Leafs Have Options And May Act Quickly On Them

For the first time in a while, the Toronto Maple Leafs have some options.
After a few seasons mired in mediocrity, little depth and little to be excited about, the team now finally has a good young building block and some intriguing young players. While the work is far from over, this upgrade should allow the Leafs some options previously not available to them.

The Leafs can stand pat, wait things out until 2010-11, tough out another year of struggle and give themselves more time to rebuild. This is a sensible option as there is uncertainty when it comes to the future cap number and the landscape of the league in only a couple of years with the CBA already expiring. The Leafs can avoid being buried under long term deals and maybe in a year, have the kind of cap space other teams would envy. This could allow them to prey on teams trapped under the declining cap number and allow them to aggressively pursue players in the summer of 2010.
The Leafs have a number of UFAs coming off the books next summer with the likes of Ponikarovsky, Van Ryn, Kubina, Toskala, Stajan, Stempniak, Frogren due to have their contracts end. That would eliminate over 18 million off their cap and allow them to start with a relative clean slate. It also provides them with assets to trade, either now or closer to the trade deadline.
Also, Jason Blake’s contract becomes a bit more mobile. With only 2 years left and owed only 6 mil for that time, perhaps there will be interest then if he plays the steady hockey we saw from him this past year.
The team can continue to add some more draft picks and prospects and lean heavily on the develop within approach that has been successful for teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings.
And last, but not least, the kids, Schenn, Kulemin, Tlusty, Mitchell, Grabovski get another year of key development and with perhaps players like Hanson, Bozak and Oreskovic in the fold full time as well, Maybe they too will prove to be decent rookies.
Patience may very well be the key to success for this team. Its worked in the past for others, why not Toronto?
————–
Well a good reason standing in the way is GM Brian Burke. This man has never been one to show patience. We saw it in Anaheim where he couldnt wait for Scott Niedermayer and immediately replaced him with Mathieu Schneider, only to create a big cap issue later on. We’ve seen it in Vancouver and Hartford where he wasted no time trying to make an impact moving up in the draft.
After seeing the disappointment of missing the playoffs. That one experience may be enough for Burke to try to turn things around sooner than later. He has already talked about making a big splash at the draft. There are free agents out there he most surely will have interest in and he has said time and again he wishes to get bigger and meaner and more ornery. So change from his point of view seems inevitable.
But not one to wait, Burke may strike quickly and often. He may need to out of necessity to provide himself the kind of cap room he needs to make a big free agent play. But he has assets to potentially move and he isnt about to wait things out like previous regimes only to see player values fall by taking a wait and see approach and in some cases, dithering.
Here is what the Leafs could do if Burke decides to aggressively remake the team right now.
Jason Blake, Darryl Boyce and 50th overall pick to Minnesota for 116 overall pick.

With Gaborik doubtful to return to Minny, even if the regime has changed, Blake would supply decent offence from the wing. He’d also get a chance to play in his home state. The Leafs tag on a 2nd rounder, which Minny has none of in this draft and pick up one of the Wild’s 4th rounders which the Leafs do not have. Its a salary dump that allows for the Wild to pick up a pick in the 2nd and move up 66 spots, plus a depth player in Boyce.
a savings of 4 mil on the cap.

Tomas Kaberle to Columbus for Kris Russell, a 1st round pick and Raffi Torres

The Jackets get their PP point man and it opens the door for Toronto to maybe go after a free agent blueliner. Kaberle is one of the better offensive defencemen in the NHL and absolutely what the Jackets need. The Leafs get a good young player in Russell who may one day be as effective as Kaberle, but the Leafs can afford the wait, a team like the Jackets, with Nash a yr away from UFA, need to find success sooner. Torres sort of balances the salaries, is a gritty, albeit often injured forward who is from Toronto and plays sort of how Burke likes it. Pretty young still and may re-up after his contract ends in a year.

a cap savings of 1.3 mil

Pavel Kubina to Washington for Mikael Nylander, Brian Pothier, Boyd Gordon, Braden Holtby – a goalie prospect in the WHL.

The Leafs do take back salary here, but its a favor for the Caps. Here, they can do what the Bolts did with Vrbata and send Nylander along to Europe. Pothier they can bury with the Marlies eliminating the cap influence. They can afford eating 6 mil of money for those players, one of the few organizations who can. They get a decent young player in Gordon to add size up front, some jam and a good defensive forward, who should re-sign for maybe 1.25 mil. Holtby adds another goalie to the mix, someone who may push Pogge. For the Caps, the salary dump allows them to pick up a vet like Kubina to a position in need of depth. He’s a winner and will help the leadership of a very Euro locker room. They are able to save about 2 mil off the payroll giving them a bit of breathing room and make the Leafs be the bad guys keeping veteran players out of the NHL.

3.5-4 mil or so in cap savings.

Lee Stempniak to NJ for Pierre Luc Leblond, cond. 2010 draft pick

Stemp would maybe be an option to replace Gionta who is likely to leave via UFA. There was some talk of a buyout for Stemp, putting his value as not so great at this point. But here, the Leafs get to cut some costs while getting tougher. Leblond gives Toronto a young, big aggressive 4th liner hopefully who can be similar to Ben Eager. Probably will not provide much if any offence, but he will protect his teammates, crash the net and just be an overly aggressive player.

1.3 mil in cap savings.

Matt Stajan to NSH for a 2nd in 2010, and 3rd round pick in 2009.

Its sort of a salary dump, but the Preds get a decent centre who sort of fits their mold down there in NSH. He is a year away from UFA, but a decent, 2way player who is an upgrade over Radek Bonk as their 3rd centre. Certainly better than what they have now to replace Arnott when Arnott went down with injury if that were to happen again. The Leafs add some picks in both 09 and 2010 which they have previously squandered.

1.7 mil in cap savings

Send Jamal Mayers to the Marlies a la Mark Bell. or if anything trade him for anything.

The Leafs need to give some of their younger players a chance. And with his 4th line role, there isnt much sense for a 5-10 minute player to make over a mil. they have enough young, hungry competitors to maybe challenge for roles who’d come much cheaper.

1.3 mil in cap savings

The salary dumps add about 13 mil in cap space to a team that had roughly 12-13 mil to work with. With now over 25 mil, they can go to work.

sign Daniel and Hendrik Sedin for 13 million combined cap hit.

The twins instantly give the Leafs offensive weapons they lacked last season. They are pretty much a given to score a point per game and are very industrious offensive players. Burke likes them and will be heavily in the mix to sign these two.


sign Jonas Gustavsson for 1.25 mil

Gustavsson has been on the radar of the Leafs this season a
nd would be a quality backup to Toskala and perhaps an eventual replacement for him next season. It is a jump to go from SEL to NHL but he is young still and if Gustavsson can perform well for 25-30 games, push Toskala and maybe force Pogge in the AHL to perform better, thats a worthy investment for the Leafs.
re-sign Grabovski for 2.5 mil,
May for 500K, Devereaux for 500K

Grabs had a fine rookie season, and the Leafs are hoping for more in year 2. He is quick and skilled and when he is on, can be an irritating player to play against as well. Hopefully a contract doesnt make him passive. The return of May and Devereaux add depth.

The key is May. He should be the Leafs captain for 2009-2010. It makes sense to have him wear the C for a year, bridging the gap for Schenn to take over in 2010-11. It is Schenn’s team, but not quite yet. Allowing May to take the pressure this year will help this young team develop and give more time for Schenn to ease into the role.


sign Jay Bouwmeester to 6.5 mil per for 12 yrs paying him big in his first few seasons.

The other big splash will be to land Bouwmeester. He will give the Leafs a solid 1-2 punch with him and Schenn patrolling for the next decade. He is a horse, a strong player at both ends of the ice and a player hungry to make the playoffs for the first time. There may also be some interest in actually playing in a hockey market, which Florida is not.


With their two first round picks, the Leafs select Brayden Schenn and Simon Depres.
Size, character, skill. This is what the Leafs are able to add with these two picks. Schenn should be an instant hit like his Brother Luke. He is a character player with offensive ability. The question is whether he can be a top end scorer but he should be a strong two way player for years to come. Depres is a big blueliner with very good ability, size and willingness to play physical. He will take some time to develop, but the Leafs can afford the wait.
———————
The moves here not only address the team for the present but for the future. They replenish some picks lost and even add a 2nd first round pick for the draft.
They add another young goalie, two in fact with Holtby and Gustavsson. This gives them some depth in case Toskala leaves at the end of the season, plus provide some push for Pogge as he isnt the only young goalie anymore.
Russell joins Schenn as good young defencemen in the system. They will have for depth purposes players like Sifers, Oreskovic, Stralman, not the best options, but something they can improve on over the next couple of drafts, or possibly scouring the NCAA ranks again next year.
There is some depth up front, therefore not forcing jobs on the likes of Tlusty, Hanson, Bozak, Williams and potentially their top 10 pick in this draft. It should force players like Kulemin and Mitchell to continue to try and earn their jobs as well. Healthy competition will only help this team improve.

And this doesnt cripple them cap wise in the future either. Torres, Ponikarovsky, Van Ryn, Toskala are free agents and them leaving will mean a savings of roughly 12 million. Throw in veterans like Devereaux, May and Frogren and thats over 14 million cut off the cap for 2010-11 if need be. The cap max could very well go down, but with a few UFAs in the fold, they can move these salaries out and still be comfortably under the cap max even if it does go down a significant amount.

Options are available for Burke and his crew. When he acts upon them may come sooner rather than later.

Projected lineup


Sedin-Sedin-Hagman
Kulemin-Grabovski-Ponikarovsky
Torres-Gordon-Tlusty
May-Mitchell-Leblond
Devereaux

Bouwmeester-Van Ryn
White-Schenn
Russell-Finger
Frogren

Toskala-Gustavsson
Depth: Williams, Stapleton, Sifers, Stralman

Prospects: Hanson, Bozak, B.Schenn, Hayes, Stefanovich, Stahlberg, Didomenico, Oreskovic, S.Depres, Pogge