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.