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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    NHL cracking down on slashing, faceoff violations to begin preseason

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    The NHL has made it a point to crack down on slashing for the upcoming regular season. With the preseason underway, the foundation for the new standard is being set.

    Dating back to late June, the NHL had vowed to call slashing more closely after a number of incidents last season, including Marc Methot‘s gruesome finger injury, which was the result of a slash to the hands from Sidney Crosby.

    Monday’s game between the Islanders and Rangers featured nine slashing minor penalties. The Devils and Capitals were only 41 seconds into their preseason game Monday when Jimmy Hayes was called for slashing. A total of six slashing minors were called in that game — not to mention three faceoff violations.

    From the Washington Post:

    There’s been talk of being harder on slashing following several wrist, hand and finger injuries last season from dangerous stick work. “Now, as soon as your stick is off the ice and you touch the other players’ stick or hands, it was zero tolerance today,” Eller said. More surprising was the three faceoff violation penalties called in the first period of the game. That also represented a new emphasis from the league. “Cheating” on faceoffs has been commonplace, and for centers who’ve made their name winning faceoffs with a certain style and routine, staying perfectly within the red lines in the circle was an adjustment.

    According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the Senators-Maple Leafs game Monday also featured three faceoff violations. It appears right now there will be quite an adjustment for players across the league to the apparent crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations, especially early on.

    However, will this be the standard for the entire season? For the playoffs?

    “I have a tough time believing that in the playoffs, in Game 7, that kind of call is going to be made,” Mark Letestu told Sportsnet. “Right now, there’s an overemphasis on it, and hopefully it doesn’t go all the way back to where it was.”

    Video: No. 1 pick Hischier scores ‘tenacious’ goal in Devils preseason debut

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    Nico Hischier, the first overall pick from this year’s NHL Draft, provided quite a glimpse into the type of player he can be for the New Jersey Devils during his first preseason game on Monday.

    The Devils recorded a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals, with Hischier’s goal late in the third period putting it away. For Devils fans at Prudential Center, this should provide a little more optimism for a club that has looked to upgrade its offensive attack this offseason.

    Hischier hounded Capitals forward Kevin Elgestal in the neutral zone, and eventually stole the puck while splitting two Washington players for the breakaway. In all alone, Hischier made no mistake, sliding the puck under the pad of goalie Vitek Vanecek.

    “His skating was a factor. He was competitive on the puck,” said Devils coach John Hynes, per NJ.com.

    “As the game went on, the second and third period, he started to make a few more plays, and I think he got adjusted to the time and space and battle level that was out there. You see the goal, he was really tenacious on the puck. He hunted it, had the second effort and a great stick to create the turnover. His work ethic put him in position for half a breakaway, and that’s when his skill takes over.”

    While Nolan Patrick had for months been talked about as a potential No. 1 overall pick, Hischier put together an impressive year in the QMJHL and when the time came for the Devils to make their selection, they went with the 18-year-old Swiss center over Patrick.

    It will be interesting to see exactly what role the Devils give Hischier this season, although the plan since the draft has been to give him every chance to make the NHL club right out of camp. Per NorthJersey.com, Hynes discussed the topic of Hischier in a potential top center role following Monday’s game.

    “Certainly he has the skills and the hockey sense to play in that role but is he really ready for that?” said Hynes. “We’ll put him in a situation that will benefit him the most and the team the most.”

    Video: Whoa, this is one sweet Mike Hoffman backhand goal

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    Monday’s game won’t help the Ottawa Senators defy critics about last season running on luck, at least in that it doesn’t count in the standings.

    Senators sniper Mike Hoffman didn’t seem to care.

    Hoffman owned last night’s pre-season NHL highlight reel (sorry Nico Hischier), scoring two very different goals.

    The best one can be viewed in the video above this post’s headline, as he burst through the Maple Leafs defense for a ridiculous backhander on the rush. Wow.

    His first of the night was memorable for a different reason, as Hoffman shook off a near-miss (eventually) to score this goal.

    Weird/cool/good, indeed.

    Prediction: Hoffman will score a lot of goals that will “count” in 2017-18, too.

    Wild extend captain Mikko Koivu’s contract for two years, $11M

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    Minnesota Wild fans fearing that the 2017-18 season could be Mikko Koivu‘s last can breathe a sigh of relief, and that suspense didn’t even carry into opening night.

    Instead, the Wild signed Koivu to a two-year contract extension worth $11 million.

    That $5.5M cap hit kicks in during the 2018-19 campaign and ends after 2019-20. It represents a minor cut in pay for Koivu, as he’s entering the final year of a deal with a $6.75M cap hit.

    Koivu, 34, enjoyed a strong first season under Bruce Boudreau, becoming a Selke finalist for the first time in his underrated career. He’s been Minnesota’s captain since 2008-09.

    Koivu’s deal would qualify as a 35+ contract, according to Cap Friendly.

    The Finnish forward likely valued stability, maybe taking a little less in AAV for the sake of peace of mind.

    This continues a busy week-or-so for the Wild, who also broke their impasse with RFA Marcus Foligno by handing him a four-year, $11.5M deal.

    Opinion: this Koivu deal is a much, much easier decision to justify, even taking into account his advanced age.