafs were going to trade the Russian forward.

"There were inquiries made about Antropov, but you have to decide where you're going to start building your base from, and [goalie] Vesa Toskala and Antropov fit nicely into that pattern. While we would have entertained offers for them ... those are two players that we'd like to see around and be part of the future," Fletcher said.

Players from the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, will be given the chance to audition during the last 18 games of the season with Belak, Kilger and Gill gone, Fletcher said.

Fletcher also said the Leafs will be very aggressive in the free-agent market this summer.

"Moving forward at the end of the season, we will look to the draft in June, we will look to trades, some of which were started by preliminary discussions that took place the past few days, and we'll look aggressively when free agency starts July 1," Fletcher explained.

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