The Leafs are in quite a different position than the Ottawa Senators. While the Senators are asking themselves, how can we keep the players we have, the Leafs are asking themselves, do we want to keep the players we have. Aki Berg has gone back home to Finland to play next season but John Ferguson Jr. has to assess whether he wants Belfour, Domi, Allison, Lindros and others back. And depending on what he decides he might have a fair bit of money to spend on a few free agent signings. Here are Toronto’s salary cap commitments for the next few years.
*Ed Belfours buyout value as I fully expect the Leafs to buy him out
Restricted Free Agents:
Unrestricted Free Agents:
I am also not sure of the contract status of Staffan Kronvall and Ben Ondrus.
With just over $23 million committed for the upcoming season and a salary cap of $44 million the Leafs will have about $20 million to spend on either keeping their own free agents or signing free agents from other teams. It is widely rumoured that the Leafs will re-sign Bryan McCabe for around $5.75 million per year so a more realistic number would be $14 million to spend. Now, what do they do with that money.
The first question they have to answer is how much of a youth movement do they want to go on with their own young players. This is particularly true for their defensemen. McCabe and Kaberle are the existing veterens but how many jobs they want to allocate to youngsters White, Wozniewsi, Kronvall, Colaiacovo, Bell, and Harrison. All six of those guys saw some action with the Leafs last year with varying levels of success. Almost certaintly the Leafs will allocate 2 defense spots to those youngsters and maybe even 3 spots might be open. I really liked what I saw from White (good PP guy) and Harrison (more of a defensive guy) and Colaiacovo has the most experience of all of them. Karel Pilar might also be in the mix as well if he can get healthy. One or two of these guys might be used as trade bait if necessary.
Up front the Leafs don’t have many young guys ready to make the jump. Steen and Wellwood looked great in their rookie years last year and will be featured more prominantly in the Leafs offense next year. Jeremy Williams is probably the only new guy potentially ready to make the jump. The big question marks up front are guys like Lindros, Allison, Stajan, and Antropov. Rumours a few weeks ago were that Lindros was about to sign a contract with the Leafs for somewhere under a million dollars. If this happened this would be a good low risk, potentially decent upside signing. When healthy he can still be a solid contributor. As for Allison and Antropov, I expect that they will not return to the Leafs as every indication from Leaf management is that they want to go with more speed in the lineup and neither of these guys are very speedy. Antropov is a restricted free agent and might be used as trade bait but I don’t think the Leafs could expect much in return largely due to his injury proneness. Matt Stajan was a bit of a dissapointment last year. After a solid rookie season in 2003-04 he failed to improve any last season. He is young and has good speed and was a valuable penalty killer so I expect him to get another chance and re-sign with the club.
The other question is in goal. I fully expect Belfour to be bought out so that leaves Tellqvist and Aubin under contract. Is this enough? I doubt it. I expect the Leafs will take a run at signing one of the free agent goalies out there. Gerber, Legace, Huet are the most likely candidates. Roloson would be a nice pickup but his superb playoff performance might price himself a bit beyond what the Leafs are willing to pay.
So, if the above holds true the projected lineup might be:
Extras: Pohl, Ondrus, Belak
Extras: Kronvall,Bell, Wozniewski, Belak
Goal: ?????, Tellqvist, Aubin
The above lineup might cost the Leafs about $32-33 million. That would leave about $10 million to spend on other free agents or via trade. The ????? are where I think the Leafs need to fill a hole. I would assign $2-2.5 million on a goalie. You might be able to get Gerber, Legace or Huet for that amount. The other $8 million would be split between a forward and a defenseman or maybe 2. How much confidence the Leafs management have in their young defensemen will determine how that split takes place. If they have a lot of confidence in their young defensemen I wouldn’t hesitate to throw $6 million at Patrick Elias and see if that will be enough to get him. I doubt that they could get Elias but the Devils have some budget problems and might be willing to trade either Gionta or Gomez to make room to keep Elias. I’d love to see either of them, particularly Gionta, on the Leafs. Anson Carter is a lower cost alternative as he desperately wanted to sign with the Leafs last summer (Leafs went with Lindros instead) and might sign with the Leafs at a discount. Other options include Sergei Samsonov, Martin Rucinsky, Martin Straka, Langenbrunner and playoff star Fernando Pisani
If the Leafs do in fact sign McCabe then the big name defensmen are likely out of the question but they are a ton of quality second tier guys that would attract a lot of interest with the Leafs including Ruslan Salei, Jay McKee, Frantisek Kaberle, Jaroslav Spacek, Willie Mitchell, Brendan Witt, Brian Pothier, Eric Desjardins, Kim Johnsson, Pavel Kubina, Filip Kuba, Joe Corvo, Niclas Wallin, Aaron Ward and former Leafs Danny Markov and Kenny Jonsson (who might be enticed to return from Sweden). Tops on my list would be Kenny Jonsson, Jaroslav Spacek and Jay McKee with Wallin, Ward, or Pothier potential secondary signings.
All in all the next month or so should prove interesting for the Leafs as we will really get to see what new direction the Leafs move in. They have the new coach with presumably a new philosphy. Now they have to start changing the players. This is the summer they start to lay the foundation for long-term success in my mind. Lets see how they do.