Leafs Need More Offence
If the Toronto Maple Leafs hope to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs next season, the franchise must now focus on further bolstering the top six.
While the acquisition of Kris Versteeg certainly helps, and Colby Armstrong could potentially step into a top six role to add a physical presence with some offensive upside, the Leafs are still in need of more pure goal-scoring ability up front. Options are scarce in the free agent market, but the likes of Matthew Lombardi (although reports indicate he is seeking upwards of $4 million per season), Alexander Frolov and Ilya Kovalchuk are still available.
The Leafs have $7.05 million in cap space and must still re-sign restricted free agents Nikolai Kulemin and Christian Hanson. However, Burke has options to free up some cap space should he decide to a) bury Jeff Finger’s $3.5 million contract in the minors, or b) trade Tomas Kaberle and his $4.25 million contract.
That would give the Leafs a total of as much as $14.8 million in cap space. However, it is likely Finger remains on the team if Kaberle is shipped for a top-six forward, as prospect Keith Aulie probably needs more American Hockey League seasoning before making the jump to the NHL. The Leafs will have to afford space for Nazem Kadri‘s contract in the case that he proves up to an NHL roster spot, and leave some wiggle room out of good practice. Regardless, the Leafs have options they must exercise if they wish to complete the arduous task of jumping from 15th to eight place in the Eastern Conference.
With a slew of defensemen getting lucrative contracts today, Kaberle’s value has risen, which means his chances of getting traded have also increased. Obviously, this is great news for Leafs fans hoping to add another top-six forward. Considering all the marquee defensemen were nabbed, expect a number of general managers to come knocking on Burke’s door. Patience is a virtue.
However, should Burke decide to retain Kaberle, then it’s in his best interest to bury Finger’s contract in the minors and make a pitch for one of the remaining free agents. Lombardi could be a short-term fix for the team’s lack of depth at center. Although if his demands are too high, then perhaps adding a player such as Frolov to play alongside Kessel, with Versteeg in the middle, could work.
If Burke wants the Leafs to compete next season, I hope he has more up his sleeve then simply adding more “depth players.”
That’s not to say I’m not satisfied with what Burke has done. I think he’s worked miracles when you consider just how bad the Leafs were a few years ago.
Day 1 a success. Let’s see what happens next.