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Future of the Toronto Maple Leafs Part 4 - Free Agent Frenzy

Hello my fellow long-suffering Leaf fans!  This season is done in all but name.  We aren't making the Playoffs, and are unlikely to even play our way out of a Draft Lottery position.  I have been watching the Leafs since 1989 and this is by far the worst season(results wise) that I have ever seen. 

This team is bad, but I think it is actually better than the results show.  I am not going to make excuses or offer reasons for the lousy play.  This season has been Murphy's Law for the team - anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. 

This is one of a series of four posts in an attempt to gain some consensus in the community on how to build next year's team.

The first of the four posts will be 'Pending Free Agents'  in which we will discuss what to do with our UFA's this year.  The debate will center on their trade value, how much we would re-sign them for, or if we let them walk.

The second will be 'Pending Restricted Free Agents.'  The discussion will be based around if we should trade them, sign them(money and term), the possibility of other teams tendering offer sheets, and what role do we see them having on next year's team(Depth placement, another season in the Marlies ETC.)  Also, this is probably the best place to discuss our prospects and if any of them have a chance to make the Leafs out of training camp.

The third post is titled 'Players Under Contract.'  Here we will speculate on what should be done with our signed players - Trade them, buy them out/waive them or keep them.

In the fourth post 'Free Agent Frenzy' we will touch upon what might still be available and who could potentially be a good fit for our team. 

Please be aware that these posts are interconnected.  Although we are focusing on one thing at a time, be mindful that there is a big picture to consider.  This is a discussion on how we would like to see our team built.  Speculation is welcome - crazy deals and flights of fancy are discouraged.  Let's try to stay within the realms of reasonable possibility.

Credit where credit is due:   Basic information(Height, Weight etc) and other league info - NHL.com & various team sites (glovetap to Steve)  Cap and salary figures - nhlnumbers.com Capgeek.com  Statistics - NHL.com  Marlies stats -torontomarlies.com

So, it has been awhile since Part 3 was posted.  Actually, I could have waited longer to post Part 4 ‘Free Agent Frenzy' as the most relevant time for this analysis would be after the playoffs.  Between now and the draft a lot of pending UFA's will be re-signed by their current clubs, making most of the following speculation rather pointless.  Also, if I waited until at least after the regular season we would be able to make more of a prediction of where our young players will slot in next year and therefore be able to fully understand the team's needs in the off-season.

It would have been better if I had just planned to have the original 3 posts and then done this as a separate post later on this year, but a promise is a promise so the following is the best shot I can take at this point.

I have thought about the best way to approach this post and I have settled on the following:  I am going to project one team in which the player personnel is kept as static as possible and another in which the roster is completely overhauled.

For each situation we can predict what team needs will have to be filled either through call-ups or free agency.  To get this to work I am going to start with a list of players in which Burke is likely to keep no matter what happens.  Obviously most of these players are those acquired by Burke himself but it won't be limited to those players.

After establishing which players Burke is likely to keep we then factor in what happens if we change as little of the roster as is possible.  Then the next step is to project a roster with the most changes and determine what UFA's are available to fill those holes.

Due to the fluidity of the situation I am simply going to provide a link to Capgeek with a list of projected Free agent defencemen and the same for forwards.  I don't need to tell you that we won't be signing Lidstrom as our 6th D-man.  Click on the link and you can check out the career stats of any specific player on that list.

I want to make clear that I don't expect either of these two theoretical situations to happen I just wanted to book end the possible extremes to allow everyone to have a range to work with. 

So, players that are likely not to be moved in any situation this offseason (feel free to disagree with me, back up your point with reasonable arguments.)  Bolded numbers are projected cap hits, Ages are as of this date:

Jean-Sebastien Giguere   32   G      6.0

Jonas Gustavsson            25    G      1.25-2.0

Mike Komisarek                28    D      4.5

Francois Beauchemin       29    D      3.8

Luke Schenn                     20    D      .875/2.975(with bonus)

Dion Phaneuf                    24    D      6.5

Carl Gunnarsson               23    D      .63/.8 (with bonus)

Phil Kessel                        22    R      5.4

Tyler Bozak                       23    C       .875/3.725 (with bonus)

Nikolai Kulemin                 23    L        2.0-3.0

Colton Orr                         28    R        1.0

Viktor Stalberg                  24     L     .785/.850 (with bonus)

Christian Hanson              24     C     1-1.25

Fredrik Sjostrom               26     R      .75

Luca Caputi                      21     L       .585/.850 (with bonus)

There may be some arguments on if Burke will keep all of these guys or on the projected salaries, but I think most of us believe that unless something drastic happens between now and training camp that most of these players will be back with the Leafs next year.  Obviously there may be some speculation that a few players on this list may be playing with the Marlies next year but I tend to lean towards these young guys over most UFA's that might be signed this year.

Total Players:  15     Total Cap Hit:   34.7-44.535(all bonus' hit, max on RFA)

                                    Ballpark Cap hit:   38.0

Scenario #1 - Status Quo

We don't trade anyone off the roster and we re-sign our pending UFA's (excluding Exelby as we will have 7 defencemen on NHL contracts):

Tomas Kaberle                 32     D    4.25

Jeff Finger                        30      D    3.5

Mikhail Grabovski             26      C    2.9

Wayne Primeau                33      C    .8-1.1

Rickard Wallin                  29       C    .5-.7

John Mitchell                    25       C    .5025-.75

Jamie Lundmark              29       C    .5-.75

That's 22 players, so for arguments sake you add in either

Jay Rosehill                     24        L     .525 as the 13th forward or

Nazem Kadri                    19        C     .9/1.75 as a top 6 forward.

Putting the cap hit at between approximately 13.5 - 15 for these players

Grand projected cap hit for 23 players between - 51 - 54 million.

Obviously no one expects this to be our starting lineup, but in this case no UFA's are needed to fill a roster spot.

Next, if the maximum possible # of players get traded/waived/sent down.  This is pretty easy as you just use the list of players Burke is likely to keep.  Of all the players moved you would think Burke would want a roster player back in exchange for Kaberle.  If Burke trades Grabovski I think he would prefer a roster player back but he might take picks/prospects back (how high the pick and/or how good the prospect will determine the numbers coming back.)

I am not necessarily advocating trading Grabovski, but we do have a dilemma at the centre position.  In the next two years will have Bozak, Grabovski and Kadri in the mix for the top two centreman positions... this becomes even more muddied if you consider signing a UFA centre or trading Kaberle for a top pivot.  No matter what happens we will have too many centres fighting to be on the top two lines.  This situation has to give, if that means moving one or more to the wing or trading a player (or both), either way something must be done.

For speculation's sake, say Burke gets a draft pick or two for Grabovski and a top 6 forward for Kaberle with a cap hit of around 4-5 million, the team would still need to find a 5th and 6th defenceman and 3 forwards.  If you want to throw Phil Oreskovic into the mix for the 7th D-man and Jay Rosehill in for the 13th forward, you will still need at least a 6th spot D and room for 2 forwards.  Let's assume that the Cap for next year stays around the 56 million mark.

Without Phil and Jay - 42-43 million used cap:

2 defenceman and 3 forwards for around 13-14 million.

With Phil and Jay - 43-44 million used cap:

1 defenceman and 2 forwards for around 12-13 million.

Note that both above situation is contingent upon Kadri not playing with the Leafs next year - include his numbers and drop a forward roster spot if you feel he will be with the club next year.

Again, these are spitball numbers but probably accurate out to 2-3 million either way.

Courtesy of Capgeek, click here for a list of pending UFA Defencemen.

Click here for a list of pending UFA Forwards.

Note:  I did not include goalies, but if you feel that we need to add one, state so in your analysis.

Checking out the defencemen in the range of sub 1 mil contracts (probably no more than what we want to pay for a #6 guy) there is an interesting mix of guys from the ages of 27-37.  Who do you think would provide the most value as a 6th and/or 7th defenceman on our team?

Obviously, the big ticket item on Burke's shopping list will be a proven top 6 forward.  If he cannot (or does not) acquire one by trading Kaberle than he might try to make a splash with a big signing.  Unfortunately this list is not very impressive and will be less so by the time July 1st comes around.

There are several balances you want to strike here.  You don't want to sign too many guys who will take valuable minutes away from your developing youth and you don't want to sign guys at the tail end of their career to a long term contract.  These factors severely narrows down the viable choices.

Some of the more notable names are Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavol Demitra, Olli Jokinen, Patrick Marleau, Alexander Frolov, Thomas Plekanec, Alex Tanguay, Colby Armstrong, Raffi Torres and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Many have argued (for and against) signing these guys for various reasons.  Although Kovalchuk and Marleau are clearly at the top of this class, there are knocks against both players.  Also, it is doubtful that either of these players would be willing to go to a rebuilding team.  The rest all have their positives and negatives and none of them really jump out at me as being a good fit for our team.

So, even after all of this conjecture, who will be on the team next year?  To be honest with you, Burke has surprised me more often than not with his trades and signings.  The one thing we can expect is that Burke will try to move this team to his conventional Elite and Plumber configuration.

Here's my Projected team - Player X is the player we get back for Kaberle and UFA's are spots that Burke fills with signings this off-season.

Kulemin     Player X    Kessel

Stålberg     Bozak        Grabovski

Caputi        Hanson     Sjostrom

UFA            Primeau     Orr

13th Rosehill or UFA?

Phaneuf             Komisarek

Beauchemin     Schenn

Gunnarsson     UFA

7th  Oreskovic or UFA?

Giguere/Gustavsson

First a few notes:  The defensive minutes will be spread out pretty well amongst the top 5 guys there.  Gunnarsson slotted in as a 5th is only there because he shoots from the same side as Beauchemin.  Expect Gunnarsson to be on both a PP unit and PK unit.  I am projecting Kulemin to be the top line winger, but he could fall to the second line (bumping Stålberg and Caputi each down a level) as Burke could try and sign a top line left winger and not a bottom line left winger.  I figure the cap hit for this team will be between 51-55 million - dependent on if Burke goes for a UFA winger for the top line.

This is the best I can do with the information I have presently.

What do you think this team will look like come the drop of the puck for the 2010-2011 season?

P.S.  This has been a long process and I want to thank the members of PPP who have contributed to this discussion.  Thanks for both the criticisms and the words of support. 

Also a big thanks to those who give up so much of their free time to make this site as good as it is:  PPP, Chemmy and the Princesses - we are indebted for all the work you do that makes this site a refuge for Leaf fans everywhere. 

Now, just for fun, a Poll

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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