Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cut off a Finger to Save the Season: What to do With Our New Found Cap Space

Jeff Finger is one of the highest paid defensemen in the AHL (thank you, Sheldon Souray and Wade Redden) but at least he isn't one of the highest paid people in our pressbox.

With Finger freeing up $3.5 million in cap space, Brian Burke signalled to the rest of the league that he's "open for business".  Send us your overpaid, your cap burden, your salary handcuffs - but send us something we can use while you're at it.

The timing for the Leafs couldn't be better.  After a remarkably strong start, the team has stumbled of late and hasn't looked all that promising while doing it.  Ron Wilson has shaken up the top six a little bit, shifting Kulemin back to the top line where he finished last season and moving Versteeg to the second unit where he and Grabovski can fight over who can skate around with the puck the longest.

While the shakeup might help the team to snap out of its funk, the longer term needs for the Maple Leafs are clear - we need top six forwards.  Realistically, no team is going to be throwing them at us though.  What we'll be hoping for is someone that has underperformed and is overpaid. 

If we assume that we're unlikely to get a big upgrade in the top-six without parting with significant assets, then what we would be targeting changes significantly.  The best option for the Leafs is likely going to be some kind of specialist and in my opinion what they need more than anything is help on the powerplay.

At 12.5% the Leafs' powerplay could stand to be much better and casual observation suggests that the forwards are to blame.  The team is entering the zone with relative ease but as the game against the Flyers showed, the book on killing penalties against the Leafs is to pressure the defense heavily and to make the forwards beat you.  This simple formula has led to weak numbers from Dion Phaneuf which is putting added pressure on the captain. 

As much as Ron Wilson would have us believe that a defenseman's job isn't to put up points, to some extent points should be expected from Dion Phaneuf.

Burke told AM640 yesterday that teams were starting to contact the Leafs about their available cap space.  It's difficult to speculate on what types of deals have been offered to the GM but I think we can safely assume that at this point rival teams are looking to divest themselves of their worst cap headaches first. 

This is where the tough calculus comes into play.  The longer Burke waits to make a move, the more desperate they will be to get below the cap but the longer he waits, the longer the Leafs will have to wait to bring in a piece that can help them to win games. 

It's safe to say that Burke is significantly better at his job than I am, and certainly has access to far greater information.  When the deal comes and who will be involved is anyone's guess but rest assured, it is coming.


Anonymous said...

Is there a potential list of candidates that are potentials for leafs to pick up?

Curt S said...

Leafschatter has a post about the possibility of Blake Wheeler (http://leafschatter.blogspot.com/2010/10/stop-presses-blake-wheeler-is-available.html)

It's too tough to speculate on something like this without knowing who's available I would just be blue-skying.

Leafschatter said...

This is one of my two favourite posts. Maplestirup has the other.


You both astutely mark a milestone for Toronto Maple Leafs where it is no longer necessary for the team to take someone's cap garbage in order to improve.

Great call and observation.