After a first round exit at the hands of the Boston Bruins, the Toronto Maple Leafs are left to pick up the pieces of a pretty gritty comeback, eventually losing to the Bruins in overtime of game seven.
GM Dave Nonis will have some cap space this summer, as many high-priced players such as Tim Connolly, Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak, Ryan O'Byrne, Colton Orr and Matthew Lombardi all come off the books.
The Leafs, as it stands right now, have a ton of RFA's to re-sign as Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Leo Komorov, Frazer McLaren, Mark Fraser and Joe Colborne are in need of new contracts.
Of the over $19 million in cap space, I'd expect about $13 million of that to go out to these six players, with Kadri and Franson likely seeing between $3-4 million a year, Gunnarsson around $2.5 million, and Komorov, McLaren, Fraser and Colborne all earning roughly $1 million a season on average.
That will leave the Leafs with a little over $6 million in cap space to add a top shelf defenseman, a top shelf forward, and a veteran goalie—all needs for the Leafs going forward.
With that said, the Leafs can get ahead of the game and gain more cap space by using one or both of their compliance buyouts this offseason. This buyout does not count towards the teams' cap, and essentially gets rid of the players contract off their books free of charge.
Here's a look at the Leafs four best buyout candidates.
Easily the most likely of buyout candidates, Mike Komisarek's $4.5 million dollar contract will be off the books for the 2013-14 season.
His exit will be very much anticipated as Leafs Nation have wanted that contract to be buried for years now.
Komisarek never amounted to much in a Leaf uniform. He was brought in to be a physical presence and a menace to play against. What he turned into was a player that every team wanted to play against.
He went from one of the most hated defenceman in the league to play against, to being the most wanted defenceman to play against. Andrei Markov isn't here to save you now, Mr. Komisarek.
John-Michael Liles' time with the Leafs is very much similar to what Tomas Kaberle's time with the Leafs was like toward the end of his career with the Buds.
Liles found himself in and out of the lineup, as coach Randy Carlyle often opted for a slower, tougher, more physical back-end.
It's argued, though, that the Leafs probably should have played Liles and sophomore defenceman Jake Gardiner far more. But alas, he did not, and the Leafs are left to wonder if Liles is part of their long-term future.
Owed on average $3.875 million next season and for two seasons afterwards, his contract length is definitely something the Leafs will have to think about. Is Liles a long-term solution? The answer will come with time as the NHL Playoffs slowly come to a close and an eventual Stanley Cup Champion is crowned.
Then the real work begins for GM Dave Nonis and company.
A picture is worth a thousand words. That idiom is true in the case of Mikhail Grabovski.
Whether it was Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, or any of the Boston Bruins players, all of them targeted Grabovski and physically dominated him.
To Grabovski's credit, he did not back down and usually got right back up. But the fact is, he was a liability out there defensively due to his lack of size and offensively, he was invisible.
He is owed on average $5.5 million for each of the next four seasons, a difficult pill to swallow if he doesn't re-capture his offensive game which saw him score at least 20 goals in three of his previous four seasons with the Leafs, not counting this last shortened season.
Fact is, should he be the club's highest paid forward? Easy answer is no. With Phil Kessel's contract set to expire after next season, the Leafs will likely need upwards of $7 million to resign Kessel.
After his resurrection against the Bruins, its clear he's an elite level offensive player. Now its time to surround him with better players. Grabovski's contract will only hinder the Leafs chances of extending Kessel.
Although the least likely to be bought out, Phaneuf remains a rather large trade chip going forward for the Leafs.
After the playoff performance of Cody Franson and the return of Jake Gardiner, the Leafs back end seems to be in great shape going forward. With vets like John-Michael Liles (if he's not bought out), Mark Fraser (if he's resigned), and Carl Gunnarsson (if he's also resigned), the Leafs' defensive depth is pretty good going forward.
With youngsters Korbinian Holzer, Stuart Percy, Jesse Blacker, Matt Finn, and the best of them all, Morgan Rielly nipping at their heels down in the minors, the Leafs defence is clearly their strength in their system.
That's where Phaneuf's $6.5 million dollar contract comes into play. I highly doubt they buy him out because there is still a market out there for Phaneuf with regard to trading him.
I can already take a wild guess and say they will get a better package back than what they had to give up to get him, but clearly Phaneuf's days in Toronto may be coming to a close.
He is not a captain, and he is clearly not a 25+ minute per game defender like a Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara, Ryan Suter, or Shea Weber are.
Phaneuf is a good defenceman when paired with the right partner, playing the right amount of minutes. Clearly, the Leafs have some decisions to make going forward with regard to Phaneuf.
The Leafs can go any number of ways with regard to their buyouts.
They can opt to get rid of the defenceman John Michael Liles or Dion Phaneuf and Mike Komisarek.
If they chose to get rid of two defenceman, I believe that spells the end of Tyler Bozak in a Leafs uniform. With two veteran defenceman gone and Mikhail Grabovski staying, the Leafs would need to address their defence in the offseason. Likely names to be thrown around include Keith Yandle via trade, Mark Streit, Ryan Whitney, Ron Hainsey, Robyn Regehr and Marek Zidlicky, amongst other free agent defenceman.
Another route is the Leafs choosing to buyout Komisarek and center Mikhail Grabosvki.
If they go this route, they will likely be bringing back Tyler Bozak or if not they will be signing or trading for a top-two line center.
Top available centers include Stephen Weiss, Mike Ribeiro, Andy MacDonald, Patrik Elias, and Derek Roy, all of whom could make the Leafs better. I'd personally target hometown guy Stephen Weiss if I was Nonis and I had reign of who to sign. Despite losing the season to injury, Weiss' production the past four years has been very consistent, scoring at least 57 points in three of his past four full seasons.
Elias is another intriguing name, but he's likely better suited as a winger as opposed to a center, but trying to grab him might be in the club's best interest too.
If I had to make an educated guess though, Komisarek I feel will be bought out as soon as the NHL Playoffs come to a close, and Grabovski will be shown the door likely after the NHL draft, as the Leafs opt to sign a more physical, bigger, and tougher center in his place.
Grabovski might be dangled in an attempt to move up in the draft and possibly move up from their 21st overall pick location. If they can't find a suitor, I feel Grabovski will be bought out, as opposed to Liles, who I feel would be better served playing with a bigger defenceman who doesn't handle the puck like Tie Domi used to. Sorry Ryan O'Byrne, but that display in the playoffs was ugly.
Feel free to share your thoughts below...