Toronto Maple Leafs: With Burke as GM, Can the Leafs Ever Land a Big Free Agent?

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Toronto Maple Leafs: With Burke as GM, Can the Leafs Ever Land a Big Free Agent?
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Brian Burke is a man of principles and deserves respect for it.

Unfortunately, it is his principles that might be preventing him from doing everything in his power to improve the Toronto Maple Leafs.

If you haven't heard his so-called rant about July 1 and front-loaded, long-term contracts—you should have heard it by now, since he seems to repeat it several times a week during every offseason—here it is in all its glory at nhl.com.

The gist of his "rant" is two-fold:

1) General managers as a group make more mistakes on July 1 than the rest of the year combined.

2) Front-loaded, long-term contracts are designed to circumvent the salary cap.

This year, the belles of the free agency ball were Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

They received identical contracts from the Minnesota Wild: 13 years, $98 million, $7,538,462 cap hit.

Their salaries for the first three years of their contracts are $12 million, $12 million and $11 million, respectively.

The final three years of their contracts pay them $2 million, $1 million and $1 million, respectively.

Now the Leafs were never seriously involved, if at all, in the Parise and Suter sweepstakes, but let's say they were seriously interested in those two guys and also that the two guys had Toronto on their respective lists.

How do you feel about front-loaded, long-term contracts?

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With Burke as GM, the Leafs would still not have a chance at landing either of those two players because of his disdain for long-term deals, front-loaded or not.

Let's set aside the issue of cap circumvention for a moment.

Burke's reasons for disliking long-term deals, as told to Sportsnet 590 The Fan's Bob McCown and Michael Grange:

I think [long-term deals] put all the risk of injury on the team, I think they totally disincentivize the player, I think they're insane.

The Leafs weren't in on this year's big-fish free agents (unless you count Justin Schultz), so let's rewind to Free Agency 2011 when Brad Richards was the big fish.

In case you forgot, Richards signed a nine-year, $60 million contract (front-loaded, of course) with the New York Rangers that year.

From an article by James Mirtle in The Globe and Mail that was published shortly after the signing:

"We lost out on the Brad Richards sweepstakes for two reasons," said Burke, who is believed to have offered the player a six-year, $42-million deal. "One, we didn't offer as much money as other teams and more importantly we didn't structure the contract like other teams did."

Let's not even compare New York to Toronto as hockey destinations.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Oh, what could have been.
As a hockey player, would you want nine years and $60 million, or six years and $42 million?

It usually isn't about the money, but money certainly is a factor when it comes to free agency and contract negotiations.

What was the point of showing up if they—Leaf management, that is—knew they were going to be outbid? Or were they naively hoping for the other teams involved to present "fair" deals?

Richards was 31 when he signed his nine-year contract with the Rangers, which would make him a 40-year-old at the termination of his contract.

The last three years of his contract pay him a salary of $1 million, so on the "off chance" that he is unable to continue playing at a high level at, say, age 39, the Rangers can cut him loose without suffering significant financial penalties.

Rangers fans probably don't have a problem with the contract, just like Wild fans don't with their team's recent additions.

Burke obviously does, but how about Leaf fans?

If you agree with Burke on this matter, and due respect to the players mentioned, will you be content with the Leafs continually having to sign Lebdas, Connollys and McClements instead of Parises and Suters?

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