With the Tampa Bay Lightning’s acquisition of Anders Lindback Friday afternoon it seems to be destiny that both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Roberto Luongo (@strombone1) will be united at some point this summer. Heading into the off-season it was apparent that the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lighting and to a lesser extent the Columbus Blue Jackets (depending on how much faith one has in Steve Mason) were the teams in desperate need of an upgrade between the pipes. While the Blue Jackets have bigger fish to fry this summer – a fish named Rick Nash – their desire to upgrade on the former Calder winner Mason is currently taking up space on the back burner. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has decided to gamble this summer (something that Burke and the Leafs cannot afford to do), and have thus placed all of their hopes and expectations on the shoulders of Lindback. The former back-up to all world goalie Pekke Rinne is an intriguing option, yet not one that seems to be worth two second round picks and a third. The 6’6″ new Lightning backstopper has only 38 career NHL games on his resume and has similar numbers to current Leaf goalie James Reimer. Whether Lindback can emerge or not will be a major question this season for the overrated Yzerman. In reality can a team that is only one season removed from losing a 1-0 game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final gamble on such a crucial position? Hmm, a big bodied, athletic, unproven Sweedish netminder? What could go wrong – cough Jonas Gustavsson cough - right Steve?
As for the destined union of Luongo and Toronto, is that really the only option available to Burke this summer? Don’t get me wrong, I am a supporter of Luongo, and would be thrilled if the former Olympic gold medal winning goalie came to ply his trade with the blue and white. However, I do not think that the Leafs’ options are now solely limited to Bobby Lou. At this point last season the Leafs had seemingly solved their goaltending problem due to the perceived emergence of the aforementioned Reimer. The glaring missing link for Toronto was a bona fide top line center. The only solution to this problem seemed to be UFA Brad Richards. Both sports radio talk shows as well as the blogisphere were flooded with proclamations that Richards would be setting up Phil Kessel for the foreseeable future. Richards of course never did come to Toronto, but he wasn’t the only top line centre that changed teams in the off-season. Both all-star and Canadian Olympic teammates Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were astonishingly jettisoned elsewhere by the Philadelphia Flyers. One never knows when a player no longer is viewed as an untouchable by an organization. Dion Phaneuf was never thought to be on the market, nor were Richards and Carter. Therefore – staring into the fire a little longer – is there any goalie that could be surprisingly available through trade this summer?
The player that comes to mind when trying to find a wildcard goalie option this summer is Pittsburgh Penguins backstopper Marc Andre Fleury. The former 1st overall pick in the 2003 draft had a terrible playoff showing this season, and has seen his team recently acquire the top goalie on the free agent market in Tomas Vokoun. It may appear to be strange to assume that the Penguins have decided that their window for winning is closing considering the age of the talent on their roster, but keep in mind that top centres Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal will be UFA’s following the 2012-13 season and Evgeny Malkin will be one after the 2013-14 campaign. The time is now for Pittsburgh, and they can’t afford to waste opportunities to win championships any longer. Yes, the Penguins are a team stacked with young, all world talent in Crosby, Staal, Malkin, Kris Letang and James Neal. However those all-star players have all at one point or another missed significant time to injury. One never knows how many more times this core will be able to compete for the Stanley Cup. They were all available this spring, and were let down by the terrible performance of Fleury. Similar to the difficult decision the Flyers made – incorrectly in retrospect – that they couldn’t win with both Richards and Carter, the Penguins must decide if Fleury is the goalie capable of carrying them to the promise land again. An additional factor in the decision making process is the fact that the Penguins are apparently in negotiations to re-sign Crosby. In replacing Fleury with Vokoun the Penguins will also be saving three million dollars in valuable cap space.
Door Number 1 or Door Number 29?
The focus now shifts to the Leafs. Is the 27 year old Fleury a better option than the 33 year old Luongo? Fleury’s contract status – $5 million for the next three seasons – is more in line with Burke’s abhorrence of cap circumventing deals. Whereas Luongo’s status – $5.33 for the next 11 seasons – is exactly the type of contract that the fiery Irishman rails against to the media. Burke cannot allow this off-season to pass him by without acquiring an established, top level netminder for the Leafs. Should he fail to upgrade his goaltending then he will more than likely be looking for employment at this time next year. Of course looking at the disparity both in age and duration of contract, the obvious answer would be to select Fleury over Luongo. However, keep in mind that the price for Luongo will be dramatically lower than what the blue and white will be forced to give up for Fleury. Would the Penguins take back Nikolai Kulemin (a former junior linemate of Malkin), Nazem Kadri and a Cody Franson? Is that too steep a price for Burke? Would it not make sense to pay a low price for Luongo and then use your assets to acquire that still missing top line pivot? It will be interesting to see what option Burke selects for the Leafs, as long as he picks one I’ll be happy.