With Colby Armstrong and a couple of two-way contracts Brian Burke's only additions on July 1st, it is perhaps safe to presume that the Maple Leafs general manager will turn his attention to the trade market in order to bolster his thin selection of top six forwards.
Armstrong, while regarded as a third liner, trails only Matt Cullen and is tied with Olli Jokinen and Ray Whitney in annual salary amongst the forwards changing teams as free agents so far. Ilya Kovalchuk and Matthew Lombardi are the only forwards remaining who are sure to pass that $3 million per year mark. It is not a rich crop.
The trading chip most likely to return a significant forward is, of course, defenseman Tomas Kaberle, whose value will be affected by a much deeper group of free agent defensemen.
One team it is safe to rule out after yesterday's activities is the Pittsburgh Penguins. They added Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin to their blue line for a combined cost of $9 million a year to replace the outgoing Sergei Gonchar, who signed in Ottawa for $5.5 million per.
New Jersey also seems an unlikely suitor now (despite previously reporting having strong interest), as they inked inked Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder for a total $7.625 million per year.
The Philadelphia Flyers' acquisition of Andrej Meszaros may rule them out, but it may also ignite interest from Tampa Bay, who were said to be "desperate" to add a puck-moving defenseman to an altogether weak defensive corps. Kurtis Foster quarterbacked the Lightning powerplay last season and yesterday signed in Edmonton. Their failure to secure a free agent such as Martin or Dan Hamhuis really leaves them in dire need of strengthening at the back.
What the Lightning could return is another question. Power forwards Steve Downie and Ryan Malone seem the likely and perhaps only possibilities. With the departure of Viktor Stalberg, the Leafs need a left winger to go along with Nikolai Kulemin, and a big guy seems preferable, with Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg smaller, more skillful presences on the right.
Malone's $4 million salary could hinder Burke's ability to add a quality centerman, however, while Downie's 22 goals and 46 points are hardly mind-blowing with a supporting cast of Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, both of whom cracked 90 points. On the other hand, perhaps their outstanding seasons were aided by the grit and work ethic of Downie, as Kulemin helped Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
With the retirement of Scott Niedermayer, another possibility is the Anaheim Ducks, and rumours there are bound to intensify as Burke draft pick Bobby Ryan's contract talks with the Ducks have stalled. Adding Ryan would almost certainly require a valuable young piece, such as Luke Schenn, along with Kaberle, however.
Northeast division rivals Buffalo have always seemed to be amongst the teams interested, and that will surely be strengthened, having lost both Tallinder and Toni Lydman yesterday. The return there could involve an established, if not outstanding, center such as Derek Roy or Tim Connolly. Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford have previously been linked but seem unlikely with the addition of Versteeg and Armstrong.
Others could include the Dallas Stars, who severely lack a puck-moving defenseman, but questions surround Kaberle's willingness to extend his contract with a Western Conference team, which will dent his trade value.
The Boston Bruins have held long-term interest but, if as has been reported, Marc Savard will not move in a deal for Kaberle, it is difficult to see what else would come the other way, unless a prospect like Joe Colborne is involved.
While most fans anticipated a Kaberle trade on draft day, it has become apparent how Burke plans to play his moving of the defenseman: he will wait until the needs of Kaberle's prospective destinations are greatest.
Of course, there is no reason to disbelieve Burke when he says that he is not shopping Kaberle, just merely listening, but it is clear he is identifying the best time to pull the trigger, and not everyone added a body they required through free agency yesterday.
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