With at most three games left in the Stanley Cup Finals the next most interesting part of the NHL season is about to begin.
Once again Leafs Nation will be sitting at the edge of their seat for the most part of the offseason in anticipation for what the crafty Brian Burke will do.
With that in mind here are the top 20 players who should at least be on Burke's radar through trades and free agency.
Mike Grier has been in the NHL for a very long time and has been an effective player wherever he's gone. While he may not be the ultimate solution to the Leafs' problems, he can help bring that veteran presence and work ethic to this young Maple Leafs team.
He's a hard working third/fourth line player who knows how to play a fast and physical and can be a great locker room presence for this young team. Mike Grier is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and should command no more than $1.5 million which is what he made this past season.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Fredrik Sjostrom in the Dion Phaneuf trade, Leafs fans had hoped that the penalty killing specialist would be a major contributor. Not only was he ineffective on the Leafs penalty kill, but later in the season Wilson went to look for other options to help the Leafs ailing penalty kill. Sjostrom was therefore demoted to being a fourth line player and often scratched in order to give some of the younger players playing time.
Pascal Dupuis could be the possible solution to the Leafs penalty kill. He knows how to play well defensively, knows how to clog lanes and has the speed that will fit in on this younger team.
Last season Dupuis had 17 goals and 37 points while averaging around 16 minutes per game. On top of that he also had 4 shorthanded goals.
Sydney Crosby even praised the winger for his speed and hockey sense and said that he always loved to play on his line. I feel that he would make a great addition to the Leafs lineup.
Pascal Dupuis is an unrestricted free agent who's salary last season was $1.4 million. He had a stellar season and may expect an increase to close to $2 million in my opinion.
I only mention either one of these two because of the increasing crop of young talent Edmonton is gathering. The Oilers will most likely draft Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, givign them another young center to add to their organization. With more and more younger players coming in, Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano's roster spots may be coming to an end.
Next season Sam Gagner is slated to make $2.275 million whereas Andrew Cogliano is a restricted free agent. Both players had decent seasons with Gagner scoring 15 goals and 42 points and Cogliano scoring 11 goals and 35 points, but their production has slipped since stellar rookie campaigns. Recently their names have been mentioned in trade rumors around the league.
While neither of these two are the solution to the Maple Leafs top center needs, acquiring one of them couldn't hurt if the price was right.
I mention Joel Ward as a preference of my own. He had a sub par season scoring 10 goals and 29 points during the regular season but it was his playoff performance that really raised eyebrows throughout the league. Ward scored 7 goals and 13 points in 12 games and was easily Nashville's best forward during the playoffs. During the regular season however he was often moved between Nashville's second and third lines.
Ward is an unrestricted free agent who will be looking for a increase from his $1.5 million contract due to his success in the playoffs. Ward could be an effective third line player for the Maple Leafs on a line with Armstrong but don't expect Burke to overpay for one successful playoff run.
Jakub Voracek was the first player ever drafted by current Columbus GM Scott Howson who has had any success with the Blue Jackets. With Columbus is looking to make some major moves this offseason Voracek, may be the odd man out, especially because he's a restricted free agent looking for a pay raise.
Last year Voracek scored 14 goals and 46 points while spending time on both Columbus' first and second lines. Coveted as being a playmaking right winger, Voracek was brought into the Blue Jacket's system to be Rick Nash's setup man. He has done alright for the past three seasons but there is still plenty room for improvement in the Blue Jackets system and with them looking to make some big moves it's safe to assume that every player who's name isn't Rick Nash is available.
I may be a little biased on Jakub Voracek, having had season tickets and watched him play in junior hockey, but the fact remains that his playmaking skills could be an asset to the Leafs.
James Wisniewski really burst on the scene this year as a puck moving defenseman which is something Brian Burke said he would be looking for this offseason. When he was traded midway through the season from the Islanders to the Canadiens he was in the middle of a career year with 3 goals and 21 points. He continued his impressive play by putting up another 7 goals and 30 points, finishing off the year among the leagues best offensive defensemen with 51 points.
With the Canadiens having only three defensemen signed through next season, do not look for them to let him walk away just like that, even if he is an unrestricted free agent. But if he does hit the free agency market he will be one of the most sought after puck moving defensemen and look for him to command $4-5 million a year, although I don't see him making more than $4 million.
Probably my favorite player on this list is Ville Leino. Mike Babcock said, when Leino was on the Red Wings, that he was the best player that he ever had to send down to the minors cause the Wings were just too good.
Leino first made his mark in the NHL during the 2009-2010 playoffs when he scored 7 goals and 21 points in 19 games. He managed to follow that up this year by scoring 19 goals and 53 points in 81 games, all while averaging 16 minutes per game. Even though he was playing on a very potent offensive team like Philadelphia, those are still very impressive numbers.
The chance of Leino re-signing in Philly all but evaporated when they made a move to acquire the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov who is commanding around $6 million a year. With them being right up against the cap they will need to do some retooling and not re-signing Leino would just be the first move, especially with him commanding a significant raise from his prior $800,000 salary.
Who would've thought one year ago that Kevin Bieksa would be as effective as he has been for the Vancouver Canucks this year? After being a dismal -5 in 55 games last season he was significantly better with a +32 rating in 66 games.
Bieksa has been one of Vancouver's top defensemen throughout the season and a force during the playoffs scoring five key goals, including the one that sent them to the Stanley Cup Finals.
While Vancouver may not be in cap trouble, they do a have a number of roster spots to fill and with Bieksa likely to command between $4-5 million this offseason, Vancouver may decide to part ways with their top defender.
During the 2009-2010 season Fleishmann solidified his status as a solid second line player by scoring 23 goals and 51 points. However when he was struggling this past season with the Capitals he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche for Scott Hannan. That trade only revitalized Fleischmann as he scored 8 goals and 21 points in 22 games while playing on the same line as Matt Duchene.
It may be hard for Colorado to let Fleischmann go just like that but they have stated that every player on their team, with the exception of Matt Duchene, is available. If Fleischmann WERE to hit the open market he should definitely be a player Burke should consider. A solid second line player who knows how to play center and the wing very well.
Since the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup Finals the Leafs automatically get their second round pick so why not go after him during free agency? It would make the Phil Kessel trade look even better if we could've robbed Boston of a top prospect, a first, and a second round pick for more or less 40 games of uselessness.
Leafs fans know what Kaberle is capable of and we know that he has great chemistry with Luke Schenn. Bringing Kaberle back could only be a positive but Burke could pretty much kiss the hometown discount goodbye.
Brooks Laich I feel should be at the top of Burke's list come free agency. He can score, he can kill penalties, and he's a solid two-way player.
Last season Laich scored 16 goals and 48 points. While that may be an impressive season it did break a three time 20-plus goals streak.
Laich would be an excellent addition to this Leafs squad. He would be capable of playing on any line and could help improve their powerplay and penalty kill.
With San Jose failing to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals once again they will need to make some changes especially with cap issues they are facing.
Heading into next season they have 14 players signed and at most $11 million to spend. Changes are inevitable and with restricted free agent Devin Setoguchi expecting a step up from his modest $1.8 million salary, San Jose may look to deal him for the right pieces.
The price should not be too high in my opinion, maybe a mid prospect and a second/third round pick, but Setoguchi likes to play the physical style game that Burke loves all his players to have and should make a solid addition to the Leafs team.
Not only is Brandon Dubinsky a physical player but he's also a solid offensive player who likes to play on the edge, something that would be a perfect fit for the Leafs.
Last season Dubinsky scored 24 goals and 54 points during a career year in which he also had 141 hits and 100 penalty minutes. His gritty play would fit perfectly on a line with Colby Armstrong but if need be he could still chip in offensively on the the Leafs second or potentially first line center (although I wouldn't hold my breath).
The New York Rangers only have 13 players signed through next season and with them expected to make a run at pending free agent Brad Richards, their remaining cap would shrink drastically. Dubinsky is a restricted free agent who will likely demand an increase from his $2 million salary after another terrific season.
Even though the Rangers might soon be facing some cap issues, the price for a player like Dubinsky will not be underlooked. I could see a deal for him require a roster player (like Bozak, MacArthur, Lupul) and a draft pick (likely a second or third rounder depending on the player).
I know Jeff Carter has already been mentioned a lot in the past and also in rumors this season but I just have to put him on this list. If he's available then Burke would definitely ask about him, no matter what the contract situation may be (even though that will be the determining factor).
Carter's performance has slipped over the last two years but not drastically. He has still managed to score 33 and 36 goals respectively the last two seasons and is still an offensive force.
Carter's availability became even more apparent when the Flyers traded for the negotiation rights to Ilya Bryzgalov who is looking for top dollars among NHL goalies.
The Flyers are already against the cap so they will need to move a big contract to make room and Carter's looks like the one. Even though he is still signed for eleven more years, he will still be sought after by many teams.
Unfortunately there are rumors that a deal between Philadelphia and Columbus are in the works that would send Carter to Columbus in a package deal for the 8th overall pick. Not only does that take Carter off the market but that would also put to rest the rumors about Burke making a run at the Blue Jackets 8th overall pick. Talk about killing two of our birds with one stone.
The proposed deal would likely take place during the first round of the NHL entry draft but nothing is set in stone just yet.
It's open season down in Colorado and everything is for sale—with the exception of Matt Duchene.
Colorado underperformed drastically last season and is looking to do some major retooling this offseason. Everyone is available and John-Michael Liles has been linked to the Leafs since the trade deadline.
The puck moving defenseman had another stellar year with 6 goals and 46 points with the Avalanche. While he may have been had a plus-minus of -9 last season you have to keep in mind that the team as a whole was terrible and Liles averaged 22 minutes per game. Liles is known mainly for his puck-moving ability but is also very solid in his own end having had 153 blocked shots last season.
Liles only has one year left on his contract valued at $4.2 million which isn't too bad a for a defenseman of his caliber. The price for him won't be cheap but there have been many rumors surrounding the Leafs and Avalanche for months now so if a deal were to go down between the two, more than just Liles would be coming to the Leafs.
It's hard to imagine the New Jersey Devils having cap problems when the team finished so low in the standings but that's just how things work these days I guess.
The Devils have 17 players signed through next season with around $10 million to work with but a large portion of that will be dedicated to re-signing Zach Parise. With Parise being a top priority heading into the offseason, the Devils will likely have to shed some cap space from elsewhere and Travis Zajac may be the odd man out.
First off, fans must be dreaming if they think that the Devils would think of trading Parise, one of the top left wingers in the game, because of cap issues. They will clear whatever they can to bring him back and that's a fact. Actually his injury this season may be a blessing in disguise for the Devils because it may bring down the value of his contract extension.
Travis Zajac had 13 goals and 44 points last season. While that's only sub par to the year he had back during the 2009-2010 season that saw him score 25 goals and 67 points, his poor performance can be attributed to the poor performance of the team as a whole throughout most of the year.
If Zajac were available I wouldn't be surprised to see Burke use every tool in his arsenal to get him for as little as possible, knowing the situation that New Jersey is in. However I could see Zajac being worth a first/second round pick and a prospect like Korbinian Holzer/Kenny Ryan/Matt Frattin.
Little Joe may just about be ready to break free of the massive shadow in front of him.
Like I mentioned before San Jose needs to do some major retooling and take care of some cap issues. While Devin Setoguchi may look to be the odd man out, the Sharks might have to clear some cap space instead.
With Pavelski slated to make $4 million over the next three seasons, and the big three in Thornton, Marleau, and Heatley all having no-movement clauses, Pavelski may instead be the odd man out.
Pavelski had another great season this year scoring 20 goals and 66 points while averaging 19:39 minutes per game. He was also a +10 and one of their best faceoff men.
Pavelski right now is San Jose second/third line center but may be looking for a promotion should he be traded. However the asking price for little Joe won't be cheap. San Jose right now is in dire need of defensemen.
In an ideal world I would say trade Komisarek for him but that would never happen. It would most likely take a roster player, a first/second round pick, and a defensive prospect or two. Whatever the asking price for Pavelski is, Burke should definitely look into it. While he may not be the definite first line center the Leafs need, he sure does have the potential for it.
Yeah, yeah, I know it's been said before but the fact of the matter is he is available, he is a legitimate first line center, and it would cost the Leafs nothing more than the value of his contract (which would be a substantial sum but that's beside the point).
I know both Richards and Burke have said before that it won't happen but I (and most Leafs fans I would assume) can't think it would end just like that. There is bound to be SOME discussions that will take place between the two of them over the summer.
Richards will most likely head to the Rangers once free agency comes around and will probably sign for between $8-9 million for five to six years (because I guess that's how Ben Sather likes 'em), but this is a list of players who should be on Burke's radar and like it or not Brad Richards is just by playing great hockey.
Phoenix had two main goals this offseason: re-sign Ilya Bryzgalov and Keith Yandle.
They already failed at one of their goals and I pray that they fail at the other.
Keith Yandle was arguably one of the best puck-moving defensemen in the entire league last season having scored 11 goals and 59 points. He was also a +12 on the year while averaging 24:22 minutes per game.
Burke stated that the team needs a puck moving defensemen and after last year I can't think of someone better suited for that role that Keith Yandle. Being a restricted free agent he will definitely be expecting an increase from the $1.3 million he made last season.
Hopefully he doesn't want to play in Phoenix anymore and Burke comes to his rescue and convinces him to only come to Toronto so Burke can offer decent value in return. Full value for Yandle now would be ludicrous and I seriously doubt Burke would trade for that. One can hope right?
Like I said before—it's open season in Colorado.
Paul Stastny used to be the teams legitimate first line center until Matt Duchene arrived on the scene. While there is definitely no need to panic in Colorado, and the team is in good financial standing, they have no immediate need to trade Stastny. However they are looking for change in Colorado and any player could be available for the right price.
After a stream of 70+ point seasons (excluding his injury riddled 2008-2009 campaign) Stastny took it down a notch only scoring 22 goals and 57 points. While that's not terrible by any means the team as a whole also took it down a notch and Colorado is looking to shakeup the atmosphere surrounding the team.
I don't know what kind of package would get Stastny (having heard a lot of different theories) but I feel that Bozak, Gustavsson, a first round pick, and prospect should be enough to acquire Stastny. There have also been rumors of a larger deal taking place between both teams so it's hard to determine what the overall deal would look like.
Stastny would be a great addition to the Leafs roster and would easily be the solution the Leafs number one center problem. All that remains to be seen is what Burke will do with all the playing pieces he now possesses.
Also if there are any other players you feel that I left out feel free to list them in the comments.