Brian Burke has shown time and time again in his GM career that he’s not afraid to act, and the man who runs the Toronto Maple Leafs has decided to add more drama before Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.
Burke broke the news on TSN 1050 Radio in Toronto on Wednesday evening -- later confirming it with ESPN.com during a phone call -- that the club has decided to explore what’s out there on the goalie market in the wake of recent netminding struggles of Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer.
It doesn’t mean for sure they’ll get a goalie, but they are going to see what’s out there and judge the price tags. Burke said the front office discussed it for the first time Wednesday. It had not looked at outside goaltending until this point, just a few days removed from the trade deadline.
That doesn’t allow for much time to get something done, and the prices are usually high at this time of year, but let’s look at the possibilities for the Leafs:
Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders: At 36, Nabokov has had a bounce-back season as proved by his .925 save percentage. He’s slated for unrestricted free agency July 1, so he’s the ideal rental player. My understanding is that he would gladly waive his no-trade clause for a move to Toronto. And don’t forget he played for Leafs coach Ron Wilson during their San Jose days. Here’s the catch, however: The Isles are in negotiations with Nabokov agent Don Meehan regarding an extension. And even if Nabokov doesn’t sign, Isles GM Garth Snow has shown in the past he doesn’t just give away rental players, so it’s no sure thing he will move him, even if he can’t sign him over the next few days. Still, this would be the most obvious target for Toronto.
Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild: Like Nabokov, Harding is a UFA July 1, so he’s a rental. Thing is, like the Isles, the Wild haven’t quite decided what to do ahead of Monday’s trade deadline. It’s really going to depend, I think, on the quality of the trade offers and where Minnesota sits in the standings. But the club is certainly open to listening.
Anders Lindback, Nashville Predators: I believe there’s interest here on the part of the Leafs, but there’s also the realization that the Predators aren’t about to give away a 23-year-old goalie who holds lots of promise. It’s not that he’s unavailable; the Preds would move him, but only in the right deal. Translation: high price.
Curtis Sanford, Columbus Blue Jackets: Sanford is another rental, and frankly he’s played reasonably well for the league’s doormats this season. The question you have to ask yourself if you’re Toronto is, how much of an upgrade is he on what you have?
J.S. Giguere, Colorado Avalanche: The former Leafs netminder is healthier now than he was last season in Toronto but he’s not a rental player, having another year left on his contract, at $1.25 million. He’s played well for Colorado this season, he’s been a good tonic for Semyon Varlamov, and I’m not sure how interested the Avs would be to change that.
Antero Niittymaki, San Jose Sharks: You can bet your bottom dollar that Sharks GM Doug Wilson would love to dump his discarded No. 3 netminder on the Leafs. Niittymaki has an .891 save percentage in nine AHL games this season. He’s fully recovered from a surgically repaired hip, but teams are obviously wary. He’s been a very effective netminder in the past, but I doubt the Leafs would go here unless it was a last resort.
Scott Clemmensen, Florida Panthers: He’s a UFA July 1 and a former Leafs farmhand, in 2007-08. He’s played decently in Florida this season, with a .908 save percentage, but I think the Panthers would move him if a team called. Two questions here: 1) Would Florida move him to a team it is battling with in the East playoff race? and 2) Is this really an upgrade for Toronto?
Ben Bishop, St. Louis Blues: Total wild-card entry. It would be a big-time gamble for the Leafs to hand the keys to another young and inexperienced netminder, one with only 13 NHL games under his belt -- none this season. But some people around the league are high on the 25-year-old’s abilities.