With the NHL entry draft less than 48 hours away, the already rampant talk of what the Maple Leafs will do is heating up significantly, and as while swapping draft picks to move up to a higher slot is a priority, THE priority is acquiring a No. 1 centre.
The rumour has been out there that "Plan A" for Brian Burke et al is to sign unrestricted free-agent centre Brad Richards to a multi-year deal upwards of $7.5 million to $8 million per season.
However, there has also been much speculation that Brad Richards has no desire or intention of coming to Toronto, and rather, his agent is using the Leafs as leverage to drive up the price for his client so that another team (most notably the New York Rangers) will pay him as much as possible.
That being said, there have been many rumours as to what Plans B or C or D would be. Often the names Jeff Carter or Stephen Weiss have been bandied about, and while both would make some semblance of sense, I just don't see Brian Burke committing to an 11-year deal with Carter, who is a gifted sniper but not the type of puck distributing centre that Phil Kessel needs. Not to mention Carter will command a hefty package of high end prospects and picks to get a deal done.
Nor do I see Burke giving up two first-round picks to acquire Weiss, a local Toronto boy with a lot of talent, but a guy who has also never played in a playoff game and has yet to prove he's a No. 1 centre.
That leads me to the potential "Plan D" player: Paul Stastny.
The more I think about it, the more this one makes perfect sense to me. The reason I feel that way is because when looking at the needs of both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Stastny's team, the Colorado Avalanche, there seems to be a great match of assets between the two teams.
The Leafs desperately need a true No. 1 centre, which Paul Stastny is, and they need a centre who is a puck distributor, as again, Paul Stastny is. Essentially, Paul Stastny is a younger version of Marc Savard, with less attitude, better defensive abilities, and minus the concussion problems, not to mention he's only 25 years old.
He does have an annual cap hit of $6.6 million; however, that contract only runs for three more seasons, including this upcoming one. Stastny is coming off a disappointing season by his standards as he amassed only 57 points in 74 games. However, the entire Avs franchise disappointed in 2010-2011 so those numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt.
One must not forget, however, that in 2009-2010 Stastny put up 79 points and has the skills, the brains and the on-ice vision to be a point-a-game player for eight to 10 years. Howard Berger blogged today that he has heard whispers that the Avalanche are interested in trading Stastny if the price is right, and looking at their roster and current situation, this makes a lot of sense to me.
The Avs are the youngest team in the NHL, and after a very disappointing season last year, are now at least a few years away from contending. With a young core group of players built around Matt Duchene, the time seems right for them to deal Stastny for some young assets that will be there when they are ready to contend. Statsny on the other hand has three years left on a $6.6 million deal and keeping him at this point doesn't make a ton of sense.
It was suggested by Howard Berger that a package of Nazem Kadri, the recently signed Carl Gunnarsson and a first round pick could get the job done, and I'd even be willing to throw in Jonas Gustavsson if it would further entice the Avs, as they sorely lack goaltending in their system. The Monster has only one year left at a very reasonable $1.35 million and would seem to have a very high reward level in relation to the minimal risk attached.
I know that many Leaf fans will gag with disgust with the thought of trading away another first round pick along with a high-end prospect like Kadri. However, as Brian Burke stated with the Phil Kessel trade, acquiring elite level talent that is about to enter their prime is not something that comes easily.
When the opportunity comes, and it rarely does, you have to pounce. I believe the Leafs have a real opportunity to take their team to a new level, and that starts with trading for Paul Stastny.