What promises to be one of the busiest and most interesting off-seasons ever has gotten started early here in Toronto. The Maple Leafs have already completed a trade that was disallowed by the NHL (but may yet happen), signed a coveted junior free agent (more on this tomorrow) and have now completed a second very significant transaction with the Coyotes. Coming to Toronto are centermen Robert Reichel and Travis Green along with minor league right winger Craig Mills. Both Reichel and Green were immediately signed to new multi-year deals by the Maple Leafs.
Robert Reichel, who had been a restricted free agent, has been playing in the Czech Extra League for the past 2 seasons after failing to come to terms with the Coyotes in 1999. This hiatus, by the way, marked the second time that Reichel had been motivated by a contract impasse with his NHL team to play in Europe. Jan Buben, HF’s European Correspondent, calls Reichel an “electrifying offensive talent with superlative playmaking skills” and further states that his stature in the Czech Republic rivals that of anyone ever produced by that hockey mad nation – including Pittsburgh’s Jaromir Jagr. Reichel has recently served as the captain of both his club team in Litvinov and also of the Czech National Team. His presence in the Toronto line-up next season greatly improves the team’s chances of opening up a consistent second offensive front behind the Mats Sundin troika.
Travis Green brings a very different set of skills to the Maple Leafs. Although he has scored 20 or more goals in 3 different NHL seasons, Green is viewed primarily as a defensive specialist and penalty killer. He is also considered to be one of the league’s best face-off artists. Green will likely be asked to anchor the Leafs’ third line, neutralize the opponent’s best centerman while also kicking in a decent amount of offensive production.
Toronto native, Craig Mills, is a veteran minor leaguer who will supplement organizational depth on the right side. He will likely spend most of the 2001/2002 season with St. John’s of the AHL.
In Danny Markov, the Maple Leafs are giving up an enthusiastic and talented player who was very popular with his team mates. During this past season, Danny experienced some well publicized back problems (which, in turn, were the main reason for the collapse of a proposed Lindros deal back in March). His stock has fallen slightly since a strong rookie season in 1998/1999 due to long stretches of erratic play but he may still blossom in the desert given added responsibility and more freedom to experiment.
From a Toronto perspective, this trade was an unmitigated steal. Reichel and Green represent significant upgrades at center ice achieved at a fraction of the price associated with the soon-to-be available alternatives on the unrestricted market. Funds allocated to the pursuit of free agents this summer can now be redirected to address needs in other areas (right wing, PP quarterback etc.). As for potential blueline replacements, Leafs’ management feels strongly that late season addition Aki Berg and rookie Petr Svoboda both possess the potential to more than fill Markov’s place in the team’s “Top Four”.
The summer is already off to rousing start. Count on finding commentary on every major move made by the Maple Leafs here in this space during the coming weeks.