“Hello, Goodbye”

William Wilson January 16, 2013 0
Matthew Lombardi dressed for the Toronto Maple LeafsPhoto by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Goodbye, Matt. We barely knew you.

The Leafs have reportedly sent seldom used center Matthew Lombardi to the Phoenix Coyotes for a conditional third-round pick in the 2014 entry draft. Lombardi’s departure represents the first trade under new GM Dave Nonis.

(If only Brian Burke had signed as the Coyote’s GM before this trade – we might have gotten two first-round picks for Lombardi!)

Lombardi came to Toronto alongside Cody Franson from Nashville during the 2011 off-season in exchange for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney. At the time, many people considered the trade a “salary dump” on the Predator’s part. The Leafs, it was generally argued, acquired two NHL-level players with offensive upside for two AHL-caliber/destined players.

Unfortunately, Lombardi never lived up to his potential in Toronto. In 62 games last season, he was limited to 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists). This compares poorly against his career-high of 53 points (19 goals, 34 assists) while playing for the Predators in 2009-2010 season. (I guess a return of scenery might help?)

In fairness to Lombardi, however, it must be acknowledged that he came back from a major injury last season and this likely contributed to his dramatic drop in production. There was also that whole mess of Ron Wilson being in charge of the Leafs.

The departure of Lombardi opens some room in the logjam at center for young players like Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne to crack the roster. Having said this, there remain four other regular centers from last season’s roster – Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Tim Connolly and David Steckel – who they will have to beat out for a spot.

As well, veteran center Keith Aucion has made an impression on coach Randy Carlyle, adding another layer of competition.

“I’m not saying he’s going to be first-line center on the power-play, but I think he’s going to make a contribution,” Carlyle recently told reporters in regard to Aucion. “I’m a believer in that, when you have a player like that coming up from the American Hockey League, and he plays top offensive minutes there, you don’t put him on your fourth line here.”

It should be noted that Aucion is currently the fifth highest scorer in the AHL, recording 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists) in 34 games.

Returning to Lombardi, the small center provided the Leafs some added speed, but the main piece of the trade that brought him to Toronto remains Franson and here there’s some good news to report.

Franson has returned to the Leaf’s training camp and is expected to sign a one-year deal with the team before the season starts. Other teams might be interested in the 6 foot 5′ defenceman’s services, but his status as a restricted free agent means the Leafs have effective control over his immediate future.

The fact that Franson is expected to sign a one-year deal raises some questions about what the Leafs’ blueline might look like next season. Mike Komisarek will likely have his contract bought out this coming off-season and be sent home. If the Leafs decline to resign Franson at this point, it would create two openings on the roster, which Morgan Rielly and Korbinian Holzer could easily (and cheaply) fill.

Finally, it has been reported that forward James van Riemsdyk expects to play in the season’s opening game against the Montreal Canadiens despite suffering a minor injury during practice yesterday.

This is welcome news. Saying “goodbye” to Lombardi and “hello (again)” to Franson and van Riemsdyk? That’s an ideal trade-off in my opinion.

Someone should write a song about it…

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