I don't want to beat the dead horse by making another article listing what everyone else is already talking about. That is why I decided to think outside of the box and start looking at other logical options for the puck-moving defensemen to help the Leafs.
I have heard many arguments take place over who this defenseman should be and what qualities he should possess. So here is my opinion on what the Leafs need: a defenseman who can make quick and efficient outlet passes; a defenseman who can be the quarterback on their power play; but most importantly, a defenseman who has had a sufficient amount of NHL experience to not get overwhelmed and whose term is short enough to deal with.
I am a firm believer that the Leafs have something special brewing with both Jesse Blacker and Jake Gardiner. While neither of them are NHL-ready just yet, I see one or both of them being the Leafs power-play quarterback within the next two to three years. Until then, though, Burke must find someone else to take the reigns.
This list is compiled of the top free agents as well as possible D-men who could be traded. I ranked them by how likely I see them contributing well to the Leafs as well as by their contract value and length.
I was gonna make an entire slide for Markov but I just don't think he would be a realistic option for the Leafs considering how injury-prone he is. He's only played a combined 52 games over the last two seasons. He did have 37 points in those games but I think Burke would much rather spend his efforts going after someone we can depend upon and not someone who's just missed an entire season.
He won't make anywhere near the $5.75M he made over the last four seasons and if Burke were to go for him I would like to see him offer a one-two year $3M contract at MOST.
Kaberle has gotten a lot of hate over the last few seasons and has continued to get it even though he's no longer a Leaf. It's a no-brainer that Kaberle was about as effective for the Bruins this season as Colton Orr was for the Leafs. He may have 18 points in 47 games (regular season and playoffs) for the Bruins but with him their power play has been even worse than before.
I'm not recommending to go after Kaberle (not like he'd come back after all the abuse he got in Toronto) but that doesn't change the fact that he's available and has been very capable for the Leafs in the past. Kaberle had a less than impressive playoff outing and was a liability defensively for the Bruins so I don't see a pay increase in his future. He will probably make around the same as his last contract for around two-three years at most.
I've heard so many Leafs fans say that Burke should go after Bieksa especially since witnessing his monster performance during the playoffs. I, too, thought the same thing until I realized that Bieksa would be completely wrong for the Leafs no matter how good he's been.
Toronto needs a puck-moving defenseman and a power-play quarterback. Bieksa can make a solid outlet pass but cannot be deemed a power-play quarterback. He's more of a shutdown defenseman with a powerful shot but other than that, he plays a similar style game as Luke Schenn and Dion Phaneuf—responsible defensively and can lead the rush if needed.
Bieksa will be getting a big increase from his $3.75M contract which could go as high as $5M per season. But I don't think Brian Burke will be rolling out the big bucks for Bieksa come July 1st.
I think Matt Carle is one of the most underrated puck-moving defensemen in the league. He may not be an elite talent but he knows how to make a solid outlet pass and can be a very efficient quarterback on the power play.
This past year, Carle had 39 assists and 40 points with the Flyers and was a whopping plus-30 while averaging 21:59 minutes. Even though he played on one of the top offensive teams in the league, those are still impressive numbers when Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros and Chris Pronger are placed ahead of him on the depth chart.
This wasn't Carle's only impressive season to date either. Back during the 2006-2007 season he scored 11 goals and 42 points; he scored six goals and 35 points last season. He is a capable player that Burke should look into, especially with the Flyers needing to shed some cap space in order to sign Ilya Bryzgalov like everyone expects them too.
To Toronto: Matt Carle.
To Philadelphia: Carl Gunnarsson and fourth-round pick.
Matt Carle is probably worth more than that but they will need to move his contract and I think Burke will take full advantage of that. Gunnarsson won't make more than $1.5M next season, which gives the Flyers a cheaper power-play option with great top-four potential.
James Wisniewski turned a lot heads with his impressive play this season. Not only did he show the world that he could be a puck-moving defenseman, he showed he could be a pretty darn good one at that.
Last season with both the Islanders and the Canadiens, Wisniewski scored 10 goals and 51 points which tied him for fifth in scoring among NHL defensemen. After his trade from the Islanders there was an immediate turnaround. In 32 games with the Islanders he was a minus-18 while averaging 23:41 minutes per game and in 43 games with the Canadiens he was a plus-four while averaging 22:42 minutes per game.
As impressive as Wisniewski's season was, one can't help but think if it was a one-hit wonder. At 27 years of age, there's still room for improvement in his game but it still comes into question whether he was just a late bloomer or if that was the peak of his career.
Wisniewski will definitely be looking for an increase from his previous salary of $3.1M. I think he'll be expecting around $4.5-5M per season and a term of around four-five years, which I don't see Burke falling for.
Sign Wisniewski for $3.8M per season for two-three years.
It's no shock that Burke doesn't like to overpay for his players. He won't pay a player based on one good season unless there's reason to believe that he will perform just as well or better. This is why I feel that Burke won't go for Wisniewski this offseason, especially with Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker waiting in the wings.
Even though Mark Streit missed the entire season, he might not be a bad pickup if he were available.
Prior to missing this last year, Streit scored 36, 62, 56 and 49 points respectively over the last four years. This shows us that when he's healthy he is a very effective puck-moving defenseman and power-play quarterback.
Streit's availability is a completely different story. Since he missed the entire season his trade value won't be as high as it was before but the Islanders need to re-sign some key players in Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau this offseason and John Tavares, Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina next season. I know that those aren't irreplaceable players but with the Islanders in a never-ending rebuilding mode, they may look to unload his contract for more pieces—especially with young players like Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald expected to be the future of their blue line.
Streit is slated to make $4.1M over the next two seasons. If he can come back healthy and play as well as before his injury, he'll be worth every penny.
To Toronto: Mark Streit.
To New York: Clarke MacArthur and Matt Frattin.
I don't know if the Islanders would be likely to make that deal but seeing as Streit hasn't played since 2010, I don't see Burke offering much more than that. Maybe add a third/fourth-round pick.
Even though Ryan Whitney has only played 54 games over the last two seasons, he has still been able to score five goals and 38 points. Those may not be remarkable numbers but before Whitney suffered a season-ending injury, he was the highest-scoring defenseman in the league.
Whitney's contract still has two more years on it but he has a no-trade clause. Edmonton is in a rebuilding mode and with the current first overall pick again, the team is getting younger and younger and may look to deal him if he will allow it.
Whitney is slated to make $4M over the next two seasons which doesn't seem like too big of a price for an established puck-moving defenseman. His best season came when he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2006-2007 season where he had 14 goals and 59 points.
To Toronto: Ryan Whitney.
To Edmonton: Jesse Blacker and Toronto's second-round pick.
I know Jesse Blacker could be a very solid defenseman in the future but acquiring Whitney could be the missing piece that the Leafs need right now to compete. Whitney is a solid all-around defenseman who would help out the Leafs power-play immensely. Due to injuries over the last two seasons, I don't think that Whitney's trade value would be too high but he would still cost a pretty penny.
Joni Pitkanen has had his ups and downs during his seven-year NHL career. Most recently, though, it seems as though he has begun to find himself with the Carolina Hurricanes.
When Pitkanen was drafted fourth overall in 2002 by the Philadelphia Flyers, there were a lot of high expectations on him. He was the Flyers' highest-scoring defenseman during the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons. He was traded to the Oilers when things were rumored to be going south in Philly. He had a terrible season and then was signed by Carolina where he spent the last three years.
He had 33 points in 2008-2009 and 46 points in 2009-2010. This past season he had five goals, 35 points and was minus-two on the year while averaging 25:01 minutes per game. Pitkanen had a great season defensively but the Hurricanes expected more from him offensively.
Joni made $4.5M this past season (cap hit of $4M) and will most likely be expecting that or better for his next contract. He is capable of playing big minutes and in all situations and there will be a number of teams looking to sign him.
Sign Pitkanen for $4.5M for three years.
It is just unrealistic to expect to get Pitkanen for less than $4M per season but I don't expect Burke to pay him more than $5M when we already have big-ticket defensemen in Phaneuf and Schenn expecting a raise. Pitkanen would be a great addition to the Leafs for the right price and when free agency comes around, I can see Burke making a run at him.
The only problem would be the term. Most players these days are expecting longer and longer deals and Pitkanen might be expecting the same. But if Burke can get him for three years (or even better two), I would love to see Pitkanen in the blue and white.
John-Michael Liles' name has been linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs for months now but it is still up in the air whether anything gets done.
Liles had a very respectable year, scoring six goals and 46 points while averaging 22 minutes per game. He may not necessarily be the best option available at this point in time but he can be a very likely candidate who has interested Brian Burke for some time.
Liles is still signed for one more season at $4.2M and also has a no-trade clause that allows him to designate 18 teams he will not accept a trade to. Due to all the speculation surrounding him and the Leafs, I think we can assume that they are not on the list.
To Toronto: John-Michael Liles.
People will probably think this isn't enough to get Liles but I don't see Burke paying too much of a premium for Liles. He may be a great puck-moving defenseman but he is not an untouchable. At most, I think Burke could add a mid-level prospect but nothing too serious.
In my opinion, if Burke waits til free agency to look for his puck-moving defenseman, Christian Ehrhoff would be the best pickup out of everyone.
Ehrhoff has come into his own as a puck-moving defenseman over the last three years, especially with Vancouver. This past season he tied a career high with 14 goals and set career highs with 36 assists and 50 points. He was also a +19 on the season while averaging 23:59 minutes per game. Those numbers may be inflated by playing on the best offensive team last season but they are impressive nonetheless.
Ehrhoff made $3.4M last season ($3.1M cap hit) at the end of his three-year contract which saw him amass 136 points over that span so he will definitely be expecting a pay raise. I can see him asking from anywhere between $4-5.5M for four-five years.
Sign Ehrhoff for $4.5M for four years.
I know what I said earlier about not wanting to get stuck with a big, long contract but I feel that Ehrhoff may be worth it. He has been improving his all-around game each year while increasing his point totals as well. If he hits free agency and we're still in the market for a puck-moving defenseman, I would like to see Burke make him a top priority.
Also, if Gardiner or Blacker seem more than capable of taking the reins before the end of the deal, Burke could deal Ehrhoff for what we might need in the future.
One of the best puck-moving defensemen in the league right now, Yandle scored 11 goals and 59 points last season. He was also a plus-12 while averaging 24:22 minutes per game.
The only problem is that Keith Yandle is a restricted free agent. Phoenix made it very clear that he and Bryzgalov would be top priorities this offseason. With Bryzgalov all but gone, Yandle just jumped to the very top of their list.
If he continues to remain unsigned when July 1st comes around, the Leafs can go one of two ways to acquire him: sign him to an offer sheet or trade for his rights.
If Burke were to go the offer sheet route (which we all but know he won't), Burke would have to offer Yandle an obscene amount that he knows Phoenix can't match. We all know that Burke hates to overpay players so unless he is 100 percent convinced that Yandle is worth, it he won't do it.
In order for Phoenix not to match it, Burke would have to sign Yandle for around $6-6.5M over four-six years. Compensation for that would vary from a first, second and third-round pick at $6M and two firsts, a second and third-round pick at $6.5. While the first compensation amount may be worth it, the second is a little hefty, and there's nothing to say that Phoenix won't just match the offer anyways.
The most likely situation would be for Burke to talk to the Coyotes management about trading for Yandle's rights. He may have to pay a little bit more of a premium but he can be sure that he doesn't overpay for him and in my opinion, Yandle would be worth it.
To Toronto: Keith Yandle.
To Phoenix: Clarke MacArthur, Carl Gunnarsson, Boston's first-round pick and a prospect.
Sign Yandle for $4.75M for four years.
I personally like Keith Yandle a lot so I may be a little biased towards him but I feel that he would be worth everything that it requires to get him. At 24 years of age, Yandle can only get better and it would be scary to see him feeding Dion Phaneuf on the power play. Also, considering Phoenix's current goaltending situation, they may take one of the Leafs' many goalies instead of one of the aforementioned players.
When your team spends right up close to the cap ceiling and then finishes 12th in the conference, you just know that changes will be coming. The magnitude of the changes is yet to be known.
Last season the Minnesota Wild were among the top spenders in the NHL but had very little to show for it. Now, heading into next season, they have 15 core roster players signed with about $10M to work with or less. It is unclear whether Chuck Fletcher will be looking to rebuild and start selling away core players for pieces or whether he wants the team to compete now, but he has made it clear that things will change.
When Marek Zidlicky first burst onto the scene in Nashville he was unbelievable, scoring 14 goals and 53 points in his rookie season. Every year since then, Zidlicky has consistently put up good numbers from the blue line until this season when he missed 36 games due to injury. But he still managed to score a respectable seven goals and 24 points. He also averaged 21:46 minutes per game during the 46 that he played.
Currently 34 years of age, Zidlicky is about to enter the second year of a three-year contract that pays him $4M annually. His contract also carries a limited no-trade clause but I was unable to determine the details of the clause. It is supposedly only active during the first part of the contract but I do not know when it would expire.
I know Marek Zidlicky may not be the ideal candidate for Leafs fans due to his age but he is capable of putting up good numbers for a fairly modest price. Ultimately it depends on what Minnesota will expect in return for him.
To Toronto: Marek Zidlicky and Colton Gillies.
To Minnesota: Carl Gunnarsson, Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak and a third/fourth-round pick.
I know people might think that Zidlicky is too old and Burke shouldn't make a move for him. But for the caliber he is able to play at, the term of his contract and the modest price, I think that Burke should at least explore the option.
Of course, Zidlicky would only be a temporary fix until Gardiner or Blacker are able to step in and contribute, which I feel should be in at most two years. If that were to happen, Burke would have a very attractive puck-moving defenseman that he could move at the trade deadline in one-two years time.
Dennis Wideman may not have had a powerhouse season this year but he did manage to put up respectable numbers with the Panthers and Capitals scoring 10 goals and 40 points. However, he was a combined minus-19 on the year (minus-26 with Florida).
Wideman was brought to the Washington Capitals for one reason, which was to be a suitable replacement for the then-injured Mike Green. He didn't play as well as the Capitals would have hoped and then sustained an injury which abruptly ended his season.
Heading into next season, the Capitals will have Mike Green and Jonathan Carlson placed ahead of him on the depth chart for solid all-around, puck-moving defensemen. The Capitals also have six defensemen signed through next season with Scott Hannan being a UFA and Karl Alzner being an RFA. I can see Washington keep Alzner over the other two but comparatively, Wideman would be the odd man out on the Capitals blue line.
Washington will also need to bring in some players to fill the key holes that will be left by Brooks Laich, Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm, Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon who are all unrestricted free agents come July 1st.
To Toronto: Dennis Wideman and rights to Brooks Laich.
To Washington: Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur and a fifth-round pick.
Dennis Wideman had a less than impressive season but is capable of a lot better given the right situation. The only problem is that the Capitals will have no need for him and if he were to stay he wouldn't get proper ice time. I personally believe that Burke could get away with paying less than that for Dennis Wideman but he just has to play his cards right. That's something that we know he can do very well.
Well there you have it. These 13 players are the ones that I feel could easily help make the Toronto Maple Leafs a better team. I would just like to make it clear that the way I ranked the players does not reflect on how good I think they are; it reflects on how I feel they can help the Leafs for the right price.
If I were to pick five logical defensemen I would like Brian Burke to target (this makes Keith Yandle irrelevant because no matter how good he may be, I don't see Burke going for him) they would be the following:
Matt Carle, Mark Streit, Christian Ehrhoff, Marek Zidlicky and Dennis Wideman.
I feel that these are some pretty good puck-moving defensemen who would be excellent power-play quarterbacks on the Leafs. I also feel that if Burke wanted to he could get each of them at a fair price without giving too much in return (like he would have to for Yandle, Liles and potentially Pitkanen).
Hope that you all find this article informative and feel free to name others and make suggestions down in the comments. Peace!