Coming into this offseason, GM Brian Burke promised to drastically overhaul the Maple Leafs roster, and he knew that the primary asset at his disposal was cap space: lots and lots of it. After handing out long-term contracts to Orr,Â Beauchemin, and Komisarek, he’s got a little under $3 million left to play with in order to add an impact top six forward. In an attempt to minimize the amount of outgoing “talent” via trade, it’s no secret that he’s been trying to corner GM’s of teams that are pressed right up against the cap.
Two seasons ago, interim GM Cliff Fletcher nearly managed to pry away promising young centre Jeff Carter away from the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline. At this year’s entry draft, there was plenty of buzz circulating about a potential Kessel for Kaberle swap, as the Bruins may find themselves unable to afford Kessel’s imminent raise as an RFA. Then for the last week or so, we’ve heard speculation and rumors from a variety of sources that Burke had perhaps shifted his sights toward the Blackhawks, once again a team suffering from the cap crunch. I’m sensing some sort of theme here.
Taking a brief glance at the cap numbers, one thing stood out to me. The team with the least amount of cap space in the NHL is the San Jose Sharks, with just over $200K. Unfortunately for them, they’re also the team with the least amount of players signed (only 18). The club has made a few iffy decisions this offseason, bringing back defenseman Ken Huskins to a log jam of a defense core, essentially ensuring that they will have a 7th defenseman earning over $1.5M. They also doled out a very generous $3.625M/year contract to forward Ryane Clowe, a 26 year old coming off a career high 71 games played and 52 points.
As I mentioned, while the Sharks are already very deep on the back end and would likely need to ship out a defenseman, the Leafs may still potentially make for an interesting fit as trading partners because they would be willing to absorb some of the more expensive contracts and would be able to send cheap alternatives in return. Here are a few of the names that may draw Burke’s attention:
Joe Thornton ($7.2M for 2 seasons) – The attraction here is fairly obvious. This is an Ontario boy, a leader, a perennial 80-100 point first line centre, and a franchise player still in his prime. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like this is a type of deal that would work for either side, considering Toronto’s primary trade chip is Tomas Kaberle, a player whom the Sharks do not need. Acquiring a 7-time All-Star and former MVP likely begins with a package headlined by premium young talent, a non-starter for the Maple Leafs.
Patrick Marleau ($6.3M for 1 season) – Not quite Joe Thornton, but this one could be a lot more feasible. The emergence of Joe Pavelski last season means that the Sharks would be able to deal away Marleau and still have an adequate solution to step into the second line centre role behind Thornton. Marleau bounced back from a disappointing ’07-’08 campaign, is a 3-time All-Star, and at the age of 29, is someone you can pencil in as a major part of your core for the next half decade. Talks would likely begin around NHL ready or near NHL ready forward prospects like Stefanovich and Tlusty.
Jonathan Cheechoo ($3M for 2 seasons) – When the Leafs got Tyler Bozak under contract, Burke explained that the one “positive” about being such a terrible team is that you can offer premium minutes to someone who may not get it elsewhere. Cheechoo took the league by storm with a brilliant 56 goal campaign ’05-’06, winning the Maurice Richard trophy as a 25 year old. Since then, his point and goal totals have been on a sharp decline every year, bottoming out with a 12 goal, 29 point injury shortened season last year. With very few if any true top six scorers on this current roster, it may be worthwhile to pick up a struggling, but very talented and still young (29) player to see if he’s got anything left in the tank. Dangling Matt Stajan or even a struggling winger for struggling winger swap involving Lee Stempniak, might be something to consider.
Ryane Clowe ($3.625M for 4 seasons) - Back on draft day, this seemed like the perfect piece to add to a young Leafs forward corps. A semi-established 26 year old winger, who seemed to be a late bloomer coming into his own with a breakout campaign. He’s young, he adds plenty of grit, he can muck it out in the corners, and he can be a key contributor offensively. Now after that rather large contract extension, I’m not so sure the reward is worth the risk. Would you rather have Clowe or Sharp at an additional $400K? This is only an avenue to consider if you can send back some questionable salary the other way, but I can’t imagine the Sharks being too receptive to that.
Looking over the Sharks roster, are there any other names that stand out to you as intriguing trade possibilities? Keep in mind that the Sharks are looking to add value contracts, not get rid of them, so it’s highly unlikely that they would entertain the notion of moving a Joe Pavelski or a Devin Setoguchi. As for Michalek, he’s a 24 year old locked into a reasonable long-term deal, so the asking price is going to be substantial.
Always a pleasure,