Written in collaboration with Alec Brownscombe
There are still people who think that Burke should have been willing to, in order to land Brad Richards, join in on the cap circumvention party with a front loaded deal with bogus years attached at the end of it. Whether or not you agree with Burke’s business morals here is secondary; Â on the management side of things, its simply responsible and smart to not engage in these deals, especially with a new CBA looming. Basically, the league canâ€™t prove these players won’t play out the duration of their contracts until they, well, don’t. Then you can expect penalties, and only then can we argue those deals as smart or the complete opposite.
Our guess is that these teams are going to regret going postal in this yearâ€™s free agency come the next CBA. As Leafs fans we know, or should know, this lesson all too well, as the Leafs were burdened by older players on not so good contracts after the lockout. The Leafs are poised to potentially exploit these overpaying teams as soon as this fall, as Rick Dudley pointed out, when they find themselves in a cap crunch. As we all know, when you sign these deals, unless you’re Burke and you need to get rid of Blake, Toskala or Lebda (not a prime example but one that brings a smile to the face anyway), the solution is often separate from the problem. GMs are forced to trade off quality young assets alongside a salary dump in order to mend the situation and get their franchise back on track.
It seems Jeff Blair, in his latest piece in the G&M (see below), is suggesting the Leafs should be irresponsibly flexing their financial muscle, and should’ve done exactly that to win the Richards sweepstakes. However, there are two ways of going about using your financial advantage: the smart way and the Sather way. The Richards deal is an example of the latter. The Franson deal is the right way to use your financial position, and flexible cap situation, to “buy” an asset. Lombardi was on an uninsured contract and Nashvilleâ€™s budget couldn’t afford it. Burke picks up Franson because he can either look at Lombardi as a business expense if he goes on LTIR, or, if he does return, Burke hasn’t committed too much of his cap to say a Richards and can use his cap flexibility to take on Lombardi in order to get Franson. Of course, he will hope that Lombardi proves to not be just a salary makeweight but a useful asset like Lupul, who was acquired in a pretty similar situation – supposedly as the “price” to make the Gardiner for Beauchemin deal work.
The decision to sign Connolly as a stopgap may leave the leafs without a long term solution at number one center, but it does buy development time for this long term foundation to keep strengthening without handcuffing the team cap wise. As a result Burke is also still in a position to trade for a younger number one center on a better deal. Burke’s best trades have come in February/march when the pressure points create good trading situations. As things stand now, the big question everyone is asking is – Is this a playoff roster?
Jeff Blair of The Globe and Mail asks- Could Burke do more? – Our direct counterpoint regarding this article