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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    Looking to make the leap: Michael Matheson

    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24:  Michael Matheson #56 of the Florida Panthers skates against the New York Islanders in Game Six of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 24, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders won the game 2-1 in double overtime to win the series four games to two.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

    The Florida Panthers have been building a pretty impressive roster in recent years, introducing a young core that includes Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad into the NHL. They are helping the Panthers not only be a competitive team right now, but also a team that has the potential to do something special in the not-too-distant future.

    Looking to join that young core group of talent is 22-year-old defenseman Michael Matheson, the No. 23 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft.

    Other than five games at the AHL level in 2014-15, the 2015-16 season was pretty much Matheson’s first full year of pro hockey after playing his college hockey at Boston College.

    He spent most of the year playing for Portland in the AHL where he recorded 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 54 games, a performance that earned him an opportunity to play three regular season games at the NHL level and five of the Panthers’ six playoff games where he recorded an assist.

    He made perhaps his strongest statement after the season ended when he represented Canada at the World Championships and was one of the most productive defensemen in the tournament with six points (two goals, four assists) in 10 games.

    The Panthers have done a lot of work to their blue line over the summer, losing Brian Campbell to free agency while also adding veterans Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk. With Ekblad and Alex Petrovic also returning it is definitely going to be a little crowded on the blue line, but Matheson had a promising 2015-16 season and should have an opportunity to crack the lineup and compete for playing time.

    Report: Panthers trade Dave Bolland, Lawson Crouse to Coyotes

    SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 27:  Dave Bolland #63 of the Florida Panthers looks on during a game against the Colorado Avalanche at BB&T Center on October 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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    It’s Florida Panthers day at PHT so it’s only fitting that they would start the day by completing a trade, which they did on Thursday morning by reportedly sending veteran forward Dave Bolland and 2015 first-round draft pick Lawson Crouse to the Coyotes in exchange for two draft picks, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

    As part of the deal the Panthers will get a 2017 third-round pick and a conditional 2018 second-round pick. Additionally, ESPN’s Craig Custance reports that 2018 second-round pick will become a third-round pick if Crouse does not play in Arizona this season.

    The key to this deal for Florida is, obviously, dumping the remainder of Bolland’s contract and clearing a significant amount of cap space both this year and in the future. Bolland’s deal still has a salary cap hit of $5.5 million per season for another three years. Since signing the five-year, $27 million deal in free agency before the start of the 2014-15 season, Bolland has played in just 78 games for the Panthers and scored only seven goals.

    At the time of the contract Bolland was just one year removed from scoring the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final for the Chicago Blackhawks, while his injury the following year was looked at as a costly blow to a Maple Leafs team that fell apart in the second half of the season. So even though his overall production throughout his career didn’t really match the hype or the interest, he was still able to get a huge deal in free agency.

    It has been an extremely costly contract for the Panthers, and the price became even steeper on Monday when they had to give up a prospect that was the No. 11 pick (Crouse) in the draft just last year to get rid of it.

    And that is what makes the deal worth it for Arizona.

    The Coyotes are pretty much buying a top prospect, and adding to an already deep pool of young players, for the price of taking on another contract that has almost no value to anybody else in the league. They picked up a first-round pick from the Detroit Red Wings earlier this summer for taking the final year of Pavel Datsyuk’s contract after he left the NHL to play in Russia, and last year made a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers to take on the remainder of Chris Pronger‘s contract. Because the Coyotes are so far below the league’s salary cap they are able to take on these deals without much of an issue and use them to keep adding young talent to a fast improving team.

    It’s Florida Panthers day at PHT

    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Nick Bjugstad #27 of the Florida Panthers reacts to the game winning goal by Alex Petrovic #6 against the Florida Panthers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Panthers defeated the Islanders 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The Florida Panthers have a new look, a different general manager and heightened expectations following an ambitious offseason.

    After claiming the Atlantic Division with 103 points, the Panthers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. But with a young, skilled nucleus of players mixed with productive veterans — including 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who had 66 points last season — the Panthers have served noticed to the Eastern Conference that they are an emerging force.

    Their summer has consisted of re-shaping the front office by promoting Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to general manager. They also fired their director of player personnel Scott Luce, which was a controversial move for the team, as it shifts to a more analytics-based approach. They also completely revamped their scouting staff.

    During the height of the playoffs, the Panthers and Vancouver Canucks made a trade, as Florida acquired 20-year-old center Jared McCann — a former first-round pick — and sent defenseman Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver.

    The Panthers also freed up a substantial amount of cap space by trading Marc Savard‘s contract, and a draft pick, to New Jersey.

    And that’s when things really started to pick up. The Panthers acquired the rights to puck-moving defenseman and pending UFA Keith Yandle — a “risk worth taking,” said Rowe at the time of the deal — and eventually signed him to a seven-year deal. The Panthers also traded defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, while Brian Campbell signed as a free agent in Chicago.

    The signings continued from there:

    — Stud defenseman Aaron Ekblad signed an eight-year contract extension.

    Defenseman Jason Demers signed as a free agent.

    — Forward Vincent Trocheck, 23, emerged last season with 25 goals and was rewarded with a six-year deal.

    Reilly Smith got a five-year contract extension.

    So, yeah, a busy offseason in Florida.

    Now, can the Panthers live up to the heightened expectations?

    Red Wings approach training camp with an expensive goalie situation

    Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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    This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

    There was a stretch in January when Petr Mrazek wasn’t unbeatable, but it may have felt that way. He allowed only 12 goals during a nine-game stretch. Subsequently, he posted a 7-1-1 record that month.

    Then, there was a stretch in February and into March when he gave up 24 goals in eight appearances, including a trio of five-spots and that got people talking. His coach, Jeff Blashill, said at the time that such a run in January — citing a .956 save percentage — simply wasn’t sustainable and that Mrazek’s struggles a short time later were part of the ebb and flow of a season.

    When the playoffs began, Jimmy Howard started the first-round series versus Tampa Bay but gave up seven goals in two games, before giving way to Mrazek for the final three games.

    Over the summer, the Red Wings and Mrazek were able to come to an agreement on a two-year, $8 million deal just before the two sides were to have a scheduled arbitration hearing.

    That is a large raise from the $737,500 average annual value Mrazek was making on his entry-level contract. The Red Wings now have more than $9 million dedicated to both Mrazek and Howard in the salary cap.

    Howard, 32, is signed for three more years at $5.29 million. He posted a 14-14-5 record, with a .906 save percentage, which is well below his career average of .915.

    General manager Ken Holland — he’s under pressure — has offered conflicting takes on Howard’s future prospects in Detroit, saying he had thought about trading the veteran goalie but then he made the case to keep Howard almost as insurance in goal, as Detroit continues to develop Mrazek as the true No. 1.

    “Some teams have goalies that make $8 million, $7 million,” Holland told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re on the higher end in terms of the money we’ve got in net, but we see goaltending as a strength for us.”

    Blashill told MLive.com during the winter that he went into last season with a three-week plan to alternate between Howard and Mrazek, to see which of those two goalies could separate themselves and take charge of that No. 1 position.

    The plan this time around will be one to keep an eye on when the season begins. It’s shaping up right now to be an expensive one.