Wouldn't Hurt the Leafs to Stay Old
The time has obviously come for the Maple Leafs to start thinking about the future. We can see that the team is no longer going to neglect that part of the game with the moves they have made. No they have not yet acquired any top young players but they have set themselves up for that to happen by putting in place a strong scouting staff. With input coming from the likes of John Ferguson, Shawn Simpson, Craig Button, Barry Trapp, Mike Penny, Pat Quinn, Paul Maurice this area of their organization has greatly improved. In a few years the Leafs may start to reap the benefits of their hard work and dedication to the process.
However in the short term, the Leafs wouldnt be too bad if they remained a veteran group. There are good reasons why the Leafs should go this route. One, by sticking with veterans, it will keep the Leafs competitive. Now they may not be good enough to win the cup but they should have enough gas to get the team to the playoffs and most importantly bring in big time playoff profits. Secondly, by staying old, the team will have more players under 1 year contracts leaving the door open for more cap room in the following seasons. This is important because the free agency age is going to decline every year from 31 to 29, then to 28 and finally to 27 (or younger if the player has 7 years of service). Grabbing players at that age with likely 5-7 good years left in their bodies is more attractive than sticking with players 30 plus for the long term.
The Leafs are one team that can take advantage of that situation as they have the money to pay up to the cap limit, a great hockey market and is home or close to home to many NHLers in the off season. They can take advantage of this if they end up with very few players under contract when this situation of younger free agency comes up.
So it may serve the Leafs best to stay a veteran group for next season.
Here are the Leaf salaries after the rollback.
Mats Sundin $6.84 million
Owen Nolan $5,627,047
Ed Belfour $4.56 million
Bryan McCabe $3.458 million
Tomas Kaberle $2.28 million
Ken Klee $1.9 million
Darcy Tucker $1.596 million
Matt Stajan $805,600
8 Players $27,066,647
Buying out Nolan would bring the payroll down to roughly 21.5 million.
The Leafs need big improvements on defence. Sticking with Mccabe and Kaberle would still be ok. They are solid number 2 or 3 blueliners but it still leaves the Leafs lacking a top dog on defence. The defence I would not want back is of course Aki Berg and also Ken Klee as I think the Leafs could get a similar player at a lower price. Getting rid of Klee wil bring the payroll down further to approx. $19.6 Million.
Resigning Leetch would be a good idea. I have a feeling he doesnt want to play for a third team. It either comes down to the Rangers, Leafs or Retirement. The Leafs could keep him at $3 million. Because he is closing in on 40 and had a year off, who knows how good he still is so 3 million makes sense.
Signing a guy like Mike Rathje would make sense as well. He is big, tough and solid in his own end. If he gets to play with a solid partner like he did in San Jose playing with Ragnarsson he should be the steady player he was with the Sharks. The Leafs could probably land him for roughly $2 million.
Another solid player to sign would be Teppo Numminen. Yeah he is getting up there in age but he is crafty and can still help a team if he isnt asked to do too much. He could be had at roughly 1.1 million.
Bringing back Bryan Marchment at the league minimum of $450K would make sense to add depth to the team. He is a solid team player and a good veteran that fits in with this team. With Coliacovo at around 800K the Leafs blueline would be in solid shape. Coliacovo would inject some youth, plus gain valuable experience learning from a guy like Leetch by playing with him. It will make it easier for toronto to work players in and out of the lineup with the farm team in town.
From this the defence would have:
Total cost for the defence: $13.1 million
In goal the Leafs have Belfour at $4.5 million. I think the Leafs should buy him out and bring back Curtis Joseph. Buying out Belfour would bring the Payroll down further to 15.1 Million. Despite some difficulties with coach Pat Quinn, Cujo is still loved by the Leaf fans and still has many friends on the team. All he needs to do is show up and play, he doesnt need to be friends with Pat. he could get a nice $3 million dollar deal and get to stay close to home. I am sure he does not want to uproot his family too far away from Ontario which is why Detroit made sense. Getting a backup at the league minimum would be a good idea too considering Cujo’s age. It would be nice to have another goalie the team can rely on in an emergency. I think Mike Dunham would come cheap. He has had a rough time the last couple of years but he could easily fill in for 25-30 games and keep things honest. He could probably be had for $750K
So in goal:
Total Cost of Goalies: 3.75 Million
With Nolan out, only Sundin, Tucker and Stajan remain up front. The Leafs would be smart to resign their 4 key unrestricted forwards. I could see the Leafs definitely bringing back Tie Domi at something like 700K. The fans love him, he is still a capable 4th line player and a great team guy. Also helps that he is close to Sundin. Roberts and Nieuwendyk are a packaged deal. at their age and with their injury histories, they will likely face paycuts. I could see them getting signed at around 1.5 million each. However they can still help the Leafs and definitely want to stay. Their value in the playoffs is great. The other key guy to bring back would be Alex Mogilny. He has said he would come back for less. With his age as well and his injury troubles, he will not command as much as he once did. I could see Alex getting $1.5 million. he could also get some contract with a low base salary with incentives. He is such a good offensive player that if the game opens up, Almo could really benefit from it.
Other players like Chad Kilger and Wade Belak at the league minimum would also be a good idea. Nothing wrong with adding guys with size to add depth to the roster. These two can play multiple positions too which helps. It would allow the Leafs to carry a short roster, especially with the Marlies in town and this will help keep costs down. The Leafs could add a free agent from Europe as well such as Mikael Samuelsson. here is another guy who could add some good size to the team and help them add more depth. He could probably come cheap like around 500K.
As for help coming from the outside, I think the Leafs are going to be out of the running for guys like Forsberg, Naslund, Kariya or Palffy. But one player that definitely is on the Leafs radar is Eric Lindros. He could probably be had at the league minimum and have a real incentive laden deal. The guy has always wanted to play in Toronto and I can see him doing that….as a Left winger. There is not much room at centre for him but he did play the wing in NY and guys like Niewy and Sundin have wing experience as well. Quinn can mix and match as he so chooses. You can never have too many centres. Lindros is a health risk, but if he can stay out of the infirmary, he can be a big asset.
Another player the Leafs will target is Jeff O’Neill. He is currently a retricted free agent but likely will not receive his qualifying offer from the Canes. If that was the case then the King City native would welcome a return close to home. Though he struggled in his last year with the Canes with injuries and low production, he was a decent scorer in the past. perhaps a change in scenery is what he needs. He could probably be had for 2 million.
Another player who could come cheap is Anson Carter. Here is another player who has struggled some the past year but he still has something to offer some team. He could probably be had for $900K and would add nice depth to the team. He could be a solid 3rd line winger with the ability to move up. Being a Toronto native is also another incentive to play with the Leafs.
SO up front:
Lindros Sundin O’Neill
Roberts Nieuwendyk Mogilny
Tucker Stajan Carter
Domi Kilger Samuelsson
Total cost of Forwards: $19.05 million
Team payroll would be at $35.9 million. This will allow some wiggle room for bonuses, acquiring other players outside and for callups. certainly some of the players i mentioned as possibles could make more or less give or take a few hundred thousand.
This may not quite be a championship calibre team as there are age, injury and depth questions that will still linger, especially with such an old group. But again they will be competitive. And if they can grab as many guys as they can with one year deals, that would open up tons of cap room for the following summer(s) so that the Leafs can take advantage of the younger free agent age.