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Even with news breaking this afternoon of Ilya Kovalchuk’s new $60 million contract extension (potentially) with the New Jersey Devils, this 2010 free agency period has been one of the most uneventful and slow-developing offseasons in recent memory. The reason being? Despite a mediocre at best free agent group, there simply isn’t enough money to pay these guys what they’re probably worth. As one unnamed NHL General Manager put it last week: “The teams with cap don’t have cash and the teams with cash don’t have cap”. The Maple Leafs however, are fortunate enough to have both, and have the opportunity to exploit the market to their advantage.

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Okay, so my math may be a little off.  It’s Canada Day weekend, there shouldn’t be any arithmetic.  Unless, of course, you are an NHL general manager, than you better hope you have your math hat on.  A quick note to say I hope our fellow Canadian readers, as well as our loyal readers situated the south had an enjoyable holiday weekend.

Now, let’s divulge into what has so far been a somewhat reserved free agency period, One timer style.

–The big news coming out of free agency this hour is this report out of the L.A. Times that indicate the Los Angeles Kings are quite far apart on signing Ilya Kovalchuk. While they may not be out of the running entirely, Helene Elliott suggests the prospects are quite dim.  So where does Kovalchuk go?  The Islanders reportedly seem to be the only team willing to offer him the term he is looking for (rumoured to be 10 million for at least 10 years) but are there other suitors?  What about New Jersey?  Toronto?  One would think that although Burke would love to pull off the major move of free agency, the reasons Kings GM Dean Lombardi is balking about bringing in Kovy (term) is likely the same reasons Burkie has reservations.

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John Mitchell joins Nik Kulemin as the second Leaf to re-sign with the club today.  After initially not being qualified by Toronto, Mitchell hit unrestricted free agency with an understanding that Brian Burke intended to offer him a new contract.  The purpose of waiting was financially-driven as it allowed Toronto to save at the very least 250,000 on Mitchell because he was not qualified.

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The first thing that became clear as I was tallying up the results after Burke’s first UFA pickup was that a lot of MLHS’ers saw the Colby Armstrong signing coming. 76 of you in fact. 13 of those 76 (Beathoven, moimoi28, Gordie Orr, dlb, xXGods SoldierXx, 2 Minutes, Sugar Hill, Sk8trBoi, Doorman, CbtSpr, JD, CarltontheBear, Tiguak) predicted the length and value of contract within 100K, some predicting 3 years, $3 million on the nose. While the majority of those who had Armstrong signing in Toronto had him netting a contract more in the 2.5 million/year range, there were almost as many predicting Armstrong would receive the $3 million he got or a shade above… which indicates the supposed “Finger-like” overpayment wasn’t all that unexpected. Around these parts at least, many knew the price going in.

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This is your chance to rise above the rest as the most knowledgeable MLHS user outside of Alec Brownscombe and win the authentic new Leafs jersey in the process.

Here is how the contest will work:

Pick three signings (not including re-signings) you think Brian Burke will make this off-season and include a prediction for both the length and the salary figure of the contracts. List the salary per annum. Should the contract be front or back loaded, we will use the pro-rated cap hit figure as the correct salary (in any cases where the salary and cap hit differ, we will use the cap hit). The winner will be decided via a points-system:

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Brian Burke is a pretty smart guy. Months ago, he explained to the fans and media that while the current free agent market is weak, it could get stronger as cap strapped teams are unable to submit qualifying offers to some prominent restricted free agents. One such player could be Andrew Ladd, and there could be several other names in play as well. Follow me as a I crunch some numbers to figure out why.

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According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com, the Toronto Maple Leafs will not be pursuing soon-to-be unrestricted free agent sniper Iyla Kovalchuk. LeBrun cites a quote from Leaf GM Brian Burke stating that the club would not “be involved in that race”. Although this could theoretically be a ploy to avoid tampering charges, Burke has always been very up front about his intentions and could’ve easily either skipped the question or answered with a generic “we will explore every possibility to improve our club.” Thus, I would be willing to bet my bottom dollar that Kovalchuk does not end up in a Maple Leaf uniform next season.

In the same article, LeBrun provides a brief update on the Kaberle trade talks, explaining that the number of inquiring teams has reached the double digits, though no serious offer has been made of yet. The only other high end puckmoving defenseman available is unrestricted free agent Sergei Gonchar, though rumors of his demand for a 3 year contract at age 36 could scare off potential suitors.

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According to TSN, it’s looking like the 2010 free agent class could get a boost this summer when Hurricanes’ winger Ray Whitney hits the market on July 1st. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford is less than optimistic about his chances at re-signing the talented playmaker:

“I think it will be difficult with where he will be at, contract-wise. I expect him to go into July. It appears that’s the way it’s going to go.”

Could Whitney provide an interesting fit for the Maple Leafs?

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Whitby born, Ryan Hamilton has signed a 1-year, 2-way deal worth $500k (at NHL level) with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hamilton, who came to the Leafs organization in a trade with the NHL Wild (AHL Aeros) during the 08/09 season, was scheduled to test the free agent market if unable to resign with Toronto.

Though he finished the season leading the team in goals and among the top-five in assists, Hamilton’s contribution to the Toronto AHL club is far deeper than what can be recorded on score card.

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While the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing and continue to provide us with some fantastic moments of triumph, the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs are now forced to once again shift their focus to off ice activities.

And so too has Leafs brass.

Despite his team sitting on the sidelines, Leafs GM Brian Burke made quick work of two signing he was keying in on, signing goaltenders Jonas Gustavsson and newcomer Jussi Rynnas to contracts.  Continuing with the in-house theme, Burke will now certainly turn his attention to Nikolai Kulemin, if he hasn’t done so already.

And while we are seemingly quite far away this point, it won’t be long before the draft and subsequent free agency period rolls around.