So as of today the Leafs will likely have over $5 million in cap space, assuming Jeff Finger clears waivers and is successfully demoted to the AHL's Toronto Marlies. While it is entirely possible the brain-trust at MLSE is happy to have Finger waiting in the wings as an expensive backup plan, the Leafs development timetable indictates that he won't be there long.
Consider the following points:
1. The Marlies will have Simon Gysbers, Keith Aulie, Korbinian Holzer, Juraj Mikus, Danny Richmond, Matt Lashoff AND Finger patrolling the blue line, along with the team's current leading scorer Mike Brennan. That's 8 defenders, three of whom are veterans of 5 plus seasons of pro hockey (Lashoff, Richmond and Finger). Brennan, Richmond, Holzer and Lashoff have all been added by Brian Burke and Dave Nonis this past off season, while Aulie, and Gysbers were added last year. Finger and Mikus are the only two to predate last season with the Leafs, and Mikus was brought to North America by Brian Burke in order to develop... he's 21 years of age.
2. Finger wouldn't last through recall waivers if the team tried to call him back up as a fill in. Many NHL teams would be happy with the serviceable D man at half of his $3.5 million a year salary ($1.75 million a year - with the Leafs picking up the other half of the tab).
So the question becomes, whose development comes at the expense of Jeff Finger? The Leafs have too many D men in the organization, and one or more of them need to be moved. Even if Finger isn't the one to be dealt, this likely signals a trade.
So who makes sense as a trading partner?
Right up against the cap, playing with 17 skaters (below the NHL minimum 20), the Devils need serious cap relief between injuries, and the Ilya Kovalchuk debacle. They boast 6 defenders, including Anton Volchenkov, Andy Greene, Colin White.... and Matt Taormina, Alexander Urbom, and Mark Fraser. Bryce Salvador and Anssi Salmela haven't seen game action yet, due to injury.
You'd be forgiven for not recognizing the names of Taormina, Urbom, and Fraser. Urbom is a 19 year old rookie that played one year for the Brandon Wheat Kings (12 g, 33 pts, 66 gp) after being drafted in the 3rd round, 73rd overall in 2009 following a 28 game season with Djugardens that saw him post 0 points. Taormina had a legitimately solid season in the AHL with Lowell last year, posting 10 goals and 50 points in 75 AHL games... he's also on the small side, standing 5'11" and 185 lbs. Fraser is the cheapest skater on the Devils roster, raking in $500K in salary. He also skated in 61 NHL games for the Devils last year posting 3 goals and 6 points.
Adding a player like one of the Leafs younger defenders may give the Devils some breathing room on the back end if they can dump some of their forward salary in exchange. Travis Zajac likely seems like a painfully high price to pay for economic freedom, but Lou Lameirello's options are limited. Patrick Elias or Jamie Langenbrunner may seem more palatable given their ages, but neither one lines up at Centre, which is where the Leafs need help.
The Flyers are up against the Cap, and they have a surplus of forwards, along with a need in net (as per usual). Yes Sergei Bobvrosky is holding down the fort reasonably well... for now... but his 9-22-3 record last year, and 7-20-2 record the year before in Russia may not indicate he's the best option to go with.
The Leafs boast James Reimer, Ben Scrivens, and Jussi Rynnas at the AHL level, any one of which might entice a deal from the orange and black. Considering Ville Leino and Nikolai Zherdev are unrestricted free agents (likely due sizable raises), while Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, Darrel Powe, and Daniel Carcillo are all RFAs, the Flyers may have some concerns about how much they're paying in salary a year from now.
Moving a player like Carter for a package of prospects might not be a bad idea at this stage for a team that only has 12 million in cap space available in next season to sign 6 key forwards. Tomas Kaberle wasn't enough to get it done in the past, but perhaps the likes of Christian Hanson or John Mitchell along with a goaltending prospect will be enough to get Philadelphia thinking salary dump.
Deep at Centre (despite the loss of Marc Savard to concussion symptoms), the Bruins have shed some depth at D in the past year, having dealt Dennis Wideman in exchange for Nathan Horton. Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi, and Marco Sturm are all veteran salaries coming off the books in a year, so the pressure isn't as high going forward.
They could use some depth from the back end though, as their 7th D man is currently Adam McQuaid, who is more noted for his physical play than any sort of offensive production. He has 19 games NHL experience, with 1 goal and 21 penalty minutes last season. Adding a name like Gysbers, or Richmond might be beneficial to them down the line.
Patrice Bergeron just signed an extension, Nathan Horton was just traded for, and Tyler Seguin was drafted 2nd overall, so the most likely trade option would be 24 year old David Krejci. The Leafs would likely have to add in another prospect to make this even remotely plausible, but the Bruins cap issues are worth mentioning, particularly since they just re-signed Zdeno Chara to a long term deal.
It's entirely plausible that nothing will happen on this front. the Leafs have tried to make trades most of the off-season, and teams may be wary of Brian Burke's penchant for Horse trading. That being said, win win deals make both teams better off, and Burke is fond of making it clear that this is his M.O.
If you have any other possibilities, toss em out for discussion in the comments.