With Draft Day fast approaching, the NHL offseason is about to kick into high gear.
This should be one of the busiest offseasons in recent Leafs history—but even if it is, the immediate future remains pretty bleak.
Here is a look at the moves I would make if I was GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, ignoring the Draft. These moves would likely not immediately turn the Leafs into a playoff contender, but would be the start of the rebuilding efforts necessary to become a Cup contender:
- Trade McCabe or Kubina
The goal here would be to trade McCabe, so the first would be to call Islanders GM Garth Snow and asking him to make an offer for McCabe. If a decent deal can be negotiated, it's up to Bryan to give the trade his okay.
If this fails, Kubina must go. There is a trade window in his no-trade clause, and it could be used this offseason. Ideally, a second-line forward or young prospect would be coming back—but really this is more about shedding salary than much else. Kronwall or Harrison would likely become the sixth defenceman.
- Trade or Buy Out Raycroft
If a trade can be made, it will be. Otherwise, Raycroft's contract should be bought out. The second part of this would be to re-sign UFA Clemmensen to back-up Toskala, making Pogge the No. 1 goaltender on the Marlies.
- Bring Back Sundin
There isn't any big-name UFA worthy of targeting this summer, so re-signing Sundin to a one-year deal for a reasonable amount ($7.5 mil or less) should be done, even if a NTC must be given. Sundin can still mentor the youth and be an effective top forward—assuming he wants to come back.
- Our UFAs
Aside from the previously-mentioned Clemmensen and Sundin, only Pohl, Moore, and Wozniewski remain unrestricted free agents. The only one I would re-sign is Dominic Moore—to a two-year deal at $800,000 per season.
- The RFAs
Stajan, Wellwood, Ondrus, and Foster should all be re-signed to small deals. Obviously, Stajan deserves the biggest contract of the group, and Wellwood's injury problems will keep his contract low.
Sign Russian prospect Nikolai Kulemin to an entry-level contract.
Now, it's time to look at additions. There aren't many big name UFAs available—Hossa and Avery aren't worth the contracts they'll command, in my opinion—and I don't think it would be smart to give up high draft picks for expensive RFAs like Corey Perry.
So, this year the Leafs should focus on smaller additions, and saving the big-money contracts for next summer.
Here are some of the 'best of the rest' worth looking into, all fairly likely to be available on July 1—Ryan Malone (PIT), Pascal Dupuis (PIT), Pavol Demitra (MIN), Michael Ryder (MTL), and Matt Cooke (WSH).
Malone is who I would go after—but it's rumored other teams are prepared to offer him over $5 million per year, which would make him too costly. Ryder would then be my second choice.
The ideal RFAs to look at here are those that may be lured for under $2.34 milllon per year, so that compensation is only a second-round pick or less. Here are some possibilities—Dan Paille (BUF), Wojtek Wolski (COL), Shea Weber (NSH), Ryan Suter (NSH), R.J. Umberger (PHI), Ryan Clowe (SJ), Marcel Goc (SJ), and Joe Pavelski (SJ).
Granted most of these are either worth more than $2.34 million or would have offers that low matched by their current teams. But they would all be worth a shot—especially if the Leafs could target a group of players on one team that doesn't have much cap room, and force that team to let one of them go.
Its hard to predict trades that could be considered fair by all teams involved, but young forwards should be Toronto's targets—and almost everyone on the Leafs should be considered tradeable.