This, to me, is the most interesting of the moves made over the past few days. Leafs GM John Ferguson has already taken more than a few shots on local sports radio for the move, and I’ll be the first to agree there are concerns.
Just looking at Vesa Toskala alone, I can think of two:
1. He’s never been a starter in the NHL, and
2. He’s an unrestricted free agent next summer
Now, those aren’t the big issues they could turn out to be if Toskala steals the starting role and agrees to sign long-term (at a reasonable rate) in Toronto, but if I’m his agent, that’s not my advice. I’d say: "Outplay Raycroft, win the starting role, play 55+ games and get this team into the playoffs." All of those should be reasonable targets, and they’ll put Toskala into that $4- to $5-million range that we’ve seen most starters settle into.
Ferguson has made overtures about signing him to a deal immediately, but what leverage does Toskala have now? And why ink a deal when you finally have that chance to step into the limelight and turn a few heads in the Eastern Conference?
As for the long-term strategy involved here, well, as with a lot of the Maple Leafs’ transactions the past decade or so, there isn’t one. Ferguson has to get this franchise back into the playoffs pronto or he’ll be shown the door, and this deal positions them well to do so given (a) how close they were last season and (b) the relative weakness of the Eastern Conference.
Including last year’s deal that saw Tuukka Rask moved to Boston for Andrew Raycroft, Toronto’s kept just one first-round pick in the past five years (2006, Jiri Tlusty) and has just one player in the system picked higher than 44th position since 2002.
Even if you’ve got a contender, that’s a fool’s strategy. I would have drafted Alexei Cherepanov and moved another asset for Toskala (or Vokoun).
Mark Bell’s the forgotten man in this deal, and rightly so given the garbage year he had, but he’s still got potential. The downside is that his $2.167-million deal likely means no more significant upgrades up front for Toronto.