Toronto Maple Leafs: Clutter Up Front and on Back, What Is Brian Burke Planning?

Neil GrewalCorrespondent IIIJuly 20, 2011

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24:  President and GM Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on during day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It's no secret that after all the flurry that took place in the first week of free agency, everything has died down. That still doesn't stop the Leafs faithful from wondering what in the world is going through Brian Burke's mind right now.

Today the Leafs made another signing by bringing back Joey Crabb. A crucial signing? No. A questionable signing? Yes.

Luke Schenn still remains a restricted free agent with neither party disclosing any information on the situation. I don't know about anyone else, but I've heard absolutely nothing about how the contract talks have been going. With the signing of Crabb, players who could play for the Leafs as early as next season per position would look something like this:

Centers: Tim Connolly, Mathew Lombardi, Mikhail Grabovski, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Joe Colborne, Darryl Boyce, Phillipe Dupuis.

Wingers: Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Nikolai Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur, Colby Armstrong, Mike Brown, Joey Crabb, Matt Frattin, Luca Caputi, Marcel Mueller, Jay Rosehill, Colton Orr.

Defensemen: Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie, Cody Franson, John-Michael Liles, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Komisarek, Matt Lashoff, Jeff Finger.

Kadri, Colborne and Dupuis can all line up on the wing.

Schenn was left out because while the Leafs still have his rights, he's not signed.

That's 28 players (29 if you include Schenn) who could make the full-time jump to the NHL as early as this season. Sure players like Colborne, Boyce, Dupuis, Crabb, Frattin, Caputi, Mueller, Lashoff and Finger would be sent down to the Marlies but even then, the lineup still looks a little cluttered.

Burke stated before that he is not opposed to taking on extra cap, which he showed when he acquired Lombardi and Franson. John Ham brought up in his article here and Brad LeClair brought up in his article here that there are still situations where the Leafs can take on more salary cap and get a quality prospect in return.

By taking on salary cap from other teams, that gives Burke the ability to put his pompous attitude and immense ego to good use by robbing them of some of their top prospects. Burke's combination of arrogance and patience is outstanding because other GMs eventually cave into seeing things the way he does.

Both articles are on the right track but with the Rangers having roughly $10 million left to re-sign Dubinsky, Callahan and a defenseman, trading Wolski may not be a priority right now and acquiring Malone's $4.5 million contract for the next four years could be a little steep.

Some other teams that the Leafs could look at to help relieve some salary cap would be Buffalo, Philadelphia, San Jose and New Jersey. All of these teams are close to the cap ceiling and have a number of key signings that will need to occur either this season or for the next.

There are also some small-market teams that will most likely look to shed some cap to get to the floor could be Columbus, St. Louis, Anaheim and Colorado. All of these teams lost money last season and have some big contracts that could be moved in order to fill out their roster and get to the cap floor.

Right now, the Leafs have $4.4 million free in cap space. Burke has been given permission to spend to the cap ceiling and, with the signing of Schenn, will likely do that.

Looking forward to the next offseason, the Leafs will have six players heading to free agency in Grabovski, Kulemin, Liles, Franson, Aulie and Gustavsson. People seem to think that due to the immense chemistry created between Kulemin, Grabovski and MacArthur that all three of them are "untradeable."

That's not true. If any of those guys could be used in a trade to get a top-line center or to beef up the prospect pool in order to make such a deal, Burke will pull that trigger without hesitating.

In all honesty, if Burke is still pursuing a top-line center, Grabovski and Kulemin would probably be some of the players used to get the deal done. Let's say Burke did complete a deal to take either Wolski or Malone's cap and got a prospect like Kreider or Ashton in return; that would give the Leafs a lot more flexibility when looking to make a deal for say Stastny, Pavelski, Parise, etc.

For example, a deal for Stastny could be Grabovski, Kulemin, Komisarek, Blacker and a third-round pick.

Or Pavelski for Grabovski, Kulemin and a third-round pick.

Or Parise for Grabovski, Kulemin, Kreider/Ashton, first-round pick and a third-round pick.

I am by no means saying that any of these deals could happen, but if it were being looked at, it would take a lot and adding to the prospect pool would give the Leafs more flexibility when it comes to making deals.

Potential lineup for this coming season:
















This is a completely hypothetical lineup taking into consideration that Burke takes on more cap and uses the depth to make a deal for a top-line player.

I feel that this could easily be a contending team and with further players like Colborne, Frattin, Caputi, D'Amigo, Gardiner, Blacker, etc. waiting in the wings, if a deal needed Kulemin or Grabovski or both to get it done, I say do it. The Leafs would still be a contender with the depth to replace players in the case of injuries or when their contracts are up.

Thanks for the read and look forward to your comments!


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