Could Leafs Land Ryan Getzlaf?

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Jan. 31) – “He could be available. But, there will be a fair amount of interest in him and he won’t come cheap.”

That was the opinion of a prominent Western Conference executive when I wondered, this week, whether Anaheim Ducks would trade potential free agent Ryan Getzlaf. Depending on the night, and the person with whom you speak, Leafs’ biggest priority is an established goalie or depth and size at centre. They may need both, though it appears James Reimer is regaining the confidence and poise he had as a rookie two seasons ago. More time is needed to confirm that, but Leafs demand for a big body up the middle is irrefutable.

The addition of a beefy, talented pivot could dramatically influence the Leafs plan of attack. The club has been devoid of a legitimate, No. 1 centre since Mats Sundin left after the 2007-08 season. Without such a commodity, it would appear reasonable for general manager David Nonis to consider moving Phil Kessel before the NHL trade deadline this year. If Leafs were to land such an imposing presence as Getzlaf, hanging on to Kessel – and his finishing touch – would make a great deal more sense.

Question is, of course, how could the Leafs acquire Getzlaf and under what condition would it be worthwhile? Anaheim GM Bob Murray has made it known he’d like to retain Getzlaf, but the Ducks are also at risk of losing Corey Perry to free agency at the end of this season. Beyond the financial implication, locking up both on multi-year contracts may not be feasible, given that Anaheim has accomplished virtually nothing since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007 (twice missing the playoffs and only once advancing beyond the opening round). If Murray is left with a choice, retaining Perry – the Hart Trophy recipient in 2010-11 – would seem to be a priority.

Maple Leafs would be in a similar quandary if they somehow acquired Getzlaf. After next season, Kessel can walk as a free agent, meaning that he and Getzlaf would need to be secured on long-term deals. Considering Leafs last won the Stanley Cup 40 years before the Ducks’ triumph, would they benefit from such an expenditure? Would Nonis be able to surround Getzlaf and Kessel with sufficient quality to justify the cost? And, of course, is any of this plausible until Leafs are convinced they have stability in goal?

“I don’t believe Anaheim will keep both players,” said my source. “I think Bob Murray may be looking for a different mix up front. But, it depends how this season goes. If the Ducks have a great year, all of that could change.”

RYAN GETZLAF FACING OFF (ABOVE) AGAINST NASHVILLE LAST SATURDAY IN ANAHEIM AND KEEPING AN EYE ON PATRICK MARLEAU (BELOW) IN SAN JOSE TUESDAY NIGHT. PHOTOS: ANAHEIM, DEBORA ROBINSON GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM; SAN JOSE, DON SMITH GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

Before Leafs would even consider acquiring Getzlaf, trade negotiation would have to assure a long-term commitment – one that precludes him from testing the free agent market this summer. And, that could be the biggest obstacle to a trade. Getzlaf and his family have settled in the Anaheim area – recently building a home. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t mean a whole lot, as players without contract movement restrictions can be dealt at any time. With  free agency pending, however, Getzlaf can easily discourage a trade by refusing to commit beyond the current season. Though a team acquiring Getzlaf would have exclusive negotiating rights, yielding valuable assets would be a profound risk for a player that can walk this summer. As well, most agents encourage their top clients to wait until the market opens.

If Anaheim clarifies that Getzlaf will not be re-signed, he can go one of three ways: a) agree to pass up free agency and commit, in trade negotiation, to a team that will offer a long-term, lucrative package; b) listen to all free agent overtures in July, or c) target the Los Angeles Kings in free agency. That way, he could remain in southern California and play for an elite team. Surely, the Kings would make a pitch for a physical centre-man with name recognition in their market.

Of concern in this market would be the package Leafs offer Anaheim. Concede Nazem Kadri as a starting point. Also Nikolai Kulemin, who may well benefit from a change of scenery. Add in a second or third-round draft pick and the Ducks would be mightily tempted. Under no circumstance would Nonis trade a first-round pick or top prospect Morgan Rielly.

Any such chatter, as indicated, would be contingent on Getzlaf agreeing to play here in Toronto and foregoing his option to test the open market this summer. My sense is Leafs would have to make one hell of a sales pitch.

But, Getzlaf would be well worth the effort.

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