Better Be-Leaf It, Toronto Will Be Buyers This Off-Season

At first glance, it appears that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be in quite the bind come the time a new CBA is in place. With the likelihood of the Cap being anywhere between $35-40 million, it leaves little opportunity for Toronto to spend freely as in years past. Though a rollback in salaries will help increase team’s cap limit, the Leafs are still not that well off as they will have approximately $27 million in salary tied to a mere 8 players.

Under contract are:

Forwards: Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Darcy Tucker, Matt Stajan

Defence: Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Ken Klee

Goal: Ed Belfour

They will also need to see if they want to bring back any of their restricted free agents which include:

Forwards: Nik Antropov, Alex Ponikarovsky, Chad Kilger,

Defence: Aki Berg, Wade Belak, Karel Pilar

And of course they have a host of unrestricted free agents that have likely played their last game as a Leaf:

Forward: Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tie Domi, Alexander Mogilny, Ron Francis

Defence: Brian Leetch, Bryan Marchment

Despite what might be impossible odds, the Leafs will still likely be buyers once the off-season gets underway. The reason being is that according to an article by Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun, it appears that teams will be allowed to buyout their own players at a cost of two-thirds their salary without it counting against the cap. That will be a huge boost for the Leafs as it will allow them to be creative and bring down their current salaries.

In all likelihood, Owen Nolan will be the prime players to see a buyout. His lack of success in Toronto, his 5 plus million dollar salary and his chronic injuries make his liable to get cut loose.

It is also very possible for the Leafs to buyout Ed Belfour’s contract or at least renegotiate it. At 40 he is still a top goalie but how long can he keep it up especially with his chronic back problems. The only problem is, they have no goalies in their system that could take over the number 1 job and there is nothing on the free market that would be a better option than Belfour.

The Leafs could try to renegotiate the contract of their captain Mats Sundin. He is due to make a huge chunk of change the next few seasons but perhaps for the good of the team he may accept less so that the Leafs could bring a player or two.

And the other current Leafs under contract could renegotiate or perhaps even get bought out as the large group of free agents on the market will certain interest the Leafs as well as the other 29 teams in the league. Especially if the league decides to lower the free agent age.

The Leafs will likely go the trade route to find themselves a backup and perhaps successor to Ed Belfour. But they could add the likes of Felix Potvin or Byron Dafoe or Mike Dunham at a cheap price to fill their current backup needs.

There is a host of top blueliners out on the market and the Leafs sure could use one of them as they havent really had an anchor on the blueline since Bo Salming was wearing the blue and white. Brian Leetch could return but there is some top notch guys who will draw interest from all teams such as Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Sergei Gonchar, Adam Foote, Adrian Aucoin, Roman Hamrlik, Sergei Zubov, Matt Schneider, Alex Zhitnik. Perhaps none of those players will join Toronto, but at least the Leafs will be offered several choices to help sharpen their defence. I would love for Toronto to grab a guy like Mike Rathje whose size and ruggedness is what the Leafs desperately need.

With all but Sundin gone among their top 6 forwards certainly at least one or two guys that are free now could end up in Toronto. There are plenty of options at forward to choose from such as Petr Forsberg, Markus Naslund, Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros, Jason Allison, Ziggy Palffy, Jason Arnott, Mike Modano, Alex ZHamnov, Alex Kovalev, Pavol Demitra, Martin St. Louis, Glen Murray, Teemu Selanne. Any of these players will help any club and certainly all 30 teams will be in a mad scramble to grab any of these top line guys. the competition will be fierce and perhaps the Leafs will get shutout of free agent market. But if they can clear some space, they have the money to afford top players and should be bringing in a few players to help their squad next season. I would love to see Jason Arnott centre the second line behind Sundin. The big Glen Murray would look nice on Sundin’s wing. Paul Kariya’s speed and skill would be a nice fit in Pat Quinn’s system. The options are endless.

The Leafs will likely continue to shop for outside talent since their two top players are old and time is running out. But thankfully that has not deterred them from building for the future as they should have a very good Marlies team playing in Toronto. With a top scout in Craig Button added, there should no longer be neglect when it comes to the draft. No more draft schmaft attitudes with the Leafs.

With youngsters like Stajan, Antropov, Ponikarovsky already with the Leafs and others such as Steen, Coliacovo, Wellwood, Tellqvist, White on the cusp of making the big club, the future is ok in Leaf Nation. Though not as deep as other teams, things should only get better in Toronto with a great focus on development.

And with Paul Maurice now the new coach of the Marlies, the Leafs not only have a solid guy to help develop their prospects, but also a winner and a man who should be the successor to veteran coach Pat Quinn with the Leafs.

And who knows, with some luck they could win the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes.