Mikahail Grabovski will be a Toronto Maple Leaf for quite some time longer after he signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract. Working out to $5.5 million per year, Grabovski will be the highest-paid Maple Leaf forward starting next season.
Some may argue that he has been overpaid, but with the contracts signed by Ales Hemsky and Tuomu Ruutu, the price was driven up. If he can continue to improve, I think he will eventually come to be worthy of that contract. It might be a stretch to say that, but first impressions are that Grabovski should play well under new coach Randy Carlyle.
With the signing, the Leafs will have just above $7.5 million in cap space next year if the salary cap remains the same. It could go down, but let's just continue with the assumption that it will stay the same.
The Leafs have two unrestricted free agents to go with three restricted free agents. The RFAs are Nikolai Kulemin, Matt Frattin and Cody Franson. Frattin will be retained as he will be the cheapest to re-sign. Kulemin and Franson are question marks.
Kulemin has been moved to the third line and has disappointed many this year. As a friend of Grabovski, I think he will be re-signed for a short-term and maybe the same amount of money he's making now.
Franson might not fit into Carlyle's defensive scheme as it now looks like that Mike Komisarek and Luke Schenn will now have more established roles on the team. He could be dealt at the draft in my opinion.
The Leafs' two UFAs are Jonas Gustavsson and Joey Crabb. Crabb will not be a member of the Leafs next season, at least full-time. He might be retained for depth on the Marlies, but it will be time for a prospect to take over that role.
Where do you stand on the Maple Leafs future?
Gustavsson is probably on his last legs as a member of the Maple Leafs. Even though at times he has shown some real promise, he was been mostly inconsistent during his tenure. His rights are a good shot to be traded at the draft.
As it looks like the Leafs' top-six is set with Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel on the first line and Clarke MacArthur, Grabovski and Frattin on the second line, it's the bottom-six that will be tinkered with in the off-season.
Mike Brown and David Steckel are the only two bottom-six players that I think are safe going into the off-season. Everyone else could switched out for other assets or replaced with a couple of prospects. Matthew Lombardi, Tim Connolly and Colby Armstrong carry bad contracts that might have to be kept until they expire.
If the Leafs manage to shed some salary, I would expect them to be big players in free agency when it comes to players who fit the Leafs' needs. Samuel Pahlsson, Paul Gaustad, Travis Moen and Shawn Thornton could all be targets. Three of them were part of the 2007 Anaheim Ducks team that won the Stanley Cup with Carlyle and general manager Brian Burke, so there might be a reason for them to come to Toronto.
While they might not make the playoffs this year, Burke and Carlyle know how to bring together a team that can win when it counts. We know it works, so Leaf fans have a reason to be optimistic. They might have been dragged through a few years where it seemed nothing was going right, but now is the time to stop being pessimistic.
Give them a chance. They just might impress you.