Someday I'll have to shake the hand of the guy that decided that it made sense to schedule the draft three days before the start of free agency. It's not like this day is so important that it's a national holiday in Canada. As a conversation starter because I still have a tonne of draft stuff to come I have a short cheat sheet to help us with a starting point.
Pending UFAs: Martin Gerber, Brad May, Bates Battaglia, Andre Deveaux, Boyd Devereaux, Jeff Hamilton, Kris Newbury, Ben Ondrus, Jay Harrison, Erik Reitz, Jamie Heward, Curtis Joseph, Olaf Kolzig, Jaime Sifers (Thanks Mirtle!)
Calling this a list of notable free agents would have been insulting to players like Eric Christensen. From that list I could see Boyd "SchennBlocker" Devereaux, Brad May, and one of Kris Newbury or Ben Ondrus getting re-signed. The first two would be great veteran influences on the younger players and the latter two could fill up roster space while kids learn on the farm.
Justin Poggegot qualified today so he's not on this list. I am actually pretty surprised that guys like Sifers and Oreskovic have not been qualified. Hollweg is gone and we'll never know what that fifth rounder could have brought. Other than knowing it wasn't going to be a European. Williams seems to not be a Wilson favourite, he's not good enough to play on the top two lines when the team is good again and he's past the stage where he should have established himself. We'll always have the 82 goals/season projections!
Based on my inability to find any news thus far I don't think any of the other guys have been qualified. Grabovski is likely going to arbitration which I think will mark the end of his time in Toronto. I get the sense that Burke will move him if he goes that route.
Salary cap space (courtesy NHL Numbers): $13-million
Now, if you look at NHL Numbers the Leafs have some ridiculous cap relief coming online after next season. They only have $18M committed. On the flip side, they only have five guys signed but one of them is Luke Schenn so I think that means that only need to sign a goalie. Either way, there are a couple of ways that Burke can approach this free agency period.
He can fill out the roster with the myriad of RFAs that are getting axed left and right or the lower end of the free agency pool. Burke would then keep any of the kids that cannot play in their proper role on the team with the Marlies. This would be akin to the Red Wings' policy of developing kids in Grand Rapids but with our NHL team stocked with scrubs and waiver-tied prospects instead of Hall of Famers. This one is tough because the idea would be to have UFAs on one year deals so that the cap space is still available next year.
This is the one Burke has said that he wants to pursue but he also wanted to trade for more first rounders at the deadline and for Tavares and Schenn at the draft. So far he's 0-for-2 (and I'll have a post about why that's not entirely his fault) so even then there's no guarantee that this will work. This strategy can work long-term if he makes the right decisions. Mike Komisarek at $4m-$5M is a bad move. The Sedins at $5.25M is a great move. We'll see how much he has to overpay to get players to come to Toronto.
Projected budget: $56.8-million less $1. Whether he spends to it will be a function of the UFAs' receptiveness to his deal.
Key needs: Everything is the short answer. The longer one is that the Leafs' most pressing need is their goaltending situation. James Reimer and Justin Pogge will hold down the fort with the Marlies but Vesa Toskala is coming off of three major surgeries. If Burke really thinks that this team can make the playoffs he needs a competent backup.
In terms of defence, the Leafs have two years of Kaberle, one of Kubina and Van Ryn, and then 20 of Luke Schenn. After that, they'll need to look at how to replace Kubina and Kaberle. If they can do it this summer then they can cash in those assets. If all of the king's men and all of the king's horses put Van Ryn together again properly over the weekend even he might get something for the Leafs. Or he could be part of the team going forward. Burke, however, is really loathe to let Kaberle go. I am hoping that by the deadline Burke gets his doors blown off by a deal.
Looking at the forwards, there is obviously a dearth of skill forwards that are NHL-calibre. There are guys that have the potential to fill that role at some point but no one is a sure bet. I hear that there are a couple of interesting ginger twins available...
Potential targets: It might be easier to list who isn't a target. Take one part cap space, add a dollop (actually, more like a cup) of Burkian hubris, a pound of media speculation, mix well, and you get every big-ticket player being linked to the Leafs. Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are getting their retirement plan from the Leafs. Francois Beauchemin, Travis Meon, and Samuel Pahlssonare being re-united with their former GM. Jonas Gustavsson is coming over to be the next Henrink Lundqvist while Mike Cammalleri is going to live up to the expectations that come with a 40% raise. I look forward to watching him score 60 goals a year for five years.
As I noted above, there are two scenarios and it sure looks like Burke is going through door number two. I think that the Sedins are going to be his main target. I've heard The Monster is ready to be unveiled July 1 and I would imagine that Burke looks at Beauchemin. The rumours of Komisarek and Chris Neil sicken me so I will pretend that I've never heard of them.
What our rivals want:
Colorado Avalanche: A real starting goalie and defence that can keep the puck out of the net. Also, a new medical staff to keep their players in one piece.
LA Kings: A sniper to play with their young forwards and a defensive defenceman.
Atlanta Thrashers: Defence and goaltending. The only year they made the playoffs was the one year that they weren't in the bottom 4 or 5 of the league in goals against.
NY Islanders: I'll tell you what they don't need: a franchise scorer (sigh). Other than that, they could use a goalie on a 15 year contract that actually plays hockey, and defencemen.
Phoenix Coyotes: A new owner. Zing! Actually, as Godd Till noted in a private e-mail, they need to get a new coach in order to escape from the mad clutches of the Friends of Gretzky. Did you know that the best man from his wedding, Eddie Mio, is the Director of Player Development and his brother Keith is the Head Scout. Failing that they could use some veteran leadership since the average age of that team is about 12.
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