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Leafs’ Off-Season Outlook

Posted By Ben Fisher On Jun 10 2010 @ 12:34 pm In Toronto Maple Leafs | No Comments

The NHL season has now reached its conclusion, with Chicago’s Stanley Cup win establishing the Leafs’ 43-year Cup drought as the league’s longest. Since my colleague Mike recently weighed in with a terrific look at all current Leaf matters (you can read it here [1]), I figured I might as well offer my two cents with an off-season outlook.

Tomas Kaberle
Never one to overplay his hand, Brian Burke recently spoke of talking to numerous teams with interest in the Leafs long-time blue liner, but did not name names and continued to maintain that the team would be happy to hold onto Kaberle unless they find the right deal. Burke has hinted that the right deal is more likely to include a young skater (probably a forward) than a draft pick.

If there are, indeed, multiple offers on the table, Burke is in a position of power and could make the most of his biggest piece of trade bait.

Nikolai Kulemin
While he’s dangled Kaberle, Burke has been far more forthright with his thoughts on Kulemin’s contract negotiations and, more specifically, the restricted free agent’s contract demands. The two sides are reportedly about $1 million / year off, with the Leafs looking to secure the winger for $2-2.5 million while Kulemin is seeking $3-3.5 million annually. In response to demands that Burke didn’t feel were based in reality, Burke openly opined that he had been a first-line winger “by default” and should not be paid as such.

It’s an interesting negotiation, given that neither side has much leverage. Kulemin won’t sniff $3 million anywhere else (unless maybe the KHL comes calling?) considering the Leafs have more cap room than most, while a team short on young, skilled forwards can ill-afford letting a soon-to-be 24-year old coming off a breakout season walk away for nothing. There’s no reason for Leafs Nation to panic yet, but it is a situation that bears watching moving forward.

Free agency
The free agent period opens on July 1, but Burke has already kept busy by securing G Jussi Rynnas and D Korbinian Holzer to entry level deals. While both players could pay off down the road, they happen to play positions that appear to be set heading into next season, so neither are expected to make much of an impact in ’10-11. However, there are unrestricted free agents set to hit the market who certainly could make that impact next year.

Ilya Kovalchuk looks like the gem of this year’s market and the Leafs could be players, but how willing should Burke be to bestow a long-term, big money deal upon a player with possible character issues who hasn’t won anything in eight NHL seasons? He didn’t exactly lead the Devils to new heights after coming over at the deadline, did he? It’s also hard to envision Patrick Marleau in blue and white, given his icy relationship with former Sharks coach and current Leafs bench boss Ron Wilson. Meanwhile, guys like Alex Frolov and Tomas Plekanec would be nice additions, but hardly game-changers.

Where Burke could get creative is in the restricted free agent market, which boasts a strong crop of young, established talent. You have to figure that guys like Bobby Ryan, Andrew Ladd and Joe Pavelski will merit some interest on the part of the Buds. The challenge is in the compensation for a team that can’t afford to throw around any more first-round draft choices. Maybe Luke Schenn could pique the interest of a team like the Ducks?

Captain Phaneuf
It appears to be one of the worst kept secrets in hockey. Speculation has been rampant since the regular season about the team preparing to hand the coveted ‘C’ over to Phaneuf, and now it appears that the Leafs will use a press conference next Thursday (July 17) to make the announcement. My question: is this an award for the work he had already done with the team, or an incentive with the aim of keeping him in check through the onus of leadership responsibilities?

The Draft
For Leaf fans, the June 25 event means little aside from finding out which of Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin Toronto will be missing out on, thanks to the Phil Kessel trade. But it’s hard to envision Burke sitting idly by and waiting for pick No. 62 to come around. More likely, he’s pissed about finding his team in the situation that it’s in and is prepared to do something about it.

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