Yeah, that's right—Stanley Cup contenders.
It seems insane—offering up a foolproof solution for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in an eternity.
Is it even more insane that this plan is (relatively) realistic and attainable? Maybe.
With $21 million in cap space and an expected rise of around $3 million, Brian Burke will have $24 million at his disposal to sign players.
Here is how he can use that money to make the Leafs major contenders next season.
Luke Schenn was the Leafs' best defenseman this past season. On top of a sound defensive game, he began to discover a bit of an offensive touch as well. He is an RFA this offseason and deserves a raise. Fortunately, his cap hit won't be much higher than it was previously. Expect him to get an extension at $4 million per year—well worth it.
Despite a poor first half of the season, Carl Gunnarsson had an exceptional second half. He should get a short-term (one or two-year) extension around $2 million per year. If Gunnarsson keeps up his solid two-way play, he would be up for a huge raise with his next contract.
No, Tyler Bozak is not the first line center the Leafs were looking for, but he is going to be a very effective third line player in the NHL. His cap hit will drop quite a bit. He should be extended for around $1.5 million per season.
Jay Rosehill was called up as a replacement to the injured Colton Orr. He is an effective fourth liner that brings grit, speed and strong forechecking. He should be signed as the 13th forward, at the very least. His cap hit would probably be somewhere around $750,000.
What needs to be said about James Reimer? Probably the only reason the Leafs went on the second half run that they did, he not only stood on his head but gave his team confidence in themselves. Still, it is unknown whether he can keep it up. Expect Reimer to get a one or two-year extension at $2 million per year. If he keeps his play up, he will cash in on his next contract.
Total cap hit from offseason moves: $10.25 million
I know this isn't necessarily the most popular offseason move that Burke can make, but in order for this plan to fully work, Clarke MacArthur needs to be traded.
The reason? The $3 million that he will probably make on a new contract is going to have a larger purpose.
I love Mac's game, and I don't want him to be traded, but in the long run, I see it as the best choice moving forward. His value is high now, and the Leafs can get a solid package of picks or prospects in return for his services.
His value can also be used in a trade idea I bring up in this article.
It is unfortunate that Jonas Gustavsson has had such a rough time since he came to Toronto. It is clear that when he has been able to get comfortable, he is a great goaltender with size and agility. Unfortunately, as a result of personal issues and injuries, he wasn't able to keep it consistent.
The Leafs can't go into next season with two inexperienced goaltenders. Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas will battle for the starting role on the Marlies.
As a result, Gustavsson should be traded.
Total cap hit from offseason moves: $8.90 million
James Reimer is the clear number one starting goalie heading into next season. At 23, he is still very young and needs a veteran backupespecially playing in Toronto.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere knows how to win, as he took the Anaheim Ducks to the Cup Finals and won the Conn Smythe in the process.
He also knows about the ups and downs of hockey.
He is a necessary part moving forward for James Reimer and the Leafs.
Signing him for one or two years at $1.5 million would be ideal.
Total cap hit from offseason moves: $10.4 million
No, this isn't thinking outside the box, nor is it remotely original, but face it—signing Brad Richards solves major issues for the Leafs.
Not only does it give them the No. 1 center they need, it gives them a power-play quarterback.
Richards will command a long-term contract, which—with the proper negotiation—can be properly structured to the lower the overall cap hit to a manageable $7 million per season. Bonuses and frontloading are a go!
Total cap hit from offseason moves: $17.4 million
Brad Richards already improves the Leafs dramatically. What kind of effect can another elite talent do for them?
Zach Parise makes a ton of sense for the Leafs.
He is a No. 1 left winger, which makes him a perfect candidate to play alongside Richards and Kessel.
He is American. (Self-explanatoryBurke loves his Americans)
He is a top 10 talent in the league.
Yes, giving up picks would be tough, but unless a deal can be worked out for his rights (maybe a deal including MacArthur, to kill two birds with one stone), it is the necessary cost to add this kind of talent.
Lock Parise up long-term, with a cap hit of $7 million.
Total cap hit from offseason moves: $24.4 million
The final piece to the puzzle.
Zenon Konopka is an incredibly underrated player that would bolster the Leafs bottom six.
He is tough, and surprisingly strong, on faceoffs. His value as a checker, energy guy and penalty killer will be incredibly beneficial to a team like the Leafs.
A contract would be in the area of three years, at $1.5 million per season.
Total cap hit from offseason moves: $25.9 million. A demotion of Jeff Finger ($3.5 million) brings the total hit from offseason moves to $22.4 million.
Proposed Leafs lineup:
This is the roster of a team that is finding its identity—a balance of top six skill, bottom six grit and a mix of offensive and defensive defenseman. And as we know, Burke likes to build from the net out, and what better way to do that with Reimera goalie that looks to be the future of this franchise?