I generally have had little expectations/hope that Burke can dramatically rebuild this team into a serious playoff contender this season because of the large contracts that nobody wants on the roster, but after some thinking, I think there is way he can do it. This is all pure speculation and hope, but don’t we all like to do that from time to time? And as Maple Leaf fans, hope is pretty much all we have right now.
When Burke traded for James van Riemsdyk a week ago he indicated that he expects to see him playing the wing, and in particular Mikael Grabovski’s wing. This is interesting because JVR is a left winger and the left winger for Grabovski the past couple of seasons has been Clarke MacArthur and they have seen substantial success together with Nikolai Kulemin on the right side. I figured it meant that either MacArthur or JVR would move to the right side, but the optimist in me is hoping that Burke actually has another plan.
That plan, I hope, is signing Alexander Semin as an unrestricted free agent. Semin is a true right wing with elite level offensive talent and as good as MacArthur has been for the Leafs, would be a significant upgrade. As good as the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin line has been at times over the past couple of seasons, a JVR-Grabovski-Semin line has the potential to be a true #1 line with 80 goal potential.
Signing Semin will not come cheap even though he is coming off a down year (in large part because he played with lower tier line mates like Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perrault and Jason Chimera) because I think there will always be teams looking to add high end talent and there is always the KHL option for Semin. But what it does mean is that Semin likely won’t command the mega long-term deals that Brian Burke refuses to hand out. It is quite possible, maybe quite likely, that you could get Semin on a 4 year deal at $6M per year. That is an increase of $2.75M over MacArthur’s salary but the benefits far out weigh the extra cost. Not only is Semin is significantly better than MacArthur it will mean not having to play someone (MacArthur or JVR) on the wrong wing and it also means that it makes MacArthur available to trade for other assets. In particular, a center for Kessel and Lupul.
I am not a fan of Bozak between Lupul and Kessel because he has no defensive abilities, just like Lupul and Kessel don’t. It’s a bad combination. I wish we had seen more of Connolly there last year. He isn’t an ideal option either but at least has some defensive capabilities, but he is undersized too so still isn’t a great option. So with that said, I think Burke needs to look elsewhere for the center for those two.
As far as pieces we could trade to acquire that center, well, they are actually quite abundant. MacArthur would definitely be available after a Semin signing. Kulemin could be traded as well and would be an attractive player to many teams. Kadri is a trade possibility as there won’t be an immediate opening on the top 2 lines. Franson is too but with Schenn traded would mean having to acquire another defenseman to replace him. A package of MacArthur, Kadri and maybe a prospect or draft pick should be able to land at least a second tier first line center, or maybe even a guy like Paul Stastny. With Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly in the mix at center for the Avalanche I can’t imagine why the Avalanche would want to keep Stastny and his $6.6M salary. Stastny wouldn’t be ideal because he isn’t great defensively but would definitely be an upgrade on Bozak. So, now let’s take a look at the top 2 lines if all this unfolded as I laid out.
Lupul – Stastny – Kessel
JVR – Grabovski – Semin
Ok, just reading that has me a little excited. Both those lines are capable of producing 80+ goals and the Grabovski line in particular is a defensively capable line as well. I have plugged some numbers into cap geek and came up with the following fictional lineup.
Joffrey Lupul ($4.250m) / Paul Stastny ($6.600m) / Phil Kessel ($5.400m)
James Van Riemsdyk ($4.250m) / Mikhail Grabovski ($5.500m) / Alexander Semin ($6.000m)
Matt Frattin ($1.200m) / Tyler Bozak ($1.500m) / Nikolai Kulemin ($2.750m)
Colby Armstrong ($3.000m) / David Steckel ($1.100m) / Mike Brown ($0.737m)
Matthew Lombardi ($3.500m) /
Dion Phaneuf ($6.500m) / Carl Gunnarsson ($1.325m)
Jake Gardiner ($1.117m) / Cody Franson ($2.000m)
John-Michael Liles ($3.875m) / Korbinian Holzer ($0.700m)
Mike Komisarek ($4.500m) /
James Reimer ($1.800m)
Ben Scrivens ($0.700m)
Darcy Tucker ($1.000m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $70,200,000; CAP PAYROLL: $69,303,333; BONUSES: $212,500
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $896,667
You will notice no MacArthur, Kadri (both hypothetically traded to Colorado for Stastny) or Connolly. I think Burke should be able to find a taker for Connolly as he is on just a 1 year contract with no long term salary cap ramifications (which some teams might find important with the uncertainty surrounding a new CBA) but will not get much in return. Dallas (to replace Ribiero), Calgary (to replace Jokinen) and Pheonix (to replace Langkow) seem like possibly destinations to me. For now I have also left Armstrong, Lombardi and Komisarek in the line and gone with Reimer/Scrivens in goal but some moves could be made with those guys to improve the defense or goaltending situation or improve on Bozak in the #3C position. With the moves up front, it does make trading for Luongo more unlikely, but if he gets traded to Florida, I’d be ok with acquiring Theodore to backup/mentor/support Reimer.
So Leaf fans, what do you think? Are you hopeful something like this could happen this off season, or pessimistic that Burke can’t/won’t be able to make any significant moves to improve the team?