As the realignment talk was fading last Monday night, and we were all still reeling from the Ty Conklin Show that helped to derail the Wings’ seven-game winning streak, I read a post by Sarah Lindenau at her blog The Left Wing Lock regarding the goaltending situation. The gist: it might be time to look into upgrading the spot behind Howard. As much as we all dig Joey MacDonald, wouldn’t it be swell to have a really viable second option when Howard needs a break? Especially considering that the team may have lost all confidence in Ty Conklin (as evidenced by 17 games going by without #29 starting, and getting him into less than 15% of the teams’ minutes).
I posed what I thought was a pretty casual question on Twitter: “What do you think it would take to pry Michael Leighton away from the Flyers/Phantoms?” To my surprise, Travis Hughes, the honcho at Broad Street Hockey, answered. And answered well (more on that in a minute).
And the wheels began to turn. What if the Red Wings had lost confidence in Conklin (after all, Babcock started Howard 17 games in a row, and Conks’ last three starts have all been dumpster fires)? What if the Red Wings were looking to improve their goaltending in the short term? What if the Red Wings used some of that cap space to improve on a position that really could use it, since Jimmy Howard can’t play all 82?
The way I see it, there are very few options. Teams may be willing to shed a netminder in the final year of his deal, and would certainly be more willing to send a goaltender to the opposite conference. Instead of waiting until the trade deadline, when prices will be high and Jimmah will be run into the Earth, why not pull the trigger right now?
Any acquisition of a goaltender would likely see Ty Conklin be waived, thus removing his $750,000 cap hit. Any cap hit that was acquired would be pro-rated, since the season is already more than a quarter done.
Philadelphia Flyers, 30-years-old, in the final year of a two-year deal worth $3.1M ($1.55M cap hit)
In the final year of his prior deal, Leighton played 7 games for the Hurricanes, 27 games for the Flyers and an additional 14 (impressive) outings in the playoffs. Since signing his new two-year deal in 2010, he’s played three total games and has found himself banished to the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms. I talked to Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey about the Red Wings acquiring Leighton:
The Production Line: Since signing his two-year deal, he’s spent most of the time in Adirondack. It’s pretty clear that Bobrovsky and Bryzgalov are the goaltenders in Philadelphia. Can Leighton be had right now?
Travis Hughes: The Phantoms are great with him in net. But with his salary and the depth behind him, he could [definitely] be had.
TPL: What would it take, via trade, to acquire Leighton?
Hughes: Couple hundred bucks. In all seriousness, it wouldn’t take much. A mid-round draft pick, if that.
TPL: How likely is it that Philadelphia would make a move — even one that doesn’t directly affect the current NHL roster?
Hughes: I’m sure Leights would love that. He’s been a pretty great team player, but there’s no doubt he’d rather be anywhere but in the AHL.
Florida Panthers, 34-years-old, in the final year of a three-year deal worth $3.6M ($1.2M cap hit)
On July 1st, the Panthers signed Jose Theodore having read the writing on the wall that Vokoun was going to test the market and see if he could find his way onto a team with (what he considered to be) a better chance at winning. After two strong seasons as the Cats’ backup, Scott Clemmensen didn’t have a chance to battle for the starter’s position, having sustained an injury in the pre-season. Add bluechip prospect Jacob Markstrom to the mix, and Clemmensen is in a tricky situation with just a few months remaining on his contract. I talked with Donny Rivette from Litter Box Cats about prying Clemmensen loose:
The Production Line: The Panthers are a team possessed this season. The emergence of Jacob Markstrom (who has played twice as many games as Clemmensen) may have made Clemmensen expendable. However, would the team make a move considering their leading the division? In other words, is the 3-0 Clemmensen available?
Donny: He’s certainly playing himself into a nice situation for all parties. Sunday’s meltdown at MSG was just that: a meltdown on behalf of the entire roster, with the sole exception of Clemmer. Called upon in a relief role to start the third period, he slammed the door on a positively buzzing Rangers squad, making 11 saves. He’s been nothing short of amazing in his four appearances: 3-0-1, a shutout, and 105 stops on 114 shots. All the more incredible considering the (entirely justifiable) hype regarding Markstrom, who continues to proverbially find his way in the AHL. Dude’s a pro by any measure. That said, is he available? Anyone is, of course, but it’s the contract status that speaks loudest here: he’ll be a UFA in July, while starter Jose Theodore (by all accounts brought in to “groom” Markstrom) is signed through another season. The math is pretty simple here, even for me. Short answer? Clemmer’s gone by 3 p.m. ET on February 27 if Florida falters in retaining a “strong” position (read: first in the Southeast) for the postseason.
TPL: What would it take, via trade, to acquire Clemmensen if someone were to come knocking on the door? Because what the Panthers really need is more former Red Wings.
Donny: Dale Tallon already took care of this aspect by trading for Mikael Samuelsson (a former Panther and Wing), so check that box off. What’s a 34 year-old career backup worth to a club like Tampa Bay, for whom age in net appears to have no Earthly restrictions? Actually, that’s not too ridiculous a concept, as Florida has only one(!) game remaining against their divisional pals from the Left Coast, in one of those bizarre schedule flukes. Hard to imagine Panthers management not seeking draft picks to use as currency in return.
TPL: The last time we were trade partners, the Panthers shoved Todd Bertuzzi onto the Wings after only playing 7 games in Sunrise. Bertuzzi wasn’t a fit for the Panthers and has (FINALLY) begun to contribute on the Red Wings. Meanwhile, Shawn Matthias is a promising young player (who has four times as many goals as Bertuzzi). Who won that trade — and would it affect future trades between the teams?
Donny: Last question first: During Berto’s first stint with Detroit? Florida won off-ice, by virtue of having acquired a highly-touted second-round asset, though Detroit won on-ice by gaining a gritty veteran prior to the postseason. Come to think of it, one for one, the Cats are still “winning” it, as Matty has earned himself a permanent spot on the roster – and having (so far) passed the Tallon smell test, which hasn’t been kind to many now-former Panthers. The Bertuzzi acquisition, ultimately Mike Keenan’s signature move in Sunrise, was one of those interesting yet baffling NHL “do ya remember” plotlines that never seem to completely dry up. The Iron Mike/Roberto Luongo canyon was split wide open when Keenan took the netminder to arbitration a year earlier, resulting in the epic deal with Vancouver consummated on the eve of the 2006 Entry Draft. Bad blood all around, and Jacques Martin was left with quite a mess…which continued to linger far after his own departure. But enough of the history lesson: Matthias is a young-though-rapidly-maturing center who seems the perfect fit with Florida in a third- or fourth-line role. Think Greg Campbell but better earlier. Does the Bertuzzi/Matty deal cause headaches for either the Wings or Panthers? Doubtful, as we’re approaching the fifth anniversary. The Cats’ management team is 100% turned over since that that trade, and it’s seriously difficult to fathom future dealings between the clubs kicking off with the mention of a mostly forgotten veteran-for-prospect swap.
Ottawa Senators, 30-years-old, signed a one-year deal worth $1M.
Auld has played for four teams since the beginning of the 2009-10 season — and eight teams over a relatively short NHL career. Each of the last four years, he’s earned a flat million. Now in his second stint with the Senators, he’s only gotten into a handful of games behind starter Craig Andersson. With “goalie of the future” Robin Lehner looking like he may be an NHLer right now, I asked Graeme Nichols of The 6th Sens about Auld’s availability:
The Production Line: The Senators are in the playoff hunt, so how likely are they to make a move AT ALL? Would Alex Auld be a guy that would be available since Robin Lehner seems to be NHL-ready, or would they be loath to shake up the current NHL roster?
Graeme Nichols: Yes, god bless Gary Bettman and NHL parity – the gratuitous farce that is the current NHL point system that rewards teams that lose in overtime or the post-game skills competition.
Predicting what Bryan Murray’s going to do by the NHL trade deadline is always difficult. He keeps you on your toes. Over the past few years, he has essentially covered all of his bases. He has done the shakeup when a complacent core needed a kick in the ass – trading Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves to the Carolina Hurricanes for Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman. He has stocked up on veteran talent to make a playoff push by moving future assets for Matt Cullen and Andy Sutton. (Note: In Sutton’s case, I’m using the word ‘talent’ liberally.) Even when the team is out of it, Murray has shown that he’s not afraid to trade high draft picks for packages involving Chris Campoli and an unrestricted Mike Comrie. By the same token, last season marked the final straw and Murray showed that he could efficiently go the rebuild route. At this point, I think the only deadline philosophy that he hasn’t done is stand pat and I can’t see him doing that when he fetch some return on awesome one-year stopgap talents like Alex Auld.
TPL: What would it take, via trade, to acquire Auld if someone were to come knocking on the door?
Nichols: The moon. I’m not even being facetious. I’ll just take one of those frameable declaration of ownership papers that you can purchase off of a website that sells property on the moon for $19.99.
TPL: The Wings and Sens aren’t necessarily traditional trade partners, though they did make nice-nice at the Draft in June, with Detroit swapping their 24th overall pick (which became Matt Puempel) for the 35th (Tomas Jurco) and 48th (Xavier Ouellet). In 1996, there was an alleged deal completed involving our beloved Stevie Yzerman (which you guys explored on the site) — fair to assume that moving Auld wouldn’t have that same impact, yes?
Nichols: You may be selling Auld short. Don’t the Red Wings have a reputation for taking marginal goaltending talents and turning them into fringe Hall of Fame candidates?
Photo Credits: Leighton, Getty Images; Auld, Andre Ringuette, NHLI, Getty Images; Clemmensen, Ronald Martinez, Getty Images