The Leaf Blog: Moore Money, Moore Problems
We haven't seen much of the patented "Shake-n-Blake" goal celebration since Dominic Moore was dealt away in March. Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images
If Brian Burke were a witness to any of the Maple Leafs’ 07-08 season, in all of its misery, he would have noted that Jason Blake never found his offensive stride.
Blake was brought in to provide some scoring punch to the top line wing position, but chemistry was never found alongside Mats Sundin. Rather, Sundin’s game was at its best with fellow giants Nik and Poni, as the trio used their size down low, generating chances by circling out off the cycle from behind the net. Blake finished the year with 15 goals, and became one of JFJ’s loudest free agent mistakes.
However, in 08-09, Blake found himself playing with Dominic Moore as his centreman, and the duo became the team’s unofficial top line. Moore, who was one of JFJ’s savvier waiver pickups, worked his way into a roster spot from training camp, and he ran with the opportunity. To put it simply, watching Blake and Moore on some nights was dazzling when they were at their best. Both are experts at winning races to loose pucks and squeezing through tight spaces with their size, and the combination was often the Leafs’ most dangerous. It was this chemistry that helped Blake find his way to a 25-goal rebound season, while Moore broke out with 41 points in 63 games.
Moore’s production turned out to be both good and bad for the Leafs. Not only did his presence help Jason Blake activate his offensive game, but Dominic himself was attracting interest around the league as the trade deadline approached. Burke reportedly wanted to retain Moore, but that possibility vanished in Burke’s mind when the Moore camp demanded 3 million per season for a contract extension. The Leafs’ GM made the right move by swapping Moore for a 2nd round pick from Buffalo, but Blake’s immediate drop in production — notably in the goal department — has confirmed one of Blake’s career trends.
Yes, as any Jason Blake historian would tell you, Alexei Yashin and Dominic Moore are the two players who Blake seems to thrive with. Yashin helped the left-winger score 40 goals with the Islanders, and it wasn’t until Moore and Blake became well-established linemates that Jason once again found his form.
Knowing this, Brian Burke should have found a way to retain Dominic Moore. Why didn’t Leafs Nation or anyone in the media make this an issue over the offseason? Simple. Ron Wilson promised a younger team, mentioning ‘5 or 6 rookies’ would suit up for the Leafs. To fans, this meant “aging” talents such as Moore and Antropov would be cast aside for prospects such as Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri. But look at this year’s Leaf lineup and realize that the most impactful rookie performer thus far has been Carl Gunnarsson. Mitchell, Stajan, and Grabovski are the top three centres, and Moore outplayed all three last year. If fans knew who Burke and Wilson were planning to ice at centre this year, there would have been a lot more support to bring back Moore.
You can’t fully blame Burke, as Moore’s contract demands simply didn’t make sense for what he had produced at the pro level. 41 points in 63 games was a good pace, but it was Moore’s first productive year. Holding his contract demands too high over the entire summer backfired on the 29-year-old Harvard grad, who settled for a 1-year, 1.1 million dollar contract with the Panthers.
The Leafs missed out on keeping Blake and Moore together after last season, but an attempt should at least be made to make a swap with the Panthers for Moore, who has only 4 points in 14 games. With Moore and Blake back together, the Leafs would have three lines capable of scoring, centred around the combos of Kessel with Ponikarovsky, Grabovski with Hagman, and Blake with Moore.
Jason Blake’s contract is inflated and immovable. If any team showed interest in taking Blake’s contract, he would be out the door immediately to make way for more consistent and manageable talent. With Moore by his side, the remaining two years on Blake’s contract would be far more tolerable.