Thursday, July 05, 2007

At Least We Got Somebody?

The Maple Leafs were late to the free agent dance again, and while they didn't end up waltzing away with a complete minger, they didn't quite end up with the homecoming queens. Fergie picked up Jason Blake for a lot of money and a long time, and while it's not entirely a bad move - adding a 40 goal scorer is never bad per se - but still, the dude is 33 dudes, and he's only now starting to be a premier goal scorer? I mean, you have to be suspicious of a guy who puts up career numbers in a contract year, especially this late in the game.

On the other hand, I'm also pretty glad that the Leafs didn't break the bank to sign Danny Briere or Chris Drury or Scott Gomez. Anything past 5 years on a contract and you have to wonder how far ahead the people responsible are really thinking.

Philadelphia and the Rangers are now my two least favourite teams in the East, incidentally. Phillie's looting of Nashville to pick up Hartnell and Timonen left a really sour taste in my mouth, and now they have Briere for forever, Smith from Edmonton plus Biron in net and it's almost like last season never even happened. I seriously hope they pull a Boston. And over in New York, they've actually built a team in which Jaromir Jagr is only the third highest paid player, which is such an impossible sentence that it can only come out of Broadway.

And now with the cap hitting fifty million, it looks like it's back to business as usual for the NHL, with the divide between small and large market teams becoming visible once again. Poor Buffalo which lost its two best players, plus Zubrus if that counts for anything; the Islanders who will have no chance of repeating their unlikely run to the playoffs now that half their players have been bought out from under them; and saddest of all Nashville, who saw a championship calibre team cannabalized right before their very eyes in a matter of weeks. I don't think there is anything sadder in pro sports than a great team being dismantled for financial reasons.

Paul Kariya, keeping with the free agent theme, must know something we don't, because he has signed away the last years of his prime to St. Louis, which is not a team that looks like it will be a contender any time soon. You'd think for a guy who still needs a Stanley Cup that he would have chosen any number of contenders that were willing to pay him money, and yet he lumps on with a team that's still rebuilding. Sticking with St. Louis, they did it again. They resigned a player they traded at the deadline last year, this time Keith Tkachuk, previously Doug Weight. This is a way uncool practice that should be stopped.

Back to the Leafs, Fergie is going with essentially the same team as last year, but with Raycroft splitting time with Vesa Toskala, and Jason Blake on Sundin's wing. Steen, Wellwood and Coliacovo are all a year older, and hopefully that much better, Antropov will stay healthy and chip in at least 20 (I'm not even kidding dudes), Ponikarovsky has 30 in him, I know it and Mats Sundin will score a reliable thirty goals, seventy points. With the stars aligned, this team can make the playoffs, can win a round or two as well.

It's not a Stanley Cup team though.