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NOW do the Toronto Maple Leafs have that much cap space?

Editor's Note: So I dig some digging (ie read the CBA) and I found the relevant passage:

ARTICLE 3 - DURATION OF AGREEMENT

3.1 Term. 

(a) This Agreement is effective retroactive to September 16, 2004 (the "Effective Date"), and shall remain in full force and effect until midnight New York time on September 15, 2011, and shall remain in effect from year to year thereafter unless and until either party shall deliver to the other a written notice of termination of this Agreement at least 120 days prior to September 15, 2011 or not less than a like period in any year thereafter.

(b) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary set forth in subparagraph 3.1(a), the NHLPA shall have the right: (i) to terminate this Agreement as of September 15, 2009 by delivery of written notice of termination to the NHL at least 120 days prior to September 15, 2009; or (ii) to extend this Agreement for one additional year to September 15, 2012 by delivery of written notice to the NHL of such election to extend at least 120 days prior to September 15, 2011. 

If I understand the rest of the cap correctly that means that bonuses will count towards the cap unless the deal is extended and the latest it can be done is June 15th, 2011. I believe that means that for now, because the cap is ending, that they will count. With the NHLPA in disarray they might extend the agreement one more year in order to buy themselves some time to get their act together. Either way, for now it's clear as mud.

Wow.  In one day Burke unloaded one of the Leafs worst contracts (Blake) and our worst player (Toskala), but he also unloaded two of our best contracts (White, at least for this year, and Hagman).  What does this mean for the future, and specifically our cap space?  Mirtle has the basics here, but let's go a bit further.

Talent-wise, I think the two trades are a clear upgrade.  Giguere for Toskala and Blake is a joke.  This is why you maintain salary cap flexibility--so you can rob teams blind when they're up against the cap like the Ducks post-Hiller extension.

On the Flames trade, I like to break it down into three mini-trades.  First, Mayers for Sjostrom.  This favours the Leafs because while Mayers is tougher, Sjostrom is younger and is cost-controlled for another years.  Not a big deal wither way--they're both bit players.

Second, Stajan for Aulie.  Consider this the equivalent of a deadline day "UFA for a prospect" trade.  Aulie was a 4th round pick but it sounds like he's now more like the value of a 2nd-rounder (i.e. equivalent to the Antropov trade).  Not a sure thing but a good chance of being a solid NHLer.  A fair trade, and if 2 years from now Aulie is on our 3rd pair making less than $1MM, we're very happy.

Third, White and Hagman for Phaneuf.  This, of course, all depends on whether Phaneuf is the next Chris Pronger or the next Wade Redden (or somewhere in between).  It sure seems like the Leafs are buying low and selling high for a change, but who knows.  White has arguably been the better player this year even ignoring Hagman.  However, I don't think even the biggest White fan thinks his upside can touch "Norris trophy candidate".  This could be a Gilmour-esque heist, or it could be a franchise-crippling disaster.

The cap situation makes it a bit more complicated.  Next year, the impact is a bit equivocal.  Ignoring Toskala, Mayers and Stajan, UFAs who were clearly going to be gone anyway, the Leafs would have had Hagman for $3MM, Blake at $4MM, and let's assume White at $3.5MM, for a total cap hit of $10.5MM.  Instead, we get Giguere, Phaneuf & Sjostrom for $13.25.  So we're losing almost $3MM in cap space.

In year two, you still would have had Hagman, Blake and (let's assume again) White for $10.5MM, but we're only locked into Phaneuf for $6.5MM.  So we've picked up $4MM in cap space.  That to me is what clinches this deal as a winner.  Next year is not when we expect to be contending.  2011-12 is.  We currently only have $28.6MM committed to 7 players, leaving almost $30MM for 16 players, many of whom can be expected to be kids earning near the league minimum (Kadri, Aulie, Stalberg, Hanson, Gunnarson, Mikus, who knows, maybe even one of Stefanovich, Didomenico or Dale Mitchell).  Provided Phaneuf doesn't pull a Redden, I think we're on a much more solid foundation for the future.

I must say though, adding almost $6MM in salary to our blueline (after subtracting White's contract) makes one thing clear--we need to shed a high-priced defenceman.  The Leafs currently have $22.5MM tied up in Kaberle, Phaneuf, Beauchemin, Komisarek and Finger.  That's nuts, particularly when Gunnarsson belongs in the top 4, Mikus and/or Aulie will probably be ready by 2011, and you've still got Schenn.  I see two main options, assuming Burke won't deal one of his off-season UFA acquisitions:

1. Trade Kaberle for a forward.  I hate to see him go because he's got one of the best veteran contracts in the league, and I wouldn't do it unless we were getting an under-25 top 3 forward.  Probably an impossible task.

2. Ditch Finger.  I see two ways to accomplish this.  The most palatable for Leafs fans is making him the highest priced Marlie for the next two years.  I think Burke will resist this because (a) the beancounters will hate it, and (b) I don't think Burke likes the idea of burying an NHL-calibre guy in the AHL for two years just because someone gave him a stupid contract.  You couldn't risk bringing him up because he would look good to another team on re-entry waivers for $1.75MM and then we're stuck with the other half of his salary in dead cap space.

The other choice is to try to trade him.  Obviously no one would be insane enough to take that salary straight up so we'd have to add something to sweeten the pot.  Since we don't have any picks, and I wouldn't want to trade any young talent, all I could think of would be to throw in Poni.  We'd get a 7th round pick in return just to make it look like an actual trade rather than a dump.  I don't know if any contender would be desperate enough for a 2nd line winger and a 3rd pair D to swallow this contract but I hope Burke's looking.

So assuming Burke chooses option 2 what do we look like next year?  I'll assume we re-sign our RFAs at a roughly 10% increase, and that Gustavsson is re-signed for $2MM (I don't think he's as marketable now as he was last year given his heart problems and mediocre play).  The roster looks like this (thanks to Capgeek.com):

2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs
PLAYERBONUSCAP HIT
FORWARDS
Phil Kessel $5,400,000
Tyler Bozak ($2,850,000) $3,725,000
Mikhail Grabovski $2,900,000
* Nikolai Kulemin $1,650,000
* Christian Hanson $1,000,000
Colton Orr $1,000,000
Viktor Stalberg ($65,000) $850,000
Fredrik Sjostrom $750,000
* John Mitchell $600,000
Jay Rosehill $512,500
DEFENSEMEN
Dion Phaneuf $6,500,000
Mike Komisarek $4,500,000
Tomas Kaberle $4,250,000
Francois Beauchemin $3,800,000
Luke Schenn ($2,100,000) $2,975,000
Carl Gunnarsson ($170,000) $800,000
GOALTENDERS
Jean-Sebastien Giguere $6,000,000
* Jonas Gustavsson $2,000,000
BUYOUTS
Darcy Tucker $1,000,000
LOST VIA REENTRY WAIVERS
NONE
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS
ROSTER SIZE 18
SALARY CAP $56,800,000
PAYROLL $50,212,500
BONUSES $5,185,000
CAP SPACE $10,847,500

So we'd have almost $11MM* to add a backup D and 3 forwards.  If you assume your 7th D and 13th F are going to earn no more than $1.5MM combined (and Burke's too smart to pay those spots much more), that means you have over $9MM to add two forwards--plenty to either sign or trade for a legit Marleau-type first liner and a third liner/PK type (Halpern? Primeau?).  Our line-up could look something like this:

Kessel-Marleau-Kulemin
Stalberg-Bozak-Hanson
Sjostrom-Grabovski-Halpern
Orr-Mitchell-Rosehill

Kaberle-Komisarek
Beauchemin-Phaneuf
Schenn-Gunnarsson

Giguere
Gustavsson

The last change I'd make to that lineup would be to trade Grabovski for a second-line winger, dropping Hanson to the third line.  Another option would be to target Kovalchuk (I'm still not convinced Atlanta can re-sign him) instead of Marleau, sliding Kulemin to the second line, but you'd have to be pretty damn sure Bozak's the real deal.  Either way, that's a young team with a legit first line, great defence, solid NHL goaltending (I'm not putting it any higher than that) some upside on the second line, a pesky third line and a tough fourth line.  A team that might actually contend for a playoff spot.

* EDIT: as PPP pointed out (and others have elsewhere), if the NHLPA doesn't exercise its option to extend the CBA beyond 2011, the Leafs will have to count bonuses against the cap next year (even if they aren't earned?) meaning we'd have only $6MM in cap space, not $11MM.    This would obviously put a serious kink in my plans but given how cap strapped many other teams are, I suspect it would also open up a lot of opportunities.  $6MM is still a lot to play with in a cap-strapped market.

PensionPlanPuppets.com is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of PensionPlanPuppets.com.

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