“What does it all mean, Basil.”
A “go to” line of mine, reserved for usage whenever I’m confused about what I’m hearing. For those who don’t know, it’s from a film most of us have pissed ourselves to a little bit, made by and starring fellow Leafs lover, Mike Myers. A subtle laugh in the movie about an “international man of mystery.” It’s that quote replaying in my head throughout the year. Especially now, as I, not unlike most avid fans, try and sift through all the talk and messages from the Maple Leafs brass and media alike with the trade deadline upon us.
Here I am for the first time (I promise you, except for that time I had to say sorry) singing a little Bieber. “What do you mean?” is blasting on the mental boom box. And it’s not just Feb. 29th and its happenings I can’t figure out. There’s more suspense brewing when it comes to the Leafs and July 1st. Everyone in hockey coverage is attempting to get a feel for the situation surrounding a hometown boy we all know. Shrouded in mystery, a good thing, the Blue & White have their loyal followers intrigued. No longer is information out of the MLSE office easy to obtain or the moves fairly simple to figure out. The days of “Frankie The Squealer” have been replaced with a group of “Johnny Tight Lips.” Hockey insiders and Twitter detectives here in town are tirelessly trying to put the pieces together of what exactly means what.
So let’s take our own ride in the LeafsHub.com mystery van and see if we can make sense of it all. Let’s dive right into the case drawing attention at the precinct located in the centre of hockey. In order to solve this one, we would be well served to look at the most recent case to be closed. The trade of Dion Phaneuf may, or may not, hold clues to our current investigation, the possible trade of Nazem Kadri.
This whole thought of “What does it all mean?”’ really started early on in the season when the air pig came out for the first time. And boy did the tires get a pumping. Nobody had their pressure gauge go up as the inflation began more than former captain, Dion Phaneuf. GM Lou Lamoriello put the portable air pig away as the year went on, bringing out a full blown compressor. Firing it up every chance he could to build up his highest paid player with the largest and longest contract on the books, prior to his trade to Ottawa. Descriptive and boastful phrases such as “exceptional leader,” “biggest surprise,” “beyond impressed,” “great with the youth,” is just a few small soundbites of the endorsements referring to Phaneuf and his off-ice demeanour. Coach Babcock took care of the pumping of his actual play, firing a few loonies in the air hose at the ACC and abroad, consistently pointing out how well he’d been performing for the club, simply doing everything asked of him. Now Babcock has preached integrity from the outset since arriving in Toronto. As for Lamoriello, he may even take those traits to another level, building a legacy on straightforwardness and outright blunt honesty. Would these men compromise their constitutions in an effort to move a player they desperately needed off the books? Would they take it a step further, go for broke and move Kadri out for a massive return? It’s a fine line between truth and fiction.
Though honest, Lamoriello’s cards are traditionally held close to the chest. So when I began to hear the steady stream of praise on Phaneuf from his bosses, one couldn’t help but ask if there was a motive behind the public lauding. Were these men of uncompromising character attempting to boost what many felt was an undesirable, even unmovable, contract disappear? Or were they frankly expressing thoughts they felt the hockey world should know? Were the words coming from a place of exaggerations, or proclamations of fact? Or does the truth lie where you most often find it, somewhere in between.
Sweet Lou,” “Double L,” “Lou Lam,” The Godfather,” the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs has a myriad of handles. My suggested choice if you ever meet him face to face, and I’m quite sure his presence alone would command it, is to just go with “Sir.” Better yet, don’t even speak unless asked to. Why? Out of respect of course, but more importantly self preservation. I spoke recently with someone who’d met with Mr. Lamoriello and, despite being a grown man with no reason to be concerned for his well being, who felt a genuine fear of being “whacked” if he said the wrong thing during their talk. The conversation was said to be an enjoyable one, but there was still a level of uneasiness. Even writing this story I feel Lou possibly watching me, tapping a billy club in his palm. I’m pretty certain he doesn’t follow my work. but let’s just pretend for a minute he does. I’m going on a limb that Lou, sorry “Sir,” is a little busy right now and I should go unnoticed. So I’ll say my piece and if I have to go into witness relocation, well it was great chatting with you all the past couple of years. If you see a new account or blogger from Costa Rica or somewhere hot and remote, it could be your old buddy, Jude. If you hear of a body floating in Georgian Bay, that could be your pal @JudeMac_17 too. A fate I may have coming to me if I’m attempting to call the Leafs management team dishonest. But I’ve already started down that path, so let’s go there. Not to insinuate anyone is a liar, simply to look deeper at the motive behind all the complimentary dialogue. The main point of this piece is trying to figure out Kadri’s fate this trade deadline. Were they stretching the truth when speaking of their feelings on Phaneuf? If so, is the same almost over the top heaping of praise on Kadri so his wheels can be rolled out of town?
The Feb. 29th trade deadline is certainly the focus, but I ask if we can branch off for a moment to quickly look at one more “What does it all mean?” scenario before the LeafsHub mystery van gets parked until the draft and the Kadri fans reading can get their bearing. We have the van out for a spin, why not take a look at another massive question that will be answered not this week and not for a few months ahead.
The curious nature of the praise heaped on its assets isn’t the only situation calling for further investigation. Rumours, conjecture, and opinions, are running rampant when it comes to the man who unless re-signed by July 1, will on that day be the man of the hour – too sweet to be sour, Steven Stamkos. We’ve heard he’s coming to Toronto, he’s not coming to Toronto, he loves me, he loves me not. Basil, what does it all mean?
Bob McKenzie has put the Buffalo Sabres as the front-runner to land Stamkos. The Sabres are talent laden with an owner looking to land a big star, and will likely outbid everyone. Do I think Stamkos ends up there? Absolutely I do not. Bobby Mac is the best, but I just can’t go with him here. Reason being, and I could be totally wrong, but Buffalo sounds like a destination or suggestion more agent driven and totally speculation, but is the info coming from the Newport camp. Remember the title. Don Meehan would have no issue with the Sabres being considered a favourite. He will want his player to garner the top contract in the NHL and to do that he won’t want his client negotiating between two teams, say Tampa and Toronto. A bidding war with big time spenders is optimal. With all due respect to the NHL’s top insider, I’m not feeling it.
Comparably, Nick Kypreos thinks Montreal is the landing spot. With Subban making 9 million per and Carey Price coming due before long, will the Habs carry three players totalling over 30 million bucks on their cap? My own disdain for Montreal won’t allow me to even entertain it. Dean Blundell reported the source who informed him Babcock was coming to Toronto is telling him similar about Stamkos. The gist of his findings were that it’s Tampa (looking unlikely) and the Leafs. His Babcock source had dollars and term far before others. Darren Dreger has written he doesn’t see the Leafs as the landing spot, muddying the waters further. I ask you once again, “what does it all mean?”
This one I can answer with a great deal of clarity. What the talk and guesses lead me to believe here with Stammer is nobody knows anything. With the exception of a goal scoring, high flying, tweet liking, Steven Stamkos. I doubt that fact will slow down the inquiry or the prophecies as we go forward towards free agency, nor should it.
Isn’t this all part of the fun though as fans, trying to sort out what will happen with the roster of our beloved organization? As for Monday of this week, we have seen the obvious transactions already. The UFA’s are moving out, the latest being James Reimer. Parenteau surely to follow, muscle cramps or not. He’s been wearing an “A” if you’ve noticed. What does that mean? Little shot of air from the compressor or just the lone worthy veteran on the depleted roster? Hard to say, and now after hearing all the praise, dissecting the angles which could be taken, I think I’ve drawn a conclusion on this “truth or lies” i’ve been so curious about coming out of Toronto in 2015/16.
After much deliberation, I have a conclusion of my own, and I’m not going to mince words. You won’t be left to wonder what I mean. Here goes. Mike Babcock is in no way full of shit. Further to the point, Lou Lamoriello is not a man who would tarnish his reputation or lower the standard he holds for himself and others by getting on TV and telling blatant fibs. White lies or not, this is not his style.
It’s not that these men of character have been disingenuous, quite the contrary. What they’ve done is utilized their reputations for honesty and integrity to empower the words they’ve chosen in regards to the players we have discussed. If Mike Babcock says Dion Phaneuf has been a very good player and leader for his club, then take it to the bank. Every single word holds merit. If Lou Lamoriello gets in front of a camera and says he’d want Nazem Kadri in a foxhole with him then you can believe he wants him in that hole. This is not to say Kadri is safe.
Is there a strategy behind holding up a megaphone and bellowing from the rooftops for all the NHL to hear how competitive Nazem Kadri is? It would not at all be a stretch to say there is. What needs to be clear is Lamoriello isn’t out there being “Tricky Lou.” Okay, maybe a little. But he’s not trying to fool anyone on 43, no different than he wasn’t calling it exactly as he saw it on Phaneuf. Credit goes to the players for doing their job and in turn allowing Lamoriello to get out there and not only speak the truth, but to use to the advantage of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Don’t forget to give the coach a little pat on the back to go along with it. He put these players in a position to flourish and in doing so gave the Leafs options they likely would not have had otherwise.
The Toronto Maple Leafs like Nazem Kadri. How do I know? Because two men I believe have said as much. So case closed? Not so fast, Matlock. I’m not the only one who trusts Lamoriello, he’s trusted throughout the league by his colleagues. His comments hold weight. Babcock’s excellent coaching and Kadri’s stellar play have given the veteran GM the bullets, not unlike Phaneuf. We know what happened there, he pulled the trigger. Here we are today and there’s another slug in the chamber. Once interest was expressed by Ottawa in Phaneuf Lamoriello was locked in and was going to get this deal done. And he did. With Kadri the price is set high but interest is alive and well, there’s no question. Will the endorsements of his coach and GM, combined with his play, be enough for a suitor to meet the Leafs demands? If they do, does that trigger get pulled once more in what would be the biggest deal of the deadline in Toronto?
Will we ever know 100% the place of origin where everything said is coming from? Of course we won’t. But we don’t have to. Our front office leaders words are respected one. I can tell you what I do know, the answer to the opening and prevailing question asked throughout this story. What does it all mean? This franchise means business, that’s what.
The Maple Leafs are no longer a transparent organization, telegraphing their predictable moves. This management group utilizes any and all leverages possible. Any loophole, any edge, any innovative moves at their disposal, they’ll put them to use. The CBA will be manipulated, and maybe, just maybe, so will the media. Is that specific to comments made on players to the press? I’ll let you decide on your own.
Word of advice though in closing, Lou was just quoted saying he’d take someone else in the foxhole with him other than Nazem Kadri, the recently dealt Roman Polak. If Lou Lamoriello says he’d want you in a foxhole with him, you might want to call your real estate agent. While it may be true, one just never knows what that could mean.
Jude MacDonald was on The BNWT Podcast this week. Listen to what him and the boys talk trades right here at LeafsHub