2010 NHL free agency: Leafs sign defenseman Brett Lebda for two years

brettlebda.jpgThe Toronto Maple Leafs off-season has been a relatively quiet one. They weren’t able to do much at the NHL draft, they haven’t found a home for Tomas Kaberle and their one free agent signing of note was getting gritty forward Colby Armstrong for three years and $9 million. The Leafs have a bit of a crowded situation along their blueline with Kaberle and the rather overpaid and often-scratched Jeff Finger still in the fold. The Leafs added to that mix this evening by signing former Red Wings defenseman Brett Lebda to a two-year deal.

Lebda, 28, appeared in 62 playoff games for the Detroit Red Wings over the past five postseasons. He dressed for 19 and 23 playoff games in 2008 and 2009, respectively, as the Red Wings advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in both seasons. During Detroit’s successful run to the Stanley Cup Championship in 2008, Lebda played in 19 playoff games and averaged 12:33 of ice time.

It was wise of the Maple Leafs to highlight Lebda’s playoff experience with the Red Wings because at least that makes things look good. The reality of things is that Lebda is, at best, a bottom-pair defenseman and one that doesn’t have a significant offensive game nor a physical presence. So much for truculence. About the only thing truculent about Lebda signing on with Toronto is his contract. Leafs fans might want to take a moment after reading these details from ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun via Twitter.

Lebda in Toronto is two years, $2.90 M. $1.45 M a year.

The $1.45 million is an $800,000 a year raise for Lebda and one that comes as quite a bit of a surprise given how Red Wings fans felt about the former Notre Dame Fighting Irish player. The Leafs defensemen now include this honestly stunning array of guys and their salaries. Salary cap hit numbers courtesy of Cap Geek.

Dion Phaneuf – $6.5 million

Mike Komisarek – $4.5 million

Tomas Kaberle – $4.25 million

Francois Beauchemin – $3.8 million

Jeff Finger – $3.5 million

Luke Schenn – $2.95 million

Brett Lebda – $1.45 million

Carl Gunnarson – $800,000

That’s good for a grand total of $27,750,000 all put towards defense. The question now for Toronto is: Who’s the guy that goes? The obvious choice is Kaberle because he’s the guy they’ve been looking to deal out of Toronto since his no-trade clause went away on July 1.  That window to deal him is only open until August 15th, however.

The next logical candidate is the infamous Jeff Finger, he of the magical raise and slightly insane contract. Finger often found himself a healthy scratch last year as the Leafs cycled through their many defensemen. At the least, the Leafs can be given credit for not having contracts dictate the lineup. That doesn’t make it seem any less embarrassing though when you’re sitting down a guy you’re paying $3.5 million to.

While it’s fun to get a good laugh at the Leafs because of this logjam, if you can look at the guys they’re actually stocking on the roster, it’s a pretty damn good blueline and an area that general manager Brian Burke only had to make minor tweaks to. Consider the addition of Brett Lebda to be that minor tweak as it means they won’t have to rely on the still green Carl Gunnarson quite as much and once they’re able to deal off either Kaberle or Finger they’ll have their defense set for good and perhaps even have another talented scorer to make up for the loss of that player.

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    ‘We love him’ — Bolts heap praise on Stamkos as uncertain future awaits

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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    This may have been Steve Stamkos‘ last game in a Tampa Bay uniform.

    If it was, it didn’t go according to script.

    But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t special.

    Stamkos stunned the hockey world on Friday night by making his playoff debut in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, returning from a two-month absence due to a blood clotting issue.

    After undergoing vascular surgery and spending weeks on blood thinners, the captain was cleared to return for his team’s most crucial game of the season — one the Bolts lost, 2-1, the narrowest of margins.

    The outcome didn’t take away from how Tampa’s players and coaches felt about Stamkos’ return

    “He’s an extremely important player on our team, and we weren’t quite sure when this was going to happen, but a decision was made that he could play for Game 7,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “It was an emotional boost for all of us. The guys were really excited to have him back, and I thought he did a great job.”

    By the boxscore, Stamkos’ impact on the game was minimal. He received less than 12 minutes of ice time and finished minus-1. But he did have two shots on net — one of them showing just how dangerous, even in a limited capacity, No. 91 can be:

    “I thought I beat him,” Stamkos told NHL.com. “It just went through him and out the other side.”

    The focus for Stamkos and the Bolts now shifts to his contract situation. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the former 60-goal scorer projects to be the biggest star to hit the market since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter became UFAs in 2012.

    Those two, you may recall, cashed in quite nicely, signing identical 13-year, $98 million deals.

    So you can see why Stamkos’ future is of great interest across the league.

    Of course, nobody has officially ruled out the 26-year-old’s return to Tampa Bay, and tonight’s drama probably strengthened some pretty serious emotional ties. Remember, this is the only team he’s ever known. The Lightning made Stamkos the first overall pick in 2008 and, six years later, the 10th captain in franchise history. He won two Rocket Richard trophies with the Bolts, and played in a pair of Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final.

    He’s the team’s leader and face of the franchise. That’s not small stuff.

    But in the end, it might not matter. It’s important to remember the Lightning got to this point without Stamkos because they’ve got incredible depth and some really good young players. Those young players will need to be paid too, and there might not be enough money under the cap for GM Steve Yzerman to make Stamkos an offer he can’t refuse.

    Which is why it was hard not to listen to comments the Bolts made tonight, and wonder if they’re aware of what the future probably holds.

    “We hope we can stick together, but you just never know,” Boyle said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “Thought we were destined for some pretty special things.”

    Here’s your Stanley Cup Final TV schedule

    PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks skates on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 19, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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    From the NHL:

    The National Hockey League announced today the schedule for the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, which begins Monday, May 30, in Pittsburgh.

    Based on their superior regular-season point total, the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins will host Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final, as well as Games 5 and 7, if necessary.

    The Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks will host Games 3 and 4, as well as Game 6, if necessary.

    In the U.S., NBC will televise Game 1 and, if necessary, Games 5-7. NBCSN will broadcast Game 2. Television information for Games 3 and 4 will be announced at a later date.

    Game 1 Monday, May 30 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC
    Game 2 Wednesday, June 1 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBCSN
    Game 3 Saturday, June 4 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose TBD
    Game 4 Monday, June 6 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose TBD
    Game 5* Thursday, June 9 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC
    Game 6* Sunday, June 12 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose NBC
    Game 7* Wednesday, June 15 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC

    Media day will be on Sunday, May 29, time TBD. PHT will be on location for the entirety of the final, and a reminder that all games will also be broadcast on NBC Sports Radio.

    PHT’s Mike Halford (that’s me) and Jason Brough will be providing analysis for both pre- and post-game shows.

    Pens edge Bolts, advance to first Stanley Cup Final in seven years

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    For one night, anyway, the Steel City loved it some Rust.

    In a thrilling and drama-filled affair, the unlikeliest of heroes — Pens rookie Bryan Rust — stole the show, scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

    Rust’s heroics sent Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009.

    Seven years ago against the Red Wings, it was depth forward Max Talbot that etched himself into Penguins lore, scoring both goals in the decisive Game 7.

    Rust pretty much did the same on Friday.

    The former Notre Dame standout opened the scoring in the second period, then took all of 30 seconds to wipe out Jonathan Drouin‘s equalizer. It was a performance that’ll long be remembered in Pittsburgh, as it was the organization’s first Game 7 victory since — you guessed it — 2009, when Talbot led the Pens to victory over Detroit.

    As mentioned above, this contest was filled with drama. The theatrics actually began prior to puck drop, when Bolts captain Steve Stamkos was added to the lineup — his first game since being diagnosed with a blood clotting issue on Mar. 31.

    Stamkos’ playoff debut was somewhat muted. He finished minus-1 with just 11:55 of ice time, though it’s tough to suggest much more could’ve been expected from a guy that hadn’t played in two months.

    At times tonight, it seemed nothing, not even Stamkos’ presence, was going to slow Pittsburgh down. The Pens out-shot the Lightning 39-17 and had it not been for some terrific netminding from Andrei Vasilevskiy, the score could’ve been much worse.

    That said, Tampa Bay did have its chances in the third period, and finished with a frantic flurry around Pens goalie Matt Murray (who wasn’t busy, but finished with 16 saves).

    In the end, the Lightning will undoubtedly regret the missed opportunity to finish this series off in Game 6 at home.

    The Penguins, meanwhile, have to be thrilled with the form shown over the final two games of this series. They’re playing some terrific hockey, getting contributions across the board and now staring at a Stanley Cup Final matchup with San Jose — which promises to be a fast, offensive and compelling series.

    Game 1 gets underway at Consol on Monday. Have to imagine Pittsburgh can’t wait.

    Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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    Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

    After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

    Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

    Now, back to Rust.

    With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

    Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?