Toronto Maple Leafs: Center of Attention

Eric WarrenCorrespondent IIJune 21, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs: Center of Attention

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    It is certainly no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs will, like a lot of other teams, be in the market for a number one center this off season and the most coveted potential acquisition is pending unrestricted free agent Brad Richards.

    It has been speculated that the Richards camp will be demanding a contract in the neighborhood of 8.5 million over five plus years.

    While there is no reason to think he won't get it, because he will, would this type of contract make sense for Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs?

    In a word, no.

    There is no reason for the Leafs to not go after Richards, but with the ever growing crop of young players in the system, there is simply no reason for Burke to make a deal with anyone that isn't tailor-made for him.

    It would make much more sense for Burke to really overpay Richards on a short term contract, perhaps three years plus a mutual option, than it would to lock him up with a risky contract.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs are finally on the right road, and nothing takes the wind out of the sail in terms of developing a team in the NHL like a bad contract or two.

    Richards may be the only true number one center on the open market but that doesn't mean there aren't others to be had. When it comes down to it no one is untouchable for the right price with the possible exception of Vancouvers' Henrik Sedin and even then only because he would come with an extra contract.

    There are several players in the NHL that would satisfy the Toronto Maple Leafs need for a number one center, here we have a look at some of them and whether or not the might make sense for this young team.

Brad Richards: UFA

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    Brad Richards will be highly sought after in the weeks to come as no fewer than eight teams in the NHL have made it known that they are in the hunt for a number one center.

    Several articles recently have narrowed the possible destinations for this 31-year-old to either the Maple Leafs, Red Wings, LA  Kings or the New York Rangers.

    Of course on-line media in each of these markets would have you believe for one reason or another that their market is Brad Richards' number one choice. The fact of the matter is, Richards and his camp have remained pretty quite.

    For the Leafs to land Richards, a long term deal just doesn't make any sense given his age and the fact that there are players in the organization that may fill the role in another two to three years.

    While Richards at age 31 is certainly not old, a three year contract would make him 34 and that is starting to get there.

    That isn't to say a deal to bring the All Star center to Toronto isn't possible; it certainly is.  But if you hear that the "sticking point" was the term, don't be surprised. 

Steven Stamkos: RFA

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    Steven Stamkos is in a rather unique position. Arguably the best player in the game right now, it is entirely possible that no one could afford him.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs of course would love him, and could easily pay any salary, but with Stamkos being an RFA it would mean that Brian Burke would either have to trade for his rights and take the risk that he may not sign with the team or sign him to an offer sheet.

    The Lightning for their part are really up against it it terms of cap space. With only 12 players currently signed, and only 22 million (projected) in cap space it will be very difficult for the Bolts to re-sign Stamkos.

    Even with the projected increase of 2-3 million in cap space, it may not happen.

    That being said, compensation to the Lightning for signing Stamkos to a contract as an RFA would be two first round picks, a second round pick and a third round pick if you were to assume that he demand a contract somewhere in the neighborhood $6-7 million a season.

    Before you as a Leafs fan spit your coffee all over you computer and scream "oh no, not again!", remember this: with the addition of Stamkos and perhaps one or two other pieces, this version of the Toronto Maple Leafs is easily a playoff team and perhaps more so. Any picks going the other way would be of little consequence and Burke has done a pretty good job so far without draft picks anyway.

    There are those of you who would point to the fact that Burke has said he will not sign players to an offer sheet.

    Burke will do anything to win a Stanley cup. If he thinks that the one player it's going to take to get the Leafs to the cup can only come via an offer sheet, guess what?

Zach Parise: RFA

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    Although Zach Parise's name has been mentioned frequently as a possible target for Brian Burke and the Leafs, the likelihood of any deal involving the Devils' center just got a whole lot less.

    According to a story in The New York Post, the Devils have filed for salary arbitration in an effort to keep other teams from filing an offer sheet for the 26-year-old .

    What this means is Parise will play for the Devils this coming season no matter what as the team does not have any "walk away rights."

    It also means that unless the two sides can come to a long term agreement before July 1, 2012, Zach Parise will become an unrestricted free agent at that time.

    So, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can officially take Zach Parise of their collective check list.

Paul Stastny: Colorado Avalanche

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    Paul Stastny is a 25-year-old center with the Colorado Avalanche. A lot of Leafs fans have seen flashes of brilliance from this relative youngster and have consequently become enamored.

    Stastny is being paid $6.6 million a season for the next three years and while he had what may have been a disappointing season last year compared to his previous year, in all fairness to him it had a lot to do with the whole team as well.

    As his lackluster season may have made Avalanche brass a little nervous about his contract, coupled with a current payroll of over $32 million and still 13 free agents to address, Stastny may be attainable from a trade stand point

    Still a long shot at best though as the team won't likely feel any cap pressure.

Jeff Carter: Philadelphia Flyers

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    When the Philadelphia Flyers signed Jeff Carter to an 11 year, $58 million contract, they likely had no idea that they would be tightly against the salary cap so soon.

    Thankfully for the Flyers, recent reports suggest that the cap will in fact rise almost $5 million to $64 million. That may give the team a little more breathing room, however, it's no secret that the Flyers will have to move salary to make room for Ilya Bryzgalov.

    With a cap hit of a little over $5.2 million over the next 11 years, Carters' contract is an ideal one for the Leafs to take on via a trade with the Flyers.

    The price for Carter may be a different story all together. Obviously the Flyers would want a blue chip prospect in return and likely a higher draft pick, but if Burke is willing to take on an extra salary it would sweeten the pot even more.

    Burke has said on a number of occasions that taking on salary is something he is willing to do.

Jason Arnott: UFA

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    Jason Arnott may be the perfect fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs. A 36-year-old unrestricted free agent, Arnott will be thinking about life after hockey in within the next couple of years.

    From Wasaga Beach Ontario, Arnott would likely welcome the chance to retire with his home town team of sorts in Toronto and he wouldn't cost an arm and a leg.

    Two years and $7.5 million plus an option would likely get it done.

    Having Arnott would give a young team a little more leadership, and he's a past Stanley Cup Champion so he would bring some winning experience to the team as well.

    Arnott may not be the best candidate but he's still pretty good at 36 years old, and at the very least would be a good stop gap and allow a couple of Leafs prospects to grow a little more without sacrificing anything.

The Close

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    There are at least one or two players on this list who people will scoff at, citing all kinds of reasons but the fact of the matter is, nothing is impossible or even improbable where Brian Burke is concerned.

    There may also be more likely candidates, this is just a list of a few but you can be sure there will be a flurry of activity leading up to the 2011 NHL Draft and the start of free agency.

    One thing to watch for is how the raise in cap space will affect things. There are currently eight teams who are at least $10 million below the new cap floor according to a story in the Pottstown Mercury.

    This means that cap-strapped teams like the Flyers may get a little additional relief simply because some of those eight teams may come looking for a couple of salaries to take on just to get above the $48 million floor.