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NHL trade deadline around the corner: Who will the Leafs deal and Sunday musings

 I read an interesting comment from Leaf coach Ron Wilson this week, where he essentially suggested he didn’t need to win a gold medal to prove himself as a coach. Fair remark. Wilson comes from solid hockey bloodlines (click here to read The Wilson boys) and has had a successful run as a Team USA (World Cup win) and NHL coach in three markets prior to landing back in Toronto. He’s a well-established, successful coaching veteran, and realistically it will be a while before we can judge his contribution to the Leafs. Before we can assess whether he’s made an impact here, he will require a better group to work with—and a couple of more seasons.

 With the trading deadline suddenly upon NHL GM’s after the Olympic break, it’s impossible to predict what the Leafs will look like come Thursday. We know Phaneuf, Kessel, Giguerre, Beauchemin and Gustavsson aren’t going anywhere, but beyond that, I have no idea who may be on the move—just that someone will be gone. We can all go to the bank on that. Burke has made it clear there will be further changes, and he’s not the least bit afraid of making moves.

 Jaromir Jagr wants back into the NHL next season. Whenever a player starts making comments as Jagr has about what he “might” do next season, you know that’s what he really wants. Edmonton seems to be dipping their toe into the Jagr waters, but in the end I think he’ll go to a contender. The Oilers are likely thinking young. Rather than look to a 38-year old, they will likely build around Gagner, Eberle, Pajaarvi-Svensson and whoever they select in with their high pick in this summer’s entry draft.

 It looks as though the Red Wings may be on the downside of their amazing run of the past 15+ seasons. It should be revealing to see what, if anything, GM Ken Holland does at the deadline. (I remember thinking it was not that significant when they picked up an “aging” Chris Chelios from the Black Hawks many years ago. He went on to play many splendid seasons in red and white.) It’s been ages since the Wings were at real risk of actually missing the playoffs. Even if they make it, will they have what they need to make it to the finals for a third year in a row? The wear and tear of two runs to the Cup finals may be taking a toll. Injuries haven’t helped.

 It’s always interesting to see how players perform after the Olympics. Particularly the Canadian and American team players will be drained. Will they come out of the Vancouver experience on a high, or will it take some time to get back to the grind of the day-to-day NHL battles and the playoff race.

 I would guess that Ovechkin will be highly motivated for the remainder of this NHL season. He’ll hear many more comments in the weeks to come about his performance at the Olympics, notably against Canada. People, fair or not, expected more. He’ll be primed to lead the Capitals as far as he can possible take them. I’m not sure the Russian side ever was able to develop the kind of chemistry that is generally needed to make a run during these kinds of tournaments. We’ve all heard about the ongoing rift between Malkin and Ovechkin. One wonders how many other intra-team conflicts prevented the Russian squad from taking advantage of the elite talent they had on the roster?

 I’m still of the view that Atlanta got the best of the Kovalchuk trade. I’ve always loved his talent, but I just don’t like the fit in New Jersey. If they don’t make a run in the playoffs, and lose Kovalchuk to free agency, they will have given up a lot of their future in that one move.

 I think most of us have no idea if Colorado and Phoenix will be able to maintain their surprising success down the stretch. But both teams have far surpassed anyone’s expectations.

 I’m one of those who senses it would be a grave error for Montreal to trade one of their two goalies. While neither Halak or Price has definitively established themselves as elite goaltenders, or even a “number one”, they both have significant potential. What if they trade one, and the other falters in some fashion? It would make for a short playoff run, I would think.

 Here’s a guess at who the Leafs will move this week: Grabovski, Mitchell, Ponikarovsky, Stempniak, Exelby, Finger. I wonder if, even though they like him a lot- and you should never trade good young defensemen- if they would consider trading Gunnarsson to reclaim some good draft choices. And Schenn? Again, anything is possible.

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