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Toronto Maple Leafs: What Should the Leafs Do with Their Impending Free Agents?

Anthony AntonacciContributor IIIMarch 21, 2012

Toronto Maple Leafs: What Should the Leafs Do with Their Impending Free Agents?

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    The Leafs have six players on the roster that will be free agents on July 1, and with the way this season is coming to a disappointing close, there are some important decisions to be made in preparation for next year.

    Four of those players (Nikolai Kulemin, Matt Frattin, Jay Rosehill and Cody Franson) will become restricted free agents, meaning the Leafs can decide to tender them qualified offers or leave them to become unrestricted.

    The remaining two (Joey Crabb and Jonas Gustavsson) will be able to talk to any team they wish.

    None of these six should be considered core players by a long shot, but each has their individual role and it’ll have to be determined whether they still fit under the new Brian Burke/Randy Carlyle regime.

    Obviously, the free agent/trade market could change before July 1 depending on what happens in the playoffs and with the new collective bargaining agreement (which also potentially changes strategy), but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take a preliminary look.

    Let’s do just that.

Nikolai Kulemin

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    Age: 25
    Cap Hit for 2011-2012: $2.35 million
    Notable Stats: 7 G, 21 A 

    It’s almost entirely assured now that Nikolai Kulemin will post his worst career totals in goals and assists this year after breaking his finger on March 13, an injury that’ll probably keep him out for the remainder of the season.

    Yes, we all know he’s been a disappointment this year. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, he has an opportunity to reinvent himself under Randy Carlyle and become a strong defensive forward.

    Also, if the right players are added in the offseason or he simply takes the summer to shake off the bad juju, Kulemin could come back rejuvenated next year and pot another 30 goals. 

    Regardless of what happens, the risk of keeping him is far less than the reward. 

    Verdict: Sign him, Brian.

Matt Frattin

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    Age: 24
    Cap Hit for 2011-2012: $1.3 million
    Notable Stats: 6 G, 6 A 

    After Monday’s shellacking in Boston and last night’s disappointing performance against the New York Islanders the guys running the Leafs Twitter account are probably scraping for some positives to talk about. 

    Enter Matt Frattin. 

    Frattin was impressive during training camp but was so-so over his first 37 games of the year, which was why he spent a bit of time down with the Marlies in January and February. 

    However, he’s been much better since coming back and has played more under Randy Carlyle. He still hasn’t been able to find the back of the net on a semi-regular basis, but then again, who has for this team lately? 

    Frattin’s forechecking abilities are useful for a team like the Leafs that struggles to maintain puck possession. He deserves to be kept for a little while longer. 

    Verdict: Sign him, Brian.

Jay Rosehill

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    Age: 26
    Cap Hit for 2011-2012: $600,000
    Notable Stats: 47 PIM

    I would take a player like Mike Brown over an enforcer like Jay Rosehill any day of the week. Brown is a great sandpaper guy who knows his role and plays it well but can still chip in with a goal or assist once in a while. 

    Rosehill clearly isn’t that kind of player—he has no points or assists in the 22 games he’s played for the Leafs this season. 

    Still, he’s not being paid $75,000 over the league minimum to put up points. His role is to fight and he has increasingly served this purpose under Randy Carlyle with two fights and 26 PIMs in the past six games. 

    It’s not very hard to replace an enforcer, but he’s a restricted free agent and is young enough that the Leafs can keep him at a reasonable price. Since he fits under the Carlyle/Burke system, I’ll grudgingly admit that it makes sense for him to be re-signed, even though I’m not a fan of the enforcer role. 

    Verdict: Sign him, Brian.

Cody Franson

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    Age: 24
    Cap Hit for 2011-2012: $800,000
    Notable Stats: 4 G, 16 A, -2 +/- 

    Cody Franson has had an up-and-down year. After never really having to deal with being a healthy scratch in his first two seasons, Franson has spent his share of time up in the press box in 2011-'12. 

    He improved somewhat during January and February, but has only managed to play in two games since Carlyle was hired.

    If Brian Burke is going to be active this summer, he needs players to deal and if he still assumes that the Leafs are deep at defense and that Jake Gardiner is untouchable, he needs to include Franson in a deal if he wants to have a chance of getting something worthwhile in return. 

    Luke Schenn’s value has gone downhill this season—I’m sure many Leaf fans would rather have an injured James van Riemsdyk right now. Mike Komisarek’s contract makes him difficult to move and trading away Dion Phaneuf two years after acquiring him would make Burke look stupid. 

    If you’re not going to play Franson, at least trade him while he’s young and get someone who will be given an immediate opportunity to contribute. 

    Verdict: Trade him, Brian.

Joey Crabb

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    Age: 28
    Cap Hit for 2011-2012: $750,000
    Notable Stats: 9 G, 10 A 

    The decision of whether to keep Joey Crabb is possibly the hardest in terms of all the Leafs’ impending free agents. This situation is weird, because he’s just a third-line winger. 

    However, he hasn’t really been that bad this year. He’s played well when the Leafs as a team have played well, and vice versa. 

    There are a few players on the free agent market making around the same amount as Crabb who could replace him on that third line, but what makes more sense would be to bump Nikolai Kulemin down to his slot on the third line and give Nazem Kadri the extended look he truly deserves. 

    That would also mean there would be more Ontario-born players on the roster. The Leafs need more of those, right? 

    Verdict: Let him walk, Brian.

Jonas Gustavsson

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    Age: 27
    Cap Hit for 2011-2012: $1.35 million
    Notable Stats: 34 GP, 17 W, 2.87 GAA, .904 SV%, 4 SO 

    Jonas Gustavsson has been the best Leafs netminder this season. After James Reimer went down with injury he filled in admirably and kept them in the playoff race.

    When Reimer returned, he still played as well as a Leaf netminder can when he has to deal with defensemen who brutally give away the puck in the first minute of every game and forwards who routinely miss their checking assignments. 

    Unfortunately, the Monster is a victim of circumstance. His only chance of staying with the Leafs is to take on a backup role, but it makes more sense to keep Reimer as a backup since he’s younger, cheaper and still has a chance to develop into a starter again. 

    Gustavsson will have no problem finding work with another team, either as a starter or a backup. Hopefully he won’t join the list of former Leafs who find true NHL success after leaving the Big Smoke. 

    Verdict: Let him walk, Brian.

    Anthony Antonacci is a freelance journalist and published author from Toronto, Ontario who has been following Toronto sports since Doug Gilmour was scoring wraparounds, Joe Carter was touching em’ all and the Raptors were just a logo shaved onto some guy’s head. He has been a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report since November 2011 and enjoys talking sports as much as he enjoys writing about them. If you’ve got something to say, be sure to leave a comment below or follow him on Twitter to join in the conversation. 

    Follow nacci_ on Twitter

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