Now what?

Now what?

The John Michael Liles buyout watch is officially over, for this year, anyway.

Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson are still RFAs, and the Leafs currently have just 4.9M in cap space to retain them both. While many have pointed out that Korbinian Holzer and Trevor Smith are accounted for on the Leafs capgeek roster even though neither figures to make the team, it also has to be said that the Leafs aren’t going to play with a roster holding the bare minimum of 12 forwards and six defensemen all year. Something has to give.

There are a few different ways things can turn out now.

The attention will still probably be on Liles because he sticks out as the bad contract on the team plus he’s not exactly a great fit anymore due to his contract and the surplus of defensemen in the Leafs organization. While the ideal situation would be trading him away for a draft pick and being rid of his contract to create 3.8M in cap space, that seems pretty unlikely right now.

However, the Leafs might be able to flip Liles to another team in exchange for another bad contract that isn’t as burdensome as Liles’ deal is. Teams that have the cap space and need help on defense include the Islanders, Panthers, Avalanche, Coyotes and the Capitals. Each team has a player or two that is sort of on the outs, or doesn’t have a great contract either that you can envision the Leafs swapping Liles for (Carkner, Bergenheim, Hunwick, Klesla, Chimera, for instance). Now, Liles had a really rough year being healthy scratched for 12 straight games, and scoring at a 28 point pace; if that’s not enough, he’s turning 33 this year, has three years left on his deal, and has a modified no trade clause. Moving him won’t be easy.

Failing trading Liles, the Leafs might be forced into a more unattractive alternative like trading Nikolai Kulemin or the unsigned Franson.

Frankly, trading Kulemin doesn’t make much sense because his trade value most likely doesn’t correlate strongly with his on-ice value. Most people see his 30-goal season and the fact that he hasn’t come anywhere close to that since (plus, he’s extremely important defensively for the shutdown line). That said, when you look at the rest of the forwards on the Leafs with high salaries, he’s the only guy that it would make sense for them to move based on the projected top six and Bolland being brought in this summer.

Of course, as mentioned, the Leafs could also decide to trade Franson. This season Gardiner will be up with the team full-time, they just signed Ranger, they seem to really like Fraser, and they might hope for a Liles bounce-back should they not be able to fit Franson in/trade Liles.

Franson had a huge season, finishing in the top 10 for scoring by a defenseman, but he didn’t even average 20 minutes a night so his value might be a little inflated right now. Defensemen who are worse than Franson currently such as Jordan Leopold, Douglas Murray, and Robyn Regehr each netted their teams multiple picks but their GMs moved them at the trade deadline. The August and September trade market isn’t exactly the same desperate beast it is in February. Logically, it’s easy to assume that if the Leafs were going to trade Franson because of his salary demands, they would have done it at the draft.

So, perhaps the Leafs believe they can fit Franson and Kadri under the cap. On the surface that might seem tough, but despite Franson’s season maybe the Leafs are looking at PK Subban’s two year bridge deal worth 2.8M per season. There isn’t much of a precedent with Franson because he only played a 48 game season, and although he’s always been touted as a talented defenseman his TOI and point totals have never been great. He’s only really starting to put it together now. In the last few seasons, Ryan Suter, Dennis Wideman and James Wisniewski each finished in the top ten in scoring (technically Suter and Wideman were tied for 10th together in league scoring) before cashing in huge as UFAs, but all of them had a past track-record of success and were UFAs as opposed to RFAs.

Obviously Franson’s in line for a raise, but never having this level of success over a full 82 game season nor averaging at least 20 minutes a night really should bring his cap number down to something lower than what many are expecting.

Then there’s Nazem Kadri, who had a monster 44 point season this year. As good as he was, his total body of work in the NHL reads to be 63 points in 99 games, which is a .64 points per game average. In the last few years there have been other bridge contracts around Kadri’s scoring range; for example, Matt Duchene had 150 points in 219 games (.68ppg) before signing a two year deal worth 3.5M/season, and Tyler Ennis had 92 points in 140 games (.66ppg) before signing a two year deal worth 2.8M/season. Considering Kadri doesn’t have a high TOI or large sample size to draw from, he could be getting something around the Ennis range as opposed to the Duchene range.

Failing a trade or signing Kadri and Franson to low deals, the Leafs could also work the minors and count their pennies. For instance, having TJ Brennan (600K) on the team instead of Korbinian Holzer (787K) saves them a few bucks, as would Troy Bodie(600K) beating out either Frazer McLaren (700K) or Colton Orr (925K). Although unlikely, the Leafs could also waive Liles which would save them nearly a million. If he is claimed that would really help the Leafs; the downfall is that, if he isn’t, that would probably kill any trade value he has whatsoever.

The bottom line really is that, while Kadri and Franson were huge pieces for the Leafs last season and hopefully in the future, they aren’t in positions to command huge money yet. That 4.9M seems a little small to fit both in, but it might be closer than many people are giving it credit for.

Tuesday morning links…

30 Teams in 30 Days
OHL prospect wiz Brock Otten broke down the Leafs OHL prospects, of which there are nine. I really liked what he had to say about Percy and Broll in particular.

Bulking up for any available position
Kyle catches up with Joe Colborne who has interestingly gained nearly 10 pounds this summer, a summer after growing another inch. With a healthy hand again and a filled in body, I’m expecting a good year from big Joe.

Bernier saviours opportunity to battle Reimer for no. 1 job
Bernier predictably talks about how he’s excited to battle it out for the number one gig and, you know, actually having a chance at it. Now, I did think it was interesting that he said he tries to stay on his feet as long as possible because that’s a big difference from what we’ve seen in net these past few years.

Who is Dave Nonis?
Steve Simmons had a nice piece on the man that is Dave Nonis. There’s nothing here in regards to team building or his philosophy, but it’s interesting to read his journey.

Curious case of Jim Ralph
I’m a fan of Jim Ralph and it’s great if he is indeed going to return next year, but geeze what a weird situation.

Farewell column: This is the business for me
Dave Perkins’ final column was on Friday, but I still felt it was worth posting. Happy retirement, Dave.