Leafs Sign Defenseman Brett Lebda—Is A Kaberle Deal Close?

Mark RitterSenior Writer IJuly 7, 2010

PITTSBURGH - JUNE 4:  Brett Lebda #22 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Four of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals on June 4, 2009 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke continued to put his stamp on the club, signing unrestricted free agent defenseman Brett Lebda to a two-year, $2.9 million contract on Wednesday.

Lebda’s contract will pay him $1,450,000 in each of the next two years, either in the AHL or the NHL.

Lebda, who spent parts of the past five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, stands 5’9” and weighs in at 195 pounds—not exactly your prototypical “Burke” player.

Through 63 games with the Red Wings in 2009-10 Lebda posted one goal and eight points to go along with his minus-2 rating.

His best season came in 2006-07 where he scored five goals and added 13 assists for a career high 18 points to go along with his impressive plus+16 rating.

Originally an undrafted player, Lebda, 28, brings a little playoff experience with him having played 62 career Stanley Cup games with the Red Wings, which also includes a Stanley Cup victory in 2007-08.

The obvious question is this: why, with seven NHL calibre defensemen already in the fold, would Burke deem it necessary to sign an eighth defenseman?

Lebda offers Burke some insurance if by chance he can find a taker for Tomas Kaberle—a player that has long been rumored to be on the block.

Does Lebda bring the same skill-set as Kaberle? Absolutely not!

In the event that Kaberle is finally traded, Lebda will fill the role of the Leafs seventh defenseman, a role he should flourish in.

Filling Kaberle’s shoes will fall on the shoulders of the collective group of Leafs' defensemen, including Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and the hard shooting Carl “Uzi” Gunnarsson.

Burke may also be covering the bases in the event of Jeff Finger being banished to the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies, a move that would give the club an additional  $3.5 million in cap room—cap room that could be spent signing a legitimate top six forward.

According to capgeek.com, the Leafs now have a total of 22 players under contract for the 2010-11 season with a paltry $1,125,833 left in cap room.

The stern reality is this: unless Burke can trim some money from this roster he will be heading into the 2010-11 season with one of Kris Versteeg, Nazem Kadri or Tyler Bozak as the Maple Leafs number one centre—not exactly comforting, is it Leaf fans?

The Lebda signing signals to me that Burke is very close to making a major move—probably the Kaberle deal.

Moving Kaberle and his $4,250,000 salary combined with sending Finger and his $3.5 million salary down the the AHL, minus the $1,450,000 that Lebda will be paid this season will leave Burke with approximately $7.5 million with which to take on a big money contract.

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that Burke looks set to make a deal any day now—one that should net the Leafs the coveted top-flight forward they need.

Hold tight Leaf fans, it’s about to get interesting around here.

Until next time,