Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What the Leafs Need Most

You think you know what the answer is, but you're wrong. It isn't help at forward -- not yet. Forwards are the end game but let's start at the beginning.

What the Leafs need most at this moment, above all, is to divest themselves of some professional contracts. The NHL has set up a 50 contract maximum that teams can carry. By my count, the Leafs have 49 professional contracts and have yet to re-sign Hanson. If Hanson gets locked in, they will have their maximum number of pro contracts and cannot take on any more players. For a team in the midst of a rebuild this is among the worst things that could happen.

The Leafs have cap space. They have ownership with deep pockets and they could conceivably take on dollars in exchange for futures. All of this is moot however if they fill their quota of pro-contracts.

Most of these contracts aren't of the 'established NHL player' variety and many are $600,000 or below. Attaching these AHL-level contracts to the Kaberle deal (or whatever other deal Brian Burke makes) is going to be critical to the team's success moving forward.

The other option is sending these 'established NHL player' contracts to teams that are struggling to meet the cap floor such as the Islanders. There aren't many contracts that meet these criteria that the Leafs would be looking to move for moving's sake. By my count, Sjostrom is really the only true candidate for this but his price tag of $750,000 and his proficiency on the penalty kill mean that this option of shipping pro-contracts for effectively nothing is probably not one that Burke would pursue.

There are a handful of minor league guys that have real NHL potential; Kadri, Mueller, Holzer, Aulie, these are the kinds of minor leaguers you love. Is Darryl Boyce at 26 a guy that should be occupying a minor league contract during a rebuild?

Many think that a top six forward might be too steep a price for Kaberle and that despite Burke's stated position of only trading him for the asking price, you have to think that an attractive package of prospects would move him to change his position. The problem is that if we can't attach some professional level contracts to the deal then any Kaberle move would have to be one-for-one.

Moreover, having professional contracts available provides Burke the opportunity to do what he's done with the Bozaks, Rynnas', Muellers and Gustavssons of this world. He can pursue attractive but unsigned free agents en masse, fire a lot of bullets, and hope that some of them hit. As things stand right now that option is temporarily unavailable and with no first round draft pick next season, it's the only avenue open to the Leafs if they want to acquire young, affordable top-six talent.

Do I think this is dire? No. I think the number of $500,000 to $600,000 contracts that we have at our disposal will allow us to shift players as needed to complete whatever trades Burke chooses to make. Where it could be problematic is in the signing of free agents where no player movement occurs. I'm sure this has already been thoroughly considered by Leafs management and that they have a plan in place should they be able to attract another Bozak-type. That said, it's another factor to consider when players like Tim Kennedy hit the waiver wire in early August.


Tom/NB said...

According to CapGeek the buds have 48 contracts. Regardless, your point is sound. The leafs can always waive a minor contract if a better prospect opportunity arises. With Slightly over $2m in cap space ($5.5 when/if the Jeff Finger contract gets buried in the low - low minors...) the leafs need to be very thoughful about just whom they sign. they need a top 6 forward (or 2!) and especially need a Centre - Savard might fit the bill but: A- its $28 mill over the next 7 years B- concussion C: B-town will most likely not want to take Grabbo back in the trade...

Curt S said...

Personally, I'm steering clear of Savard unless I get the go-ahead from ownership to bury him if his contract becomes a burden down the road. His concussion history scares me and his contract is simply too long in my opinion.

Bone said...

I see this superfluity of contracts as an asset to Burke. The Leafs have a variety of players at most positions that likely can help a team in the long run. We can see that the Leafs have an excess of players on Center (Irwin, Zigomantis, Stefanovich, etc) on top of Bozak Kadri Grabovski and Mitchell. Also, On RW they have Mike Brown or Crabb on the bubble fighting for a spot on top of Kessel, Versteeg, Armstrong and Orr that have already keyed a spot. While there is always room for them in the minors, these players will likely attract teams like Dallas who are dying to grab some cheap tickets in exchange for higher salary.
These contracts to me are an asset and are going to to be easier to unload than you think. I'm not really sure if you're arguing that these contracts are positive or negative but I gave my opinion nonetheless.

Curt S said...

@ bone

Having assets is never a bad thing, I agree with you there. My problem with the SPC situation is that some of these contracts are 'never-will-be's. Being so close to the contract maximum mean that two-for-one deals that bring back salary from a team like a Dallas are more difficult to navigate. As I said, I think there are enough bottom dollar guys under contract that this shouldn't be a huge issue from a trade perspective.

Where we run into problems are waivers or the signing of free agents. Because there is no player movement involved, it is strictly the addition of a contract that pushes us to the edge of our SPC limit. Unless we shed some of them (which we should probably try and do soon) then we're going to have a hard time pursuing this year's Tyler Bozak.

Destroyko said...

The Oilers had this problem for the last two seasons and it hurt them badly both in NHL and AHL depth. Ridding themselves of those never-will-be contracts has allowed them to add useful bottom-six players like Colin Fraser (trade) and Ryan Jones (waivers) without sending any contracts back the other way.

Tim Kennedy could be the Leafs' Ryan Jones if they had contract space. Not essential but nice to have.

Not sure if I misread but for greater certainty - only one-way NHL and two-way NHL/AHL contracts count against the 50. AHL-only deals are not included.