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December 16, 2011

Leafs Should Trade for Staal

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Ever since Brian Burke took over the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has always lacked one thing. He traded for his top pair big defense man, Dion Phaneuf. He traded for his top line sniper, Phil Kessel. He thinks he has a franchise goalie in James Reimer. However, he is still missing the vital piece that any Stanley Cup contender has. The undisputed top line center. If you look at the most successful teams in the NHL today, what do they all have in common?

They have stud, top line centers who take the big face offs during the most important minutes. They are the horses the coach leans on to set up or score the biggest goals in the clutch. The list of NHL top line centermen is long and full of talent. Crosby, Malkin, Thornton, Marleau, Eric Staal, Datsyuk, Stamkos, Lecavalier, Bergeron, Getzlaf, Mike and Brad Richards, Giroux, Backstrom, etc. The list goes on and on. The Leafs currently have Tyler Bozak playing top line center minutes. He has done an admirable job, but he is a far cry from a top line center man in today’s NHL, especially for a team hoping to contend for the cup.

The best way for the Leafs to move from a fringe playoff team, to a perennial cup contender is simple. Trade for a top line center with Stanley Cup playoff experience. The Carolina Hurricanes are currently in the basement of the NHL and have a big, young, stud center man named Eric Staal available. Staal is a perennial all star and a Team Canada Olympian who won the cup with the Hurricanes in his first year in the NHL. He has plenty of size, skill and talent having surpassed 90 points in a single season before. Staal has leadership qualities, and could help Dion as an assistant Captain on the Leafs. He is clearly in need of a change of scenery after starting off the season with 20 points in the first 34 games – far below his career average.

If the Leafs could swing a deal for Staal, they’d be getting exactly what they need. A legitimate top line center to slot between Lupul and Kessel. He can lead the power play, and the penalty kill. They’d then have Tim Connolly as a second line center, and they could put Bozak on the third line where he is more suited, and would thrive facing third pair defense men. They could then avoid overpaying Mikhail Grabovski in free agency next year, and possibly use him as trade bait at the trade deadline, or as part of a package going to the Hurricanes for Staal. In a horrible market for free agent centers, Grabovski is going to be in demand and will likely command over 5 million dollars a season. The Leafs would do themselves a big favor by taking over Staal’s long term contract paying him over 8 million, instead of retaining and overpaying Grabovski.

The Leafs have exactly what the Hurricanes would want for Staal. They have plenty of young, cheap, NHL ready prospects to send to the Canes. Kadri, Colborne, Aulie, Frattin, etc could be dangled as trade bait for Staal. There are rumours out there that the Canes want Luke Schenn and Clarke MacArthur. I would definitely make that trade in a second and slide Grabovski over to the wing to play with Connolly in MacArthur’s place. Keith Aulie is ready to take over for Schenn should he be dealt.

For the first time in a long time, the Leafs have the pieces to add a legit franchise player. With the team already in playoff contention, adding an impact player like Staal could cement the Leafs as a legitimate threat within the Eastern conference. Only time will tell if Burke will make the move, but I think the time is right. The Canes are on the verge of rebuilding around Skinner, Staal’s value is at an all time low due to his slump, and the Leafs have the prospects necessary to get him. Make the move!

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