Are the Toronto Maple Leafs the Most Overpaid Team in the NHL?

Brad LeClair@beerad87Correspondent IMarch 21, 2012

TORONTO, CANADA - FEBRUARY 28: Luke Schenn #2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs pokes at the feet of Sean Bergenheim #20 of the Florida Panthers during NHL action at the Air Canada Centre February 28, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs free-fall down the NHL standings has been epic to say the least.

Craig Button broke the Leafs down in 10 game segments in a few tweets to start the day:

Games 1-10: 7-2-1. Games 61-70: 1-8-1. Other (5) 10 game segments: 1 above, below or at .500

If last year's 18-9-6 post all-star record was positive indication of team, what does this year's (to date) 7-15-3 mean?

Looking back on the two seasons, you could easily argue the Leafs are a far superior team to last year's. You could also say last year's team was out of it by the All-Star break and never stood a chance at the playoffs. Thus, the final two months of the season were not pressure-filled.

The veterans the Leafs brought in have not delivered and players primed for bounce-back seasons also flopped.

Other than Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski, David Steckel, Mike Brown and Jake Gardiner, none of the Leafs have really shown they're worth keeping around long term.

All  of these players have shown something to management that makes me believe they're worth keeping.

Other players who are getting paid the big bucks haven't shown consistency, nor flashes of brilliance all season.

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 19:  Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins pursue the puck at the TD Garden on March 19, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs 8-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Gett
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Dion Phaneuf has recovered offensively this season with 41 points, his most since the '08-'09 season. With the Flames, however, his defensive game has been very lackluster and suspect most of the season. He is getting paid more than $6.5 million a season.

Luke Schenn has quite literally been an enigma this season. He shows rare flashes of his rookie season from time to time. But most of the time, he shows flashes of Brian Burke trading up to the fifth overall spot whenever he gives the puck away.

I've always imagined what it would be like if the Leafs drafted, say, Erik Karlsson fifth overall and wonder where they would be today. But I digress.

Mike Komisarek has been fairly steady, minus a few in zone gaffes. But again, being okay isn't good enough when you're getting paid over $4.5 million a season. As a bottom-two defenseman, that's just far too much to be spending.

John Michael Liles looked to be a great addition to the Leafs' back end to start the year. Easily one of the two best puck-handling defensemen on the team along with Jake Gardiner, Liles really showed his veteran presence with the young Leafs.

After a late hit to the head courtesy of now Predators center, Paul Gaustad, Liles hasn't been the same since, much like James Reimer. He recently signed an extension with the Leafs worth $3.875 million a season.

These four defenseman are the Leafs' four highest paid defensemen on the roster. Only one might be worth keeping, but not at the price the Leafs are paying.

Moving on to the forwards...

OTTAWA, CANADA - MARCH 17: Milan Michalek #9 of the Ottawa Senators battles for position against Tim Connolly #12 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on March 17, 2012 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Fre
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Tim Connolly, the Leafs most prized free agent signing this year, was brought in to hopefully solidify the teams' top line with Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel.

70-plus games into the season, the Leafs are paying $4.75 million dollars for a third line right winger who kills penalties and plays on the second unit power play. Connolly has 31 points in 62 games, averaging one point every two games. That's far from what I was expecting out of him this season.

Matthew Lombardi was as salary dump throw-in in the deal for Cody Franson from the Predators. I really have no complaints of Lombardi, because he's coming back from a devastating concussion that nearly ended his career.

However, when he's getting paid over $3.5 million this year and next to be a fourth line center, that's just horrible cap management. Lombardi is easily the most expensive fourth line center in the NHL.

Colby Armstrong at $3 million a season currently sits on the Leafs fourth line playing an average of less than eight minutes a game. Again, with Lombardi centering that line along with Armstrong and tough guy Jay Rosehill, they comprise the highest paid fourth line in the game.

Even when healthy, the Leafs on occasion have benched Armstrong and sat him up in the press box.

Mikhail Grabovski at $5.5 million next season will be the Leafs' highest paid forward on the team. Grabovski has played well this season, but not better offensively than Phil Kessel, and not better all around than Joffrey Lupul.

The market for Grabovski would likely have been expensive, so the Leafs paid about market value to retain his services. Grabovski will have a lot to prove next season as he tries to prove his worth to the club, hopefully leading them to their first playoff appearance in over nine seasons.

Lastly, who can forget the AHL guys like Jeff Finger ($3.5 million), and Colton Orr ($1 million), both of whom were sent down to the AHL just to get rid of the salary on their books. That's over $4.5 million of the teams' money sitting on the farm.

The Leafs currently sit in the bottom third of the NHL standings, and are the highest paid team within the bottom 10. The Leafs have the fourth least amount of cap space in the NHL and the least amount of cap space among the teams in the bottom 10.

Are the Leafs a bottom third team in the NHL? I personally don't think they are, the Leafs have made their bed. Now they just have to lie in it.

There's no getting out of this hole they're in, at least by next season. When most of the Leafs high priced talent contracts expire after the '12-'13 season, maybe the Leafs can re-shape their team properly so they can compete for years to come.


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