Leafs – Coyotes (Part 2)

By Randy Nicholson

The Maple Leafs and Coyotes have, at long last, completed perhaps the slowest trade announcement in NHL history. The deal, which began almost two weeks ago, was finally completed yesterday and now looks like this: Markov and Berezin for Reichel, Renberg, Green and Mills. Let’s take a closer look at the back-end of this swap.

It’s Draft Day!

I rolled out of bed at 6:00 AM and quickly grabbed the paper. Turning to the Sports section, I fell back in horror. Suddenly I was once again a disillusioned kid trying hard to justify the sudden departure of my favorite Maple Leafs’ player (Lanny McDonald). What gives here? This deal was said to be deader than Stock Day’s political career yesterday afternoon.

Does a Berezin for Renberg exchange make sense for the Maple Leafs? Age is clearly not a factor here as both players are now 29 years-old. Salary is possibly a small consideration, with the Maple Leafs paring roughly 1 million dollars from next year’s payroll in anticipation of chasing (and hopefully landing) one or two more big ticket items when the free agency auction opens in July. After some additional time to carefully consider this move, I believe that it amounts to an exchange of electrifying skill for improved cohesiveness. A swap of one player with world class talent for another with a world class pedigree.

It’s true that Mikael Renberg played in Sweden last season and that his last 4 NHL campaigns have been fraught with injuries and disappointing results. However, when last on a contending NHL team, relatively healthy and matched with a bonafide pivot, Renberg topped 20 goals four years in succession. In 2000/2001, Mikael was the SEL’s outstanding player with Lulea, narrowly beating Toronto’s top prospect, Mikael Tellqvist. While it has been erroneously reported that he left Phoenix in a contract dispute at the end of the 1999/2000 season, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Renberg accepted a substantial reduction in salary in order to be close to his daughter Emmy following the dissolution of his marriage. I’m guessing that there are a substantial number of men out there who can fully relate to this situation.

So what can be expected of Renberg next season in Toronto? You might be pleasantly surprised. The scouting reports say that he’s a big (6-2, 215) rugged right winger with good speed, a quick and accurate shot, strong playmaking skills and a genuine interest in playing hard at both ends of the ice. What these assessments fail to add is that Renberg has developed a very special chemistry with Mats Sundin while playing together in dozens of international matches for Sweden. Both have already been included in the first 8 players selected to wear the famed Tre Kroner at next winter’s Olympics in Salt Lake City. It’s distinctly possible that this synergy will allow the duo to produce upwards of 70 goals between them in 2001/2002. Clearly the Maple Leafs are hoping that it will. It’s rumoured that Sundin has been imploring his bosses to acquire Renberg for two years and that the captain will now almost certainly be encouraged to sign a new long-term deal with Toronto.

As for Berezin, I suppose that he became a victim of his own peculiar (and highly entertaining) playing style. Score 37 times (as he did 2 seasons back) and the coach will invariably overlook the lazy backchecking, tunnel vision and 3 minute shifts. Slump to 22 goals (Berezin’s output this year) and those things start getting noticed again. No one doubts that, given increased playing time, Sergei might easily top 40 goals next season in Phoenix. Would such a result mean that the Leafs have been fleeced by the Silver Fox? Not necessarily. If the Maple Leafs can once again flirt with 100 points during the regular season, secure home ice for the first round of the play-offs and finally give Sundin a playmate that would help him to climb back among the league’s elite, they will be well pleased with the deal.

Am I pleased? No not really. But I am willing to concede that men like Pat Quinn, Mike Penny and Bill Watters know a great deal more about hockey (and more specifically about the Maple Leafs) than I do. Their quest, so far, during this off-season has been to add speedy upper echelon players at reasonable prices while saving the bulk of their considerable war chest for one more “difference maker” come July (Rob Blake?). I intend to reserve judgement until all of the cards have been played.

Stay tuned to Hockey’s Future for analysis of Toronto’s Entry Draft selections in Rounds 1-3 later on today.