With 10 potential NHL ready players on the blue line, and only prospect Luke Schenn being waiver exempt, it’s clear that the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to have to make a few moves to get down to the seven D-men they plan on carrying during the regular season.
If top prospect Schenn gets the standard nine game look and is returned to his junior team, the Leafs would be down to nine D-men.
Given the Leafs recent move towards players with more size and grit, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ian White moved, which would put the team at eight defensemen.
That leaves defencemen Pavel Kubina and/or Bryan McCabe as prime trade bait for the re-building Leafs.
Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher and Coach Ron Wilson have both openly stated that McCabe is not in the team’s plans for the upcoming season, making McCabe, despite his no movement clause (NMC), the more likely of the two D-men to be moved.
If it’s Kubina on the trading block, the Leafs have a small window of opportunity to close the deal. Kubina’s contract permits the Leafs to trade him between the NHL Entry Draft and August 15. After that, Kubina’s no trade clause kicks in, effectively pulling Kubina out of the trade market.
McCabe is due to receive a $2M bonus in September (his salary for this season is $4.15M+$2M bonus for $6.15 while his cap hit is $5.75M). It's likely safe to presume that most teams would be far more inclined to deal for McCabe once that bonus has been paid by the Leafs.
Cap Hits, Chemistry and Conferences
If trying to trade McCabe with his NMC wasn’t challenging enough, a look at the cap situation across the NHL quickly reduces the number of possible trading partners.
Several teams are either right at the cap max or so close to it they likely can’t take on McCabe’s $5.75 M cap hit.
Cap issues pretty much rule out: Anaheim, Boston, Calgary, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Montreal, New Jersey, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay.
Nashville, Phoenix and St. Louis have the extra cap space but are likely too constrained by internal team budgets to take on McCabe’s $4.15M salary.
Sure, the Leafs could take back a hefty salary in return, but it would have to pretty much be a dollar-for-dollar trade with any of these clubs, and given the log jam on D that precipitated this deal it would have to be a big-money forward.
It’s difficult enough to find a trade partner never mind trying to balance out the salaries going each way, so I don’t think trades with any of these teams are going to happen (but I could be way way off on this one).
McCabe’s rather free-wheeling style probably eliminates Minnesota and Florida outright too.
That’s 17 teams out of contention. (Of course, having said that on the record, the Leafs will definitely trade McCabe to one of these teams).
Then there’s the whole issue of location.
McCabe has some personal/home life issues that have led many to conclude that he would only accept a trade to a team in the Northeastern United States.
Teams with cap space, but a west coast bias, include Colorado (still need to re-sign Sakic), Columbus, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose and Vancouver.
Colorado already has seven pretty solid NHL D-men under contract.
Columbus just acquired Mike Commodore, Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backstrom and, despite signing Kristian Huselius, still need help upfront.
The Sharks have plenty of cap room, but having picked up UFA Rob Blake, the club now has 10 D signed to NHL contracts so there’s not much room for an additional blue liner there.
Similarly, with Lubomir Visnovsky and Sheldon Souray under contract in Edmonton there’s little to no chance a deal for McCabe is going to happen with the Oil.
That takes 21 teams off the table.
So What’s Left?
Given McCabe’s alleged preference is to play close to home that leaves just six teams in the east as potential trading partners, two of which are division rivals.
With just five D-men under contract, the Thrashers need to acquire some defensive depth. They have lots of cap space and could really use the PP help that McCabe would bring. The challenge will be finding the right return for McCabe as the Thrashers are rather thin upfront and don’t have the greatest prospect pool. It’s also not clear that McCabe would accept a move that far south.
The Sabres have just six D-men under contract for 2008-09 (having traded Brian Campbell at the deadline and losing Dimitri Kalinin as a UFA to the Rangers). Rumour has it that Sabres GM Darcy Regier has contacted 40 year old former Sabres D-man Teppo Numminen about a possible return (yikes) so there might just be an opening for McCabe (who has a knack for scoring last second game winning goals for the Sabres).
While the Sabres do have lots of young players to possibly complete a deal with the Leafs, they may have budget issues that are too large to take on McCabe’s cap hit. The Sabres have already committed $42M in salaries and they still have to qualify Steve Bernier and Daniel Paille.
Furthermore, McCabe’s multi-year deal might also interfere with the Sabres’ ability to sign a slew of key players who are slated to become UFAs and RFAs in 2009-2010.
The Canes do have about $9M in existing cap space. Unfortunately, they already have eight D-men under contract including PP guys Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen.
The Hurricanes and Leafs do have a history as trading partners, but I have a hard time seeing McCabe squeezing into the Canes blueline or under their budget.
The fish sticks have just six D-men under contract, but more importantly, the club has only nine forwards signed. There may be lots of cap space in Nassau County but most of it is going to be directed to finding another handful of forwards.
There is no doubt the Isles could use some help on their moribund PP; however, GM Garth Snow is on the record as saying he wants a pick from the Leafs in return for taking on McCabe’s contract. If that’s the opening bargaining position, I’m not sure where or how you even start to build a counter offer (how about a lower draft pick?)
With Wade Redden signing in the Big Apple and Commodore heading out west, there is a roster spot or two open on D in the city that fun forgot (or to be more precise, in the suburbs of the city that fun forgot).
The Sens do have cap room, but rumours of Dan Boyle being moved to the Sens might preclude a McCabe deal. I don’t see this one happening, but then again Raycroft got an NHL contract so anything is possible…
The Capitals have about $8M in cap space, but I have no idea if their budget permits them to hit the cap max. They also need to sign four RFAs to new deals and already have seven defensemen under contract.
The Caps do have a number of young forwards and prospects that the Leafs could ask for in return for McCabe and Washington isn’t too far from the McCabe’s Long Island HQ. I wonder if Fletcher and McPhee have much of a history together…
Out west there appear to be just two options…
Los Angeles Kings
The team has just four D-men under contract and a whopping $28M in available cap space. Their PP quarterback Rob Blake was just signed by San Jose so there is an opening for a guy like McCabe.
As previously noted, the Kings are likely 4,000 km too far west for McCabe. The Kings are also without a coach at the moment (can you imagine the sh*tstorm in the Toronto media if the Leafs didn’t have a coach during free agency season?) which might make it a tad more difficult to talk McCabe and his agent Pulver into agreeing to a deal here. Still, it is an option.
The Canucks have the cap space and the desperate need for offence that makes them a pretty good potential trade partner for the Leafs. They also need to add at least one more D-man to their roster, so they do have a vacancy on the blueline.
Having lost Markus Naslund and being such an offensively challenged club, I’m not sure they have the depth at forward to swing a deal with the Leafs. Moreover, as noted with the LA Kings, you can’t get much further away from Long Island and Toronto than Vancouver…
Life of Bryan
It’s hard to believe, but McCabe is just one season removed from being one of the top offensive defencemen in the league and two seasons removed from being an Olympian who actually got Norris trophy consideration.
Injury troubles certainly got the best of him last year and it can’t be a picnic being the whipping boy of the Toronto media (has any other athlete been called out as much by the press in this city? Has any paper ever demanded a player be traded on the front page of their paper?) but McCabe has handled all of this pressure with class.
Recent statements from Fletcher and Wilson have left little room for doubt that it’s time for McCabe to move on.
The $5.75 million dollar question is: where?