The Mar. 3 deadline is almost a month away, and Brian Burke will have his work cut out for him in the coming weeks. With the NHL imposing a trade freeze from Feb. 12-28 for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, there is sure to be a flurry of deals being tossed around beforehand and even more so in the couple of days leading up to the trade deadline. The Maple Leafs are almost certainly out of playoff contention, so it will be no surprise that one of Burke’s first priorities will be to unload some of his pending unrestricted free agents for as many draft picks and prospects as possible.
These are a few of his options:
1. Thomas Kaberle is easily Brian Burke’s greatest trade asset this season, and it is well known that several teams have shown interest in the veteran all-star defenseman. Although Burke had vehemently denied that Kaberle will be dealt before season’s end, he may request a list of 10 teams Kaberle would accept a trade to, as he did last year.
If Kaberle isn’t dealt before the deadline, he also has a trade window this summer that would allow the Leafs to move him without needing his permission. With one year left on his contract at an affordable 4.25 million, he is sure to attract a lot of attention from teams seeking a top-caliber puck-moving defenseman. Burke would be expecting at least a first-round draft pick and a prospect in return.
2. Niklas Hagman , the Leaf’s leading goal scorer, is another valuable trade asset. He is not only a crafty winger and 20-25 goal scorer, but has two years remaining on his contract at a reasonable $3 million per season.
Brian Burke has already been contacted earlier this year regarding Hagman, and it is rumored that a GM was willing to part with his first-round pick for the Finnish forward, which Burke turned down. Players of Hagman’s skill level are hard to come by at such a low cap hit, so although the Leaf’s GM may receive a lot of offers for the winger, Brian may feel Hagman is more valuable remaining a Leaf.
3. Alexei Ponikarovsky is on pace for another solid season and will almost certainly eclipse the career-high 23 goals he netted last year. Burke may feel it's time to sell while his stock is high and try to acquire more draft picks or prospects. In return, the Leafs would expect something similar to last year's Antropov deal, such as a second and third-round draft pick.
4. Ian White , the undersized defenseman, has flourished this year and has been the Leaf’s best player on most nights. Although he is not the biggest guy, he is always winning puck battles and has played great at both ends of the ice. He is a UFA at the end of this season and is going to want a huge raise over the $950K he is making this year. In my opinion, White is just coming into his prime and should be locked up to a long-term contract as he is going to be a staple on the Leafs’ blue line for years to come.
5. Matt Stajan has already matched his career high for goals in a season, and although his all-around play has improved greatly, he doesn’t seem destined to ever become more than a second line centre on the Leafs. He could definitely assist a playoff team that is looking for a young, hardworking second or third line centre, and the Leafs in return could get a second-round draft pick or a younger prospect.
6. Lee Stempniak has had a decent season, and if Burke is interested in having him back in a Leafs uniform next season, he could deal Stempniak as rental player and sign him to more affordable contract this summer. He could be swapped for a second-round pick similar to last year's trade with the Sabres for Dominic Moore.
7. Vesa Toskala has struggled at times this season and has been prone to giving up weak goals in key situations. There may be teams looking for a backup goaltender going into the playoffs, due to injuries or as insurance policies, but there are several other goalies that will be available leading up to the deadline. This may deflate any value that’s left in a goalie which has the worst GAA and save percentage in the league.
8. Jason Blake - I'm not sure there is much of a market for a player who is 36 years old and still has two years and $6 million remaining on his contract after this season. That being said, if the Leafs were willing to take on another player with a large cap hit, a team could be interested in this once 40 goal scorer.
Garnett Exelby: Third or fourth-round pick
Wayne Primeau: Fifth-round pick
Jamal Mayers: Fifth or sixth-round pick
Jonas Frogren: Fifth-round pick
Rikard Wallin: ???
Jeff Finger: It is highly unlikely any team would touch his contract, so I believe that he will be sent to the minors at the end of the season.
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