This is the first of several posts I will dedicate to what I expect the Leafs will do this upcoming off season. In this post I outline where the Leafs are at now and what holes need to be addressed over the summer months.
The Leafs ended the 2010-11 season on a high note being backstopped by solid goaltending from James Reimer and an improved offense including significant offensive contributions from Dion Phaneuf for the first time in a Leaf uniform and Nazem Kadri among others. This late season surge has given Leaf fans renewed optimism entering the 2011-12 season but before we get to the 2011-12 season we need to take a look at what the Leafs might do during the summer and before we get to that lets take a look at the team that finished the season. After all the trades made at the trade deadline, this is the lineup that finished the 2010-11 season.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Joffrey Lupul||Nazem Kadri||Phil Kessel|
|Clarke MacArthur*||Mikhail Grabovski||Nikolai Kulemin|
|Fredrik Sjostrom**||Tyler Bozak*||Colby Armstrong|
|Colton Orr||Tim Brent**||Mike Brown|
|Jay Rosehill**||Darryl Boyce**||Joey Crabb**|
|Dion Phaneuf||Luke Schenn*|
|Keith Aulie||Carl Gunnarsson*|
|Mike Komisarek||Matt Lashoff*|
*Restricted Free Agent
**Unrestricted Free Agent
There are essentially 6 restricted free agents that need to be re-signed and an additional 5 unrestricted free agents that decisions need to be made on.
Restricted Free Agents
James Reimer – Maybe the most important RFA to be re-signed is James Reimer. In Reimer the Leafs hope to have finally found a true #1 goalie but as of yet Reimer can’t claim to be that having only started 35 NHL games. I expect Reimer to get a similar deal to the one Gustavsson signed (2 years at 1.35M/year) after his first season in the NHL in which he started 39 games. Now Reimer performed better so might deserve a little more but I think 2 years at $1.5M/year is reasonable.
Luke Schenn – If Reimer isn’t the most important RFA to be re-signed, Luke Schenn is. The question is, what is he worth? The New York Rangers re-signed Marc Staal to a 5 year deal at an average salary of $3.975M per season last summer. It could be argued that Staal is a better defenseman than Schenn but the difference would not be great so I’ll suggest that $4M/year is an upper limit on Schenn at this point in time. I think Schenn’s contract will probably come in around $3.5M/year on a three year deal or a more Staal-like $4M/year deal if the contract length was 5 years.
Carl Gunnarsson – I like Gunnarsson as a defenseman and he has done some really good things in his brief NHL career. He has good long term upside but as of right now is still not yet proven. I think a fair price for him is a 2 year deal at $1.25M/year and lets see what he can do in a full time, possibly top four, role.
Clarke MacArthur – I wrote an article a month or so ago on the progression of the Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur line in which I suggested that MacArthur might not have as much value as we think. Brian burke was listening to trade offers on MacArthur at the trade deadline and I think he will continue to do the same, especially if MacArthur is asking for $3M/year type money. I personally don’t think he is worth that. He isn’t that great defensively and while he was important as a playmaker for Grabovski and Kulemin, I don’t consider him someone that isn’t easily replaced and I think Kadri might be good replacing MacArthur on the wing if the Leafs manage to find a proven #1 center. If he is asking for much more than $2.0M/year I’d seriously consider trading him.
Tyler Bozak – I am not quite sure what to make of Bozak yet. He has some offensive skill, but not good enough to be a first line center. He has shown some ability defensively and on the PK but his defensive ratings are still quite poor (HARD+ of 0.816 over past 2 seasons is actually pretty bad) but he is the Leafs best faceoff guy (54.6%) and I think the potential is there that he can be a solid 2-way third line center. As such I would like to see him re-signed and see if he can excel in that role. A fair value might be a 2 year deal at somewhere around $1-1.25M/yr, certainly no more.
Matt Lashoff – I liked what I saw from Lashoff in his short time with the Leafs at the end of last season. In limited ice time over the past 4 seasons he has a weak 0.611 HARO+ rating but a very solid 1.288 HARD+ rating. I’d like to see him as the #6/7 defenseman and see what he can do. He has good size and skates well and as a former first round pick was once highly thought of. He might be one of those guys that just needs to be given a chance and he’ll be cheap so why not.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Tim Brent – I like the job that Brent did defensively (HARD+ was a good 1.064) and he is a solid face off guy (52.0%) and puts in an honest effort every night. Brent is the ideal fourth line center and I’d be willing to offer him a 2 or 3 year deal at $700-750K, not unlike the deal that Mike Brown received.
Fredrik Sjostrom – It’s tough to say what to do with Sjostrom. He spent most of last season as a third line winger and is a quality defensive player (HARO+ of 1.220 in 2010-11 and 1.032 over last 4 years) but I’d like to see some improvement in the offensive contribution of the Leafs third line and that means replacing Sjostrom. So then the question is, does Sjostrom fit in on the 4th line with Tim Brent and Mike Brown? I would suggest yes, but Burke would really prefer a tough guy there such as Colton Orr so it is difficult to see Sjostrom fitting in.
Jay Rosehill, Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb – All three of these guys are kind of in the same boat. All can contribute in their own ways and all showed some usefulness last season but none are guys that you want to commit a roster spot to. As a result they only come back under 2-way contracts and have them fight for ice time as they did last year.
JS Giguere – I like Giguere and if I was confident he would be healthy I would be more than happy having him as the backup of the Leafs. Problem is, it is difficult to be certain of that. Furthermore, comments publicly made by Brian Burke indicates that he intends to have Gustavsson back in 2011-12 so that pretty much leaves Giguere out of the Leafs plans.
If I were in charge of planning the Leafs lineup for next season I would enter the off season with the following projected lineup including th
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Joffrey Lupul||???||Phil Kessel|
|Nazem Kadri||Mikhail Grabovski||Nikolai Kulemin|
|???||Tyler Bozak||Colby Armstrong|
|Colton Orr||Tim Brent||Mike Brown|
|Jay Rosehill||Darryl Boyce||Joey Crabb|
|Dion Phaneuf||Luke Schenn|
|Keith Aulie||Carl Gunnarsson|
|Matt Lashoff||Brett Lebda|
Now let’s assume the following contracts for resigning free agents:
You will note that I have left Clarke MacArthur off the list. Personally, I have my doubts whether he will be back or whether the Leafs should want him back. If the intention is to give Kadri a full time rosters pot next season and hopefully add a proven first line center from outside the organization, it is difficult to see where MacArthur ends up. I really don’t see MacArthur as third line material so that isn’t an option. The only other option is have Kadri on the third line with Bozak and Armstrong and keep MacArthur with Grabovski and Kulemin. As I said above, a lot depends on MacArthur’s asking price for a new contract as well as what his trade value is. He could be used as valuable trade bait. My gut just tells me that if Burke really wanted MacArthur for 2011-12 they would have found a way to get him signed before the trade deadline and would not have made MacArthur available at the trade deadline. But MacArthur was made available and Burke has showed no eagerness to re-sign him so that leaves me feeling that Burke explore other options before making a commitment to MacArthur. So lets leave MacArthur in limbo for now.
So, leaving MacArthur out of the proposed 2011-12 lineup and using the proposed contract values outlined above, the Leafs total committed salary cap for the 2011-12 season would be approximately $47M. With the salary cap expected to be as much as $63.55M for next season the Leafs could have as much as $16.5M in available salary cap space, though more realistically if they want to leave some breathing room $14-15M is probably their off season budget. That should be ample enough money for them to find a first line center, a third line winger and a #5/6 defenseman. In future articles I’ll outline some of my preferred options for each of these positions.