1. Added Beef for the Toronto Maple Leafs
Watching his new team stumble to last place with a poor finish in team goals allowed per 60 minutes (3.49), penalty kill percentage (74.7) and the Northeast Division, Brian Burke came to the simple conclusion that he was heading a team that lacked the necessary toughness to do any better. At various points in his first partial season in charge of the Blue and White, Burke has made his feelings known to the press, with statements such as the following, “We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That's how our teams play.” Once the free agent frenzy had begun and Burke was able to count Colton Orr, Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin as his primary purchases, he unleashed the following nugget, “You don't want your heavyweight to be a defenceman, the ice time is too valuable. That's why we got Colton Orr. But you need some bite back there. You need some knuckles on the blue line, too, some five-minute majors. I think with the changes we've made, there's some bite there, there's some size there."
Perhaps Burke is on to something. The 2008-09 Leafs were not tough by any means. Not a single Leaf cracked the 100 PIM mark and only Mikhail Grabovski (mostly from two games against his former teammates on the Canadiens – 48 of his 92 minutes) and the since departed Pavel Kubina surpassed 90 PIM. Historically, the Leafs have featured a number of tough customers, with the all-time PIM leader (Tiger Williams) and the 3rd place holder (Tie Domi) both playing in Toronto for significant stretches of their careers. Supporters of the knuckle game may point to the passification of Tie Domi as the point of no return for the Leafs as a winning team. In 2003-04, with Tie Domi spending 208 minutes in the box, the Leafs advanced to the second round of the playoffs before falling to Donald Brashear’s Flyers. The following season, Domi was but half the player he was beforehand, compiling a mere 109 PIM (less than Bryan McCabe!) and the Leafs missed the playoffs. Since that season, the Maple Leafs have not had a single player surpass those McCabe’s 116 lonely minutes in a season and have not made it into the postseason
Surely all of that will change this year. Well, at least some of that will. Komisarek spent a career high 121 minutes in the box last season (in only 66 games). Beauchemin does not pile up infractions, but has a well-earned reputation as a tough, physical player. Colton Orr may spend more time in the sin bin than on the ice, with 549 career PIM in only 245 games and an average TOI/game of 6:07. Brian Burke did not stop there. This week, he shipped defenseman Anton Stralman (key 2008-09 stats: 38 GP, 37 hits, 20 PIM) and the recently acquired Colin Stuart (33 GP, 59 hits, 18 PIM) along with a 7th round pick in the 2012 draft to Calgary for a 2nd round pick in 2011 as well as added roster beef in 6,4’’ 225lbs Wayne Primeau.
One way to judge a trade is by looking at who picked up the most valuable asset. According to Puck Prospectus’ own Richard Pollock, the 7th round pick is the hockey equivalent of a scratch-and-sniff lottery ticket. Anton Stralman was unable to consistently crack the defensively woeful Maple Leaf roster last season. The same could be said for Colin Stuart in Atlanta (from where he was acquired by the Leafs a few short weeks ago), as he failed to receive consistent ice-time on a team that was a little short of being a powerhouse. At 33 years of age and two seasons removed from his last healthy season, Wayne Primeau is hardly a huge asset (although he is a huge player). That leaves the second round pick. A study by Pollock showed second round picks between 1994-2004 have average NHL careers of over 100 games and rising (many are still active). The pick could very well bomb, but the other certainties included in the deal have already proven to be of meagre value in the NHL. Of course the trade also gave Calgary an extra $235,000 towards the cap which may have helped them sign restricted free agent Dustin Boyd last week. Potentially more room if they demote Stralman to the AHL.
So has Brian Burke succeeded in adding the bite, the knuckles and the size he was looking for? A quick study of the Maple Leafs’ roster of last season shows the weighted average size per player game was just a touch over 5-11” and 197lbs. We can’t weight this year’s roster for playing time yet, and we aren’t yet including guys like Tyler Bozak or Robert Slaney, who may play prominent roles in 2009-'10, but of the players we do know, the average is up nearly two inches to just over 6-1’’ and a few knuckles heavier at 203 lbs. Whether it will be enough to get the Maple Leafs back to playing in late April and beyond is still doubtful. However, if that toughness can help keep the opposition from controlling the Leafs’ end enough to prevent a few extraneous goals from scoring, Burke may have begun to right the course of the storied franchise.
2. Body Punch from the Board Room – Picking up the Coyote Thread
When we last touched on this story, Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum had denied Blackberry boss Jim Balsillie’s motion to force a deadline on his proposal to buy the embattled Cotoye franchise with the stipulation that the team be immediately moved to Hamilton. Essentially, given the unique intersection of bankruptcy law, business law and anti-trust law, the issue of the right to sell could not be codified by the given deadline. In the time since, Jerry Reinsdorf, well known as the owner of the Jordan-era Bulls dynasty as well as being the owner of the 2005 World Series Champion White Sox, put forth an official offer for the franchise that amounts to less than 70% of the value of Balsillie’s original $212.5 million offer.
Last Wednesday (July 29, 2009), the NHL displayed clearly to Balsillie that they, too, can play dirty, by going back on their previous acceptance of Balsillie as an NHL owner per se, if not necessarily one located in Canada, and formally rejected his earlier bid to purchase the City-to-be-determined Coyotes. According to a story in the Arizona Republic , Balsillie lost their support due to a technicality, as Balsillie’s bid was “incomplete.” Basically, he didn’t say the magic words. At the same time, the NHL Board of Governer’s proudly announced their unanimous approval of the bid put forth by Reinsdorf and his partners, Tony Tavares and John Kaites. Adding to the fire, a third party stepped forward with a formal letter stating their intent to bid more than the Reinsdorf group, while being more Arizonan than the Balsillie’s intentions (if still not offering anywhere close to the number put forth by the Blackberry magnate). Although this third group, Ice Edge Holdings LLC, also forgot to say the magic words in their letter, the NHL has officially batted its eyelashes at this new beau, led by former Balsillie employee Anthony LeBlanc. LeBlanc’s group has offered a middle ground for the Coyotes franchise. Namely, they propose to keep the team’s home base in Phoenix (for now?) with some (unofficially listed as 5) games in the Land of the True North Strong and Free. Either in Saskatoon or in Halifax.
All of the official and unofficial statements took a backseat as the interested parties prepared for an auction of the club to anyone hoping to keep the team in Glendale, which was to take place this Wednesday. I say “was to”, as good ol’ Judge Baum has elected to postpone the auction to the 10th of September after a request was filed to do so by the city of Glendale and the NHL. This request came hot on the heels of filings put forth by outgoing owner Jerry Moyes, claiming that the Reinsdorf bid included a number of game-changing demands of the city of Glendale, including a special taxing district being created in the Glendale sports and entertainment district that would provide the Coyotes with over $20 million annually, as well as a guarantee from the city to repay the Reinsdorf team $15 million a year after five years if the franchise is still losing money. Alternately, instead of forking over the required fistful of million dollar bills, the city could simply concede the team and allow Reinsdorf and Co. to relocate. No more questions asked. As the franchise has reportedly lost money in every single season they have played in Phoenix since moving down from Winnipeg over ten years ago, the Reinsdorf group is ensuring themselves of a reasonable guarantee of moving just like Balsillie would, but for much less initial cost. It’s good work if you can get it.
Further complicating matters (I never said this would be easy) is the role Moyes plays in the drama. While acting as majority owner of the team, Moyes sunk very large sums of money into the franchise. Moreso, in fact, (or allegedly) then an owner would be expected to invest. As part of any bankruptcy hearing, the judge must decide how to deal with and prioritize the bankrupt party’s creditors. Typically, the sale price of the business would be used largely to repay those creditors, and so, Mr. Moyes claims to have loaned $104 million to the franchise. In this light, he has a vested interest in seeing the Coyotes sold to a party other than that of Reinsdorf as their bid effectively shuts him out of any remuneration in the sale.
In light of the revelations on the ordained concessions, Reinsdorf has now threatened to back out of the bidding process entirely. Want more? Here it is, bullet-style:
- Having leaked the confidential concession documents, Jerry Moyes and friends will have to convince Judge Baum not to be held in contempt of court.
- Perhaps as confused as the rest of us, Judge Baum, upon announcing the postponement of the local buyers auction, stated that, "There's no assurance there's going to be a sale approved to anybody."
- Judge Baum has elected to open up the September 10th auction to all bidders, including those who might not be inclined to keep the team in Glendale. It was noted in the judge's decision that, the Coyote case having much to do with bankruptcy law, the wishes of the club's largest creditor, Michael Dell (of Dell) wanted the Balsillie bid included, as it is thus far the only bid to include remuneration up front and in cash for creditors, whereas the Reinsdorf and Ice Edge bids hinge on the assumption of ongoing debt. The league still believes that the Board of Governers choice to keep Balsillie out will have legal weight. According to Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daly, “We also remain confident that Mr. Balsillie's bid for the team will never be approved by the court for a variety of reasons, including that his application for ownership was overwhelmingly rejected".
- Balsillie has convinced Judge Baum to depose NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Wild owner Craig Leipold regarding their roles in his rejection as a suitable NHL franchise owner, but refused to allow the same for Richard Peddie, President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment, the company that owns and operates the Toronto Maple Leafs, even though Balsillie’s team strongly believes that the Leafs are behind the vote, not wanting a new team to be placed so close to their fan base.
Whether or not the Coyotes’ future is decided on September 10th, full training camp for the players opens two days later on the 12th, the circus will go on.
Ryan Wagman is an author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.
Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.