Friday, February 15

Deadline Decisions: Maple Leafs Edition

House Money

There's an old gambling adage that once you're ahead a few bucks, you play a little looser because you're playing with "house money." That's the enviable situation Cliff Fletcher finds himself in as the interim GM of the Leafs. I don't doubt for a second that Fletcher will do the job to the best of his abilities and wants to see the Leafs suceed long term. However, you can't tell me it's not easier to pull the trigger on a deal, knowing you're not going to be second guessed at every turn by everyone in the organization. Not to mention the second guessing that goes on in your own head when you're fearing for your job on a daily basis. Fletcher's legacy or reputation isn't going to be harmed by anything he does in the next two weeks, and he knows that. As an interim GM, he knows he won't have to face the daily scrutiny from the Toronto media, because he's not likely to be around to see the fruits of his labor. He's free to make the moves he thinks are best, and if they don't work out? Oh well, he tried. It's the next GM's problem. I think it's safe to say that there are a lot tougher environments to work in.

So, now it's my turn to play with the "house money." Aren't we all armchair GM's anyway? Now to be fair, I'm not a Leafs fan. I've been an Edmonton Oiler fan for 27 years. I should also note that I was raised in an anti-Leafs household as my dad is from Montreal, where he drove limo's for 14 years. But all that aside, it's a fun exercise. Sort of like when you start up a new game of video hockey and let the computer randomly choose your team for you. You gotta make chicken salad out of...well...the Toronto Maple Leafs. As an outsider with a fresh outlook and free of any passion or bias, I more closely resemble Fletcher than your average Leafs fan. I mean do you really want Greener on here telling you why the Leafs can't afford to trade John Pohl?

A quick overview:

For the most part, I'm not going to be dealing in fantasy-based hypotheticals, like: The Leafs should trade Sundin for Kesler, Edler and a #1 pick! Why? Well for starters, I have no clue what other GM's around the league are offering for Leafs players. To sit here and say 'this' is a fair trade would be based on my valuation of each teams players, when in fact every GM values his assets in different ways, based on different organizational circumstances. That's an area best left to other internet hacks with too much free time and fanciful imaginations (e5).

The NTC's

The players that have the most trade value, and the players that most fans want to see traded, have No Trade clauses in their contracts. Sundin, Tucker, Kaberle, McCabe, and Kubina. Players ask for NTC's for a reason. They want security and they don't want to get traded. Personally, I don't think any of the above players wants to, or will, waive their NTC. The only way I see that happening is if Sundin decides he doesn't want to return to the Leafs next year. Therefore, for the purpose of this exercise, those players are staying and will be the core of what the Leafs should build around next year.

The Cap

The Leafs trouble isn't so much the lack of prospects and picks, as much as it is cap space. They have a lot of bad contracts (big money, excess years) - another reason why guys like Blake or Kubina aren't likely to be moved. The cap is expected to rise to around $54 million, with the Leafs already having $42 million committed next year. That's without re-signing Sundin, and RFA's like Steen, Stajan, Wellwood, and Pogge. The Leafs sole purpose between now and July 1st, should be to shed as much salary as possible. That likely means getting creative with some deals and trying to get other teams to take a contract they don't necessarily want in exchange for a player they do want. The Leafs need to trim about $10 million off their payroll to sign their own free agents, compete for some mid-level UFA's in the summer, and leave themselves some cushion for 2008-09.

Pack Your Shit

Raycroft: Obviously. This is one of those guys you can maybe attach to another deal. Just as the Leafs had to take Mark Bell in the Toskala deal, perhaps the price for a Leafs forward comes down, if somebody takes Raycroft. By any means necessary, his salary has to be shed. Waivers/re-entry waivers, a 7th round pick, whatever it takes. $2 million back-up goalies on non-playoff teams are luxuries you can't afford. Then, let Pogge come up and get a taste of playing a couple games down the stretch.

Antropov: I know, I know. I hear Leafs fans say how after waiting and developing this guy for 10 years, they better not trade him now. That's precisely the reason TO trade him. He's finally developed into a player with a lot of value. He has an affordable contract, is signed for another year, and every team is looking for more scoring. When you factor all that, along with his age, he might garner the Leafs the best return in any deal (short of Sundin waiving his NTC).

He's not quite Cory Cross yet, but he makes too much money for the return. $2 million can get you a #4 or #5 defenseman on the UFA market with a little change to spare. His contract isn't terrible and playoff teams are always looking for depth, size, and grit come playoff time. Could you get a #3 pick or a B-level prospect?

Colaiacovo: Enough already with the human chandelier. He's 24 years old, been a "top prospect" forever, and just can't stay healthy enough to take the next step. Trade him before his value dips any further and let Anton Stralman take his place. You can't fall in love with potential.

Kilger: There's nothing wrong with his performance and he comes pretty cheap, plus he's signed for another year. That makes him a nice piece for playoff contenders. If teams call you'd have to listen. These types of guys are replaceable and moving them also opens up ice time for the kids to develop (Earl, Tlusty, etc.)

You need to have some level of continuity so you can't trade 15 guys. Nobody is gonna take Bell, and the cost on the free agent market to replace a relatively affordable 20-goal guy like Ponikarovsky is probably a bit high. He's definitely a trade candidate, but it's a cost/benefit analysis with guys like that.

Belak, Pohl, Moore and Wozniewski are all UFA's and none are vital to the cause unless you want to retain Belak in an enforcer role. Steen and Stajan are guys that have to be re-signed, but probably won't be due big raises. No problems there. Wellwood is a tricky situation. His skill is valuable, but he's a guy who probably needs some tough love. Sign him, and tell him if he doesn't get himself into an off-season conditioning program he's gonna be doing stairs up to the press box each night.

If the Leafs can move some salary and pick up some legitimate prospects and picks in the next two drafts, the rebuild will be underway and Fletcher will have done is job. Mats can likely be had for the hometown discount in the summer ($4.5 million?), and while the UFA crop is not as strong as last year, there'll still be money to compete for some second tier guys like Huselius, Rolston, Morrison, Langkow, Streit, Liles, and Nick Scultz. It's not like guys don't want to play in Toronto. Who knows, the way Wade Redden has been treated in Ottawa, maybe he's in play this summer.

Thoughts? Crazy lunatic rantings? Death threats?


Greener said...

I want to hear more about John Pohl.

PPP said...

If Pohl gets traded it's the last straw.

john said...

I think Pohl has to waive his no talent clause.

Norte said... everybody but Pohl....

Jaredoflondon said...

my heart skipped a beat when you mentioned trading dear johnny

Loser Domi said...

Like that old song says, "go, Johnny Go, go!"

PPP said...

Pohl has to be around to mentor Stamkos.

Greener said...

Pohl has to be around to wear number 21.

Jaredoflondon said...

Pohl needs to be around for the easy tick jokes.

Jaredoflondon said...

dick, not tick....

Loser Domi said...

Phl has to stick around becausewe don't have Wozniewski around as much--we need someone to make fun of, even if there is nobody to take place of our loveable Herpes.

Loser Domi said...