2011 NHL Free Agents: Who Brian Burke May Have His Eye On For Next Summer

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2011 NHL Free Agents: Who Brian Burke May Have His Eye On For Next Summer
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

I know what you're thinking. This guy is already making predictions for next year before this season has even started?? The answer is yes, this is what I do during the slowest hockey news period of the year.

After having a glance at next years free agent crop, it looks fairly deep compared to this summer, so it is very possible that Burke may hold off on landing a big top six forward until then.

The moves Brian Burke makes over the next eight months will heavily depend of how his team performs during the 2010-11 season. If they get off to a horrendous start yet again, you better believe that Burke will attempt another big shake up to find the right formula. If the Leafs stay within playoff contention all season, then he may stick with the current group the whole way through.

According to capgeek.com, the Leafs are currently just over the salary cap (around $275,000 over), so Burke will have to make some sort of move to clear some space, but i'm not expecting anything major. Demoting Jeff Finger to the Marlies or trading a decent roster player for a draft pick/prospect would be the easiest options before the season begins.

Most NHL General Managers like to have at least two million dollars in cap space to play with during the season just in case an unexpected trade does arise.

There is a definite possibility that the Toronto Maple Leafs will have approximately $14.5 milllion in cap space next summer, assuming Jeff Finger is demoted and Kaberle, Giguere and Sjostrom are not resigned. That leaves a lot of room to sign some big names.

Although, there will be many current roster players who will be restricted free agents next year and looking for new contracts. These players include Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur, Luca Caputi, John Mitchell, Christian Hanson, Mike Brown and Matt Lashoff. Out of these players I would assume Mitchell and Lashoff won't be resigned because of organizational depth. Out of the other Leafs RFA's, Gunnarsson may be the only player who gets a significant raise, so Burke having around $13-14 million in cap space next summer is a real possibility.

Below I have compiled a list of 2011 free agents who I think Brian Burke may have interest in, assuming these players are not resigned by their current teams between now and July 1st, 2011.

 

Brad Richards

  • Big, skilled play-maker who would be the perfect set up man for Kessel.
  • Just under a career point-per-game player who has had two 91-point seasons.
  • Will be 31 years old next year so he has lots of seasons left in him.
  • There is a good chance Richards will resign with Dallas. Although the Mike Ribeiro contract and the resigning of Jamie Benn may get in the way.

 Joe Thornton

  • Another big bodied centre to set up wingers.
  • Perennial top-3 in assists.
  • Will be 32 years old next year, so he should have lots left in the tank.
  • Again, Thornton is another good candidate to resign with his current club.

 Patrice Bergeron

  • Very skilled two-way centre.
  • One of the best penalty killers and face-off men in the league.
  • Will be 26 next summer so would fit right in with the Leafs core.
  • Boston won't let him go without a fight, but again the Marc Savard contract and the re-siging of Zdeno Chara will complicate things.

 David Backes

  • Big, tough and skilled - the prototypical Burke player.
  • Can play both a top-six or bottom-six role very effectively.
  • Will be 27 next year so he should be entering his prime.
  • I truly believe Backes will be a Leaf next summer, he is the perfect fit.

 Brooks Laich

  • Another gritty but skilled forward who can play on the top three lines
  • Has three consecutive 20-goal seasons.
  • May have been the beneficiary of playing on a very deep Washington team.
  • Great character guy, I think Burke would have interest in.

 Simon Gagne

  • Very skilled left winger, although injury-prone.
  • Just signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, so he may just be filling in to help the Lightning make the playoffs.
  • Will most likely not be resigned due to the Lecavailer, Malone, St. Louis contracts and the resigning of Stamkos (most likely 7 million a year).
  • Could help the Leafs temporarily while their youth develops.

 Jamie Langenbrunner

  • Veteran winger who brings character and leadership.
  • Can still put up 50 points and has lots of playoff experience.
  • Would mentor the youthful Leafs core.
  • Another definite possibility because of this relationship with Burke and Wilson. He may come a a cheap price next year because of this age (36 next year).

 Joni Pitkanen

  • Bigger and younger version of Kaberle.
  • Very good puck mover and power play quarterback.
  • Carolina will most likely resign him because of their weak defensive core.

Christian Ehrhoff

  • A very soild all around defenseman.
  • 40-plus points the last two seasons.
  • Will be 29 years old next year so he has many seasons left in him.
  • Would be one of the best options next summer if some of the current Leafs defensemen are traded away.

 Jim Vandermeer

  • Very responsible stay at home defenseman.
  • Heavy hitting defenseman and good shot blocker.
  • A good depth option if defense is needed next year.

These are just a few of the options Burke will have to consider, again depending on who is resigned before July 1st. The next free agent pool will be extremely diverse in terms of talent, age and playing style due to the large amount of 1-year contracts that were signed this summer. Many players have been recently signed on a short-term trial basis, so depending on player performances this season there may be more options available than we think.

Below is my prediction of what the Leafs starting line up will look like next season, based on who I think will be leaving the organization, and who will be signed next summer as a free agent.

 

Versteeg - Kadri- Kessel

Kulemin - Backes - Langenbrunner

MacArthur - Bozak - Armstong

Brown - Hanson - Orr

 

Phaneuf - Schenn

Komisarek - Ehrhoff

Gunnarsson - Aulie

Lebda

 

Gustavsson - Reimer

 

This line up would be pretty tough to play against, consisting of a nice mix of skill and grit. Unfortunately most of the top names on the 2011 free agent list will be resigned by their current clubs, so I went with the more realistic players most coveted by Brian Burke.

I'm interested in hearing who you think Burke will go after next summer and what you think the Leafs line up will look like going into next season.

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