Nov 232006
 

So the higher powers at MLSE have given Maple Leaf GM John Ferguson Jr. a luke warm vote of confidence by picking up his option for the 2007-08 season with some indication they will negotiate an extension next spring. So, assuming JFJ gets to keep his job, what are his challenges for the upcoming year.

It appears that the Leafs are set in goal for a long time with Andrew Raycroft signed through 2008-09 season and Justin Pogge on the horizon. They also appear to be set on defense with McCabe, Kaberle, Kubina and Gill all signed to long term deals and several youngsters rounding into NHL form. So all the decisions the JFJ will need to make over the next year have to do almost solely with the forwards.

All totaled, the Leafs already have close to $25 million allocated to 12 players next season. This includes 1 goalie (Raycroft), 4 defensemen (McCabe, Kaberle, Kubina, Gill) and 7 forwards (Kilger, Wellwood, Stajan, Steen, Ondrus, Pohl, and Belak). The defense will be rounded out with Ian White and one or two of Brendan Bell, Carlo Colaiacovo, Staffan Kronvall, and Andy Wozniewski. Lets allocate up to $2.5 million to round out the defense and sign a backup goalie. That puts the Leafs payroll for next year at just under $27.5 million with 6-7 forwards to sign.

Everyone is talking about what to do with Tucker and Sundin but another player which I think is equally important is Alexei Ponikarovsky. Ponikarovsky is one of the Leafs most valuable players because he is so well rounded. He can skate, score goals, has excellent size and uses it well in the corners, can kill penalties, has a great shot and can play on the power play. I would like to see the Leafs make a long term commitment to Ponikarovsky and feel they could probably get him signed to a deal not unlike the deal the Ottawa Senators signed Peter Schaeffer to last summer (4 years @ $2.1 million per season). I think Ponikarovsky has the potential to be better than Schaeffer so let’s allocate $2.5 million per season to Poni on a long term deal. That puts the Leafs payroll at approximately $30 million.

For Sundin, I think, assuming he wants to return, you bring him back. The Leafs have an option on Sundin for around $5.3 million next season but the cap hit would be closer to $6.5 million if they picked up the option. If the Leafs choose not to pick up the option it will cost them $760,000 against the cap. Lets assume that Sundin wants to return to the Leafs. I think in this situation you could probably get Sundin signed for $5.5 million per season on a 2-3 year deal (this is comparable to the deal Sakic signed last summer). This would put the Leafs payroll at $35.5 million.

So that leaves us with Tucker, Peca, O’Neill, Battaglia, and Antropov as the free agents in need of new deals. So, who to keep and who to let go. Those who have read this blog for a while will know that I like Antropov so I would definitely sign him. He is a quality player and should be able to get signed for a very affordable price. Lets say $1.5 million max to take the payroll to $37 million. I am not completely sold on bringing back Mike Peca. He’s a nice player but $2.5 million for a defensive specialist seems a bit much, especially considering guys like Stajan, Ponikarovsky and Steen are all also solid defensively and can kill penalties. I’d use Sundin, Wellwood, and Stajan as the top 3 centers. At this point the Leafs lineup might look like this:

Ponikarovsky-Sundin-????
Steen-Wellwood-????
????-Stajan-Antropov
Kilger-Pohl-Belak
One or two of Ondrus/Suglobov/Battaglia/Williams/Westrum

McCabe-Kaberle
White-Gill
Kubina-Colaiacovo/Bell/Kronvall//Wozniewski

Raycroft
Aubin or Tellqvist

Total payroll for the above players would be about $37 million. So, how do fill in the ????’s above. First, I would not bring Darcy Tucker back for the money he seems to be asking for. I like Tucker but he is somewhat one-dimensional. He is not great defenseively (typically one of the lowest +/- on the team), takes too many bad penalties and really isn’t much more than a power play specialist. He has scored 43 goals since the start of last season, 29 of them coming on the power play and 48 of his 82 points have come on the power play. Talk is that Tucker is looking for possibly as much as $3.5-4 million on a long term deal. To that I say, good luck and I hope you get what you are looking for elsewhere. As good as Tucker has been I think you can find a lot of players capable of standing to the side of the opponents goal to slap a perfect cross-ice pass into an open net on the power play. What I would do with Tucker is trade him before the trade deadline for a young talented player capable of filling one of those ????’s on the second and third lines at a cost of under $1 million per season. I would then go to the free agent market next summer and spend $4 million per season on a real 30 goal score with speed who can play on Sundin’s wing and who doesn’t take dumb penalties and who doesn’t hurt you defensively. Guys potentially available who are worth looking at are Slava Kozlov (Atlanta), Cory Stillman (Hurricanes), Ryan Smyth (Oilers, though he might cost a bit more), Paul Kariya (again, might be out of budget), Jason Blake (Islanders), Brendan Shanahan (Rangers), Tkachuk (Blues), Naslund (Canucks). All of these guys I’d rather have than Tucker. Whatever money is left use to fill in the other ???? on the second or third line. Jeff O’Neill who has played better this season is an option as are a few guys currently on the Marlies.

  20 Responses to “The Leafs Game Plan for the Future”

  1.  

    Do you think JFJ will have the guts to trade away Darcy Tucker if he continues to put up goals like he has so far this year? I agree with pretty well everything you posted there, and would really hope Ferguson at least tests the market to see what kind of return he could get for Tucker. A long term deal for Tucker worries me because while he’s shown great potential at time (pretty prolific scorer in the juniors, for example) until last year he had not regularly filled the net at the NHL level.

    Even worse, in my opinion, is that Tucker is not a big guy but he gets mixed up in plenty of rough play – and let’s admit it Leafs fans, sometimes it’s not the cleanest rough stuff from Darcy. That kind of play can easily wear even a big player down over the course of his career. Even if Tucker really has matured into a regular 30 goal scorer (big IF), will he remain healthy enough to continue that for 2, 3, 4 years?

  2.  

    As a habs fan point of view, il must say that even if Tucker is having a great year thus far, is market value isnt very high. I will compare is situation with Montreal’s Sheldon Souray. They both have a great year right now, but they’ll both be UFA next summer and they’re both one-dimensionnal players.

    We had the same idea about trading Souray thinking he has a great value right now. But thinking of it, the highest return both team could have for those players is a first round draft.

    Take in example last year deals sending Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton or Mark Recchi and Doug Weight to Carolina. UFA players dosent have great value in the new NHL, especially with the salary cap. A team will not give a high price for a rental player. So forget the big deal involving Tucker, it will not happen.

  3.  

    interesting topic. here’s another possible outcome to all this Leaf talk:

    1. Leafs win the Cup this season…yes, it will happen
    2. Sundin retires on top, opening up massive cap room
    3. Leafs dont trade away Tucker as he is the heart and soul of the Leafs. No Leaf player gives 110% game in and game out as Tucker does…you dont trade that away by any means.
    4. Tucker signs for aprox. $3 million-$3.5 a year (don’t say he wont because we all know JFJ loves to overpay his players….see Bryan McCabe salary and contract structure. Tucker loves Toronto and is possibly the next captain after Sundin retires. McCabe is not captain material, Kaberle most certainly is but Leafs will hand down the honour to a Canadian born player next time.
    5. Leafs will sign a proven 30 goal scorer or 2 in the offseason…who??? your guess is as good as mine.

    Now you can’t really dispute the above will not happen because David’s post is also based on assumptions as is everyone elses.

    Everyone in the free world and press gave the Leafs no chance in hell of improving from last season….well look where they are 20 games into the season.

  4.  

    1. Could happen but unlikely. The odds are greater that any particular team will not win the Stanley Cup than will. The odds of Buffalo winning the Stanley Cup might be 10-15%. Toronto’s odds would be significantly less. 5% maybe.
    2. Sundin won’t retire. Unlike some other Swedes he has never talked about leaving the NHL early to return to Sweden to play.
    4. I don’t think Tucker is captain material. He takes too many unecessary penalties and isn’t responsible enough defensively. Captains should be good all-round players.

    “Everyone in the free world and press gave the Leafs no chance in hell of improving from last season….well look where they are 20 games into the season. ”

    After 23 games last year: 12-8-3, 27 points
    After 23 games this year: 12-7-4, 28 points

    Looks like pretty much the same record.

  5.  

    yes same, record almost… but no terrible slide like last season in January that killed the playoff hopes. much better team this season, much more disciplined. better all around team. We differ in opinion about Tucker being captain material…i think he has the potential and may be the next captain. I can’t see anyone on the team being captain over him…maybe Kaberle but like i said the Leafs will hand it down to a Canadian born player next time without a doubt. If the Leafs qwon the Cup…why wouldnt Sundin retire on top… it would be the perfect ending to a great career. He would retire if the Leafs won the cup without a doubt in my mind and maybe others also.

  6.  

    “yes same, record almost… but no terrible slide like last season in January that killed the playoff hopes”

    It’s not January yet. All us Leaf fans are hoping there will be no major slide, and certainly there are positive signs in how they are playing this year (better goaltending, more than just McCabe dangerous on the PP, much improved PK, etc) but there are certainly no guarantees.

    I agree with DJ that Tucker is not a likely candidate for captain. Bryan McCabe would be a more likely choice. He obviously does or says the right things off the ice, as he’s an assistant captain ahead of Tucker (Darcy wears it currently only until Sundin returns from injury), he’s been a captain before (albeit of the Islanders, which I guess shouldn’t really count :P).

    I would vote for Kaberle, as he not only is already a proven leader, but probably the best clutch player on the team after Sundin. In his career, 11 of his 57 goals have been game winners (McCabe admittedly also does pretty well here with 17 of 100). In the playoffs, though he’s scored only 6 goals, half of those have been game winners. McCabe has 1 out of his 10.

    I suspect the Leafs will resign Tucker, and unfortunately I suspect he’ll get more than he deserves. It is not currently looking like the salary cap will continue to rise (some are saying it will actually fall this summer), and too many long term big contracts will hamstring the Leafs if that trend continues. Ferguson might be better served trading Tucker for a few young prospects or picks than paying him big bucks based on 1 1/2 seasons of goal scoring.

  7.  

    Just to toss my hat in the ring on this. The Leafs chances of winning the cup are as good as about half the league. Which is to say decent but not amazingly high. Sundin isn’t going to retire yet. He still has personal milestones he’d probably like to reach and winning 1 cup wouldn’t necessarily satisfy that. Darcy Tucker will not be the next captain of the Leafs for the following reasons. 1) He’s got a bad combination of irregular scoring touch aside from the power play, and little to no defensive conscience. The guy is regularly one of the worst +/- players on the team and it would be rather hard for a captain to preach defensive awareness when he’s not much of a back checker himself. He’s matured when it comes to taking bad penalties but he’s still one of the less than upstanding citizens on the Leafs. Basically he’s not doing enough for the team to warrant the Captaincy and there are more important veterans on the club. Kaberle or McCabe is likely to be the next Captain, and unfortunately I think McCabe is the more likely pick just based on Salary concerns, and the fact that he’s already considered a team leader as the NHLPA rep for the team. I’d like to think if the Leafs could hold Sundin for another 3 years that a player like Stajan or Steen could step up and perhaps become an Assistant ahead of Tucker, but there’s no accounting for taste and Tucker is a popular player (even if he is a hack job defensively).

    The Leafs will continue to try to develop talent internally, which is required in the new cap system. That means in the near future we should expect to see the likes of Jiri Tlusty, Alexander Suglobov, and Jeremy Williams up on the big club. It is also worth paying attention to the number of draft picks and minor league talents that JFJ picks out.

    That isn’t to say we’ll ignore free-agency but who knows where things will go on that front at this point?

  8.  

    Oh and a buddy of mine asked me a question the other night that maybe one of you could answer.

    He wanted to know what happens if a player takes a penalty near the end of OT, i.e. with like 10 seconds remaining. Would that preclude him from taking part in the Shoot Out. I told him that once the clock has stopped, penalties are no longer meaningful, unless the player has been ejected with some sort of Misconduct penalty. But I’m not 100% certain so I was wondering if anyone knows the result of this very unlikely occurrence.

  9.  

    I am not 100% sure but I think you are correct in that penalties do not carry over to the shootout in any way.

  10.  

    Depressingly, I think the more likely scenario is a Sundin trade, not a Tucker trade.

    Tucker at $3.5M a season is pretty good value for a player with his skill set and ‘edge’ game. For sure he takes some penalties that are stupid, but he’s toned down the Filthy McNasty side of his game to become a more controlled player.

    Consider too that in Sundin’s absence, and thus the absence of a quality #1 pivot, he leads the team in goals, is the top forward in points, and is 2nd in PIM. In a perfect world he’s a gritty playmaker with some goal scoring ability to round out a strong 2nd line. For the Leafs who are weak on wingers, he’s the best on the team.

    Is he Captain material? Maybe. My understanding is he’s a good team guy. All in all, he has a case for being paid less than Ryan Smyth, but money that isn’t far away. Given that he won’t be available as a bargain to whoever takes him, he is probably more valuable to the Leafs than to other teams.

    Sundin is on the downside of an amazing career that was hamstrung by inadequate management and inept wingers. He’s a prime candidate to round out a team that is already a threat and capable of providing the winning opportunity that he craves. I’d like him to retire a Leaf, because he’s the best player they’ve had in literally decades (including Clark and Gilmour), but the possible returns on dealing him dwarf those of Tucker.

    The actual best moves would be to find a taker for Kubina, Gill, O’Neil, Wellwood or Stajan – none of whom are ‘star’ quality players, but could bring futures in return.

  11.  

    Ok… I’m sorry but trading Kubina, Gill, O’neill, Wellwood, or Stajan would be absolutely insane at this point.

    Wellwood and Stajan most specifically. To say neither of the two are ‘star’ quality players when they both have played at the upper levels of their draft years in terms of point production makes the statement a tad strange. Wellwood has been one of the top 4 or 5 scorers from his draft year at every level, and I seriously doubt that that will cease at the NHL. The guy is a pure playmaker and is amazingly gifted offensively. In a lot of ways he’s comparable to Steve Sullivan or Daniel Briere because of his size, but he wins a lot of faceoffs and he’s one of the best stick handlers and passers in the league.

    Stajan is sound defensively, has added size this past off season, and looks like a quality pivot of the future. He too is one of the best passers on the Leafs.

    Trading two future core players for MORE futures is frankly idiotic. You don’t give 2nd and 3rd year guys that are developing into solid NHL producers away so you can pick up 1st round draft picks that might never pan out.

    As for Kubina and Gill, they’re probably our most solid defensive Defencemen on the team and are a large reason why the leafs are so much better in their own end thus far this season. McCabe and Kaberle can be the offensive engine but when it comes to shutting down the opposition we need guys with their size and mobility to protect the crease. Again I think trading them for picks or young players would be absurd since we just signed them.

    O’neill is the one player on that list that might be worth dealing, but he’s actually turned his game around and seems relatively happy playing for Paul Maurice. He isn’t that old, being in his early 30’s, and he has a few years of production at the highest levels left in him. Considering we’re paying him less than $4 million and he once scored 40 goals in the NHL I don’t quite see why we’d ditch him at this point for “futures”. The Leafs aren’t exactly “rebuilding” they’re more retooling and as long as they hold on to Antropov, Ponikarovsky, Wellwood, Stajan, Steen, Kaberle, White, Kronwall, Wozniewski, Colaiacovo, Raycroft and friends they should be relatively solid in the future. They can add spare parts but I don’t see a need to ditch Sundin or Tucker.

    Coming into this season everyone was worried the Leafs wouldn’t score… I QUITE FIRMLY DISAGREED WITH THAT ASSESSMENT. I posted regularly on numerous websites that they would not lack for offensive production, from the forwards or the defence, and I reiterated then and will do so again now that their defensive play is their main weakness. As long as they get good goaltending and keep the puck out of their net they’ll win hockey games. This team is better than it’s been for a while.

  12.  

    wow u guys are delusional… lol honestly.. resign tucker???? the leafs dont stand a chance at resigning him. y in gods name would he take 3.5 million a season???? RUSLAN SALEI GOT 3.5 this year. willie mitchell got the same. heck, the leafs gave kubina 5 million and he didnt even get 40 points, granted hes good defensively but my point is every GM in the league is overpaying for free agents. jason arnott got 4,5 million, marc savard got 5 million. tucker is on pace for 50 goals, at the end of the day, come free agency, teams dont care if the 50 goals are tap ins or empty net goals, they see thr #50 and they panic and offer crazy money. tucker can land 4-5 million as a free agent. teams seem to love his rough play, and with his goalscoring who wouldnt take him???

    anyway i wouldnt want tucker. he scores tap ins. u could just as easily pay someone 1/8th the price to stand beside the net and do the same. and tucker and a long term contract??? ouch. hes a small guy who plays a big game. he gets involved in too much rough stuff. so much potential for injury. not to mention like DJ mentioned his defensive play leaves much to be desired. and throw in the fact that while he pumps up his team with hits and whatnot, he brings on a lot of hatred from other teams. he does some pretty classless things, which is really sad. a guy like tucker has no honor whatsoever. i still dont understand how peca has forgiven him for that incredibly dirty hit in the playoffs. he ruined his year/ the isles actually had a good team and peca was the #1 guy. it was a blatant lot AND late hit, and the only reason it went unpunished was cuz it was the playoffs and the refs and no balls to call penalties, of any kind. and then there was the patrick eaves incident. now, i like fighting. its healthy. but at 5-1, when the game is all but over, y do u have to motivate your team? and to add to that, how does beating up on a little rookie count as motivating? and to add to that, how does turning him around and punching him, not even allowing him to realize whats happening, motivate the team?? and finally, how does RIDICULING a player from the penalty box motivate a team? its very classless. the biggest leafs homer ever, mr cherry, preaches fighting, but he loves to death players who scrap it out, and then acknowledge the other, tap him on the shoulder, anything that translates to “good fight. after all this is hockey. or no hard feelings”.

    in the end tucker is pretty classless and its in every organizations interest to get rid of players like that. especially original 6 teams who thrive on tradition.

    while tucker can be good, look at the cons. e will be expensive, hes one-dimensional, most of his goals are tap in empty netters, and if consider the fact, tucker or sundin… well its pretty damn obvious. there is only 1 sundin in the league. there are a few darcy tuckers.

  13.  

    I don’t think other teams would give Tucker more than $3M. He’s getting older, he’s smaller…it’s a St. Louis situation. A good season or two doesn’t blind GMs to the fact that soon someone is going to take off his head and his career will be over, or he’ll spend huge parts of the season on the IR list soon enough. I think Tucker is being kind of stupid asking for that much money, and should concentrate instead on getting a long term deal out of JR.

    As an Ottawa fan, I can definitely see the appeal of resigning Tucker. The guy is a hard worker, an agitator and can score goals. That’s a valuable trifecta – he’s one of the more hated Leafs with Sens fans for a reason. Personally, I think he’s a really unlikeable guy (and as for him being captain: captains don’t dive into the opposing players’ bench), but you can’t argue with results. If any team could get him for $2M or less, he’s worth it. JR will pay him the $3 – $3.5, mostly because of pressure of people in Toronto would don’t want to lose a leading scorer, but it won’t be the worst signing in the world.

  14.  

    Conrad:

    Not only will Tucker get well over $3M, he should get $4M.

    He would’ve scored 30 goals last year if not for injury and this year he looks set to break that mark as well. Add in his physical play and you’ve got a forward a lot of teams want.

    He probably won’t get a 4 year deal like he might want, but he’s definitely going to get far more than $3M. Did you see who signed for $3M this off-season?

  15.  

    Triumph:

    “He would’ve scored 30 goals last year if not for injury.”

    That’s my point. He’s a good player, everyone needs someone to get rebounds and who can take abuse in front of the net. But he’s getting older, and he’s not going to have less injury time, he’ll have more. He might get $3M-$4M out of JR because of pressure from Leaf fans, but what he should be doing is trying to get a long term deal at less money, because no one will sign him four or five years from now.

  16.  

    Conrad,

    He will get more than $3 million and it will have nothing to do with ‘pressure from Leaf fans’. It will have to do with the fact that he scored 30 goals in a league where 30 goal scorers are rare. Sergei Samsonov signed for 3.5 million – you don’t see Tucker getting more than this? I see him getting something around 12 million for 3 years if his season continues like this.

    I also think Tucker is the kind of player who can hang on in the NHL as a 3rd line player after his offensive skills/skating is gone. It’s obvious how much he loves the game. Barring major injuries I think Tucker is still in the league 5 years from now.

  17.  

    Yeah, I think that’s a fair assessment. $12 for 3 years sounds like what he might get. I still think he should push for a five year deal at $2 – $2.5, because once this next deal is up he’ll be another Travis Green…signing one year deals for between $1-$2 a year, traveling between different teams each season…

  18.  

    I meant $12M, not $12

  19.  

    Daniel said…”wow u guys are delusional… lol honestly.. resign tucker???? the leafs dont stand a chance at resigning him. y in gods name would he take 3.5 million a season???? RUSLAN SALEI GOT 3.5 this year. willie mitchell got the same. heck, the leafs gave kubina 5 million and he didnt even get 40 points, granted hes good defensively but my point is every GM in the league is overpaying for free agents. jason arnott got 4,5 million, marc savard got 5 million. tucker is on pace for 50 goals, at the end of the day, come free agency, teams dont care if the 50 goals are tap ins or empty net goals, they see thr #50 and they panic and offer crazy money. tucker can land 4-5 million as a free agent. teams seem to love his rough play, and with his goalscoring who wouldnt take him???

    anyway i wouldnt want tucker. he scores tap ins. u could just as easily pay someone 1/8th the price to stand beside the net and do the same. and tucker and a long term contract??? ouch. hes a small guy who plays a big game. he gets involved in too much rough stuff. so much potential for injury. not to mention like DJ mentioned his defensive play leaves much to be desired. and throw in the fact that while he pumps up his team with hits and whatnot, he brings on a lot of hatred from other teams. he does some pretty classless things, which is really sad. a guy like tucker has no honor whatsoever. i still dont understand how peca has forgiven him for that incredibly dirty hit in the playoffs. he ruined his year/ the isles actually had a good team and peca was the #1 guy. it was a blatant lot AND late hit, and the only reason it went unpunished was cuz it was the playoffs and the refs and no balls to call penalties, of any kind. and then there was the patrick eaves incident. now, i like fighting. its healthy. but at 5-1, when the game is all but over, y do u have to motivate your team? and to add to that, how does beating up on a little rookie count as motivating? and to add to that, how does turning him around and punching him, not even allowing him to realize whats happening, motivate the team?? and finally, how does RIDICULING a player from the penalty box motivate a team? its very classless. the biggest leafs homer ever, mr cherry, preaches fighting, but he loves to death players who scrap it out, and then acknowledge the other, tap him on the shoulder, anything that translates to “good fight. after all this is hockey. or no hard feelings”.

    in the end tucker is pretty classless and its in every organizations interest to get rid of players like that. especially original 6 teams who thrive on tradition.

    while tucker can be good, look at the cons. e will be expensive, hes one-dimensional, most of his goals are tap in empty netters, and if consider the fact, tucker or sundin… well its pretty damn obvious. there is only 1 sundin in the league. there are a few darcy tuckers.”

    umm i think your the one who’s delusional buddy… Tucker only scores tap ins and empty netters? lol. tucker has 16 goals, 11 on the powerplay…which are not empty netters nor tap ins. Side of the net , riffling a 100 mph slap shot top corner is his home…please watch a Leaf game or 2 before making comment as you did.

  20.  

    Don’t bother signing Tucker for 4m, sign Shane Doan (UFA) this summer and we will get a real first line winger for Sundin. The cap is now apparently suppose to go UP not down, Ted Saskin or whoever it was said it will go up 2.5-3 million, should be enough to get a quality winger to play beside Sundin. Plus Doan isn’t having that great of a season, 17games 5goals, 11 points. You can probably get him for 5 million a year. Our other options would be Ryan Smyth (who I don’t see leaving Edmonton), Edmonton has tons of cap space to re-sign him. Paul Kariya, possible. If we aren’t going to re-sign Peca then we should get Tomas Holmstrom (UFA), Sundin would probably love having a Team Sweden team mate next to him. Holmstrom is one of the most under-rated players in the league in my mind. One of Antropov or O’Neal will be lost to free agency (We can’t expect to sign all our UFA’s)

    Doan Sundin Holmstrom
    Steen Wellwood Ponilarovsky
    Suglabov Stajan Antropov/O’Neal
    Kilger Pohl Battaglia

    Now there is a cup-winning set of forwards.
    All we need now is Raycroft to lead the way :)

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