Brian Burke has made some prudent moves over the past number of months, signing some of his key building blocks for the future to fairly reasonable contracts.
Some of the names that fall into this category include James Reimer, Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Tyler Bozak and to a certain degree, Mike Brown.
Unfortunately, on the other hand, Burke has also saddled his team with overpaid/underperforming players in an effort to improve the team in the long and short term. Players like Joffrey Lupul, Matt Lombardi, Tim Connolly and Dion Phaneuf come to mind.
Any one of these contracts could come back to bite the Leafs' President and General Manager, especially considering that Luke Schenn has yet to resign. When he does, the Leafs will be much closer to the cap.
As a result, Burke may be forced to move one or two of his more affordable parts in an effort to remain cap compliant when it comes to re-signing pending RFA's and UFA's in future years.
For example, next summer alone, Burke will be faced with decisions to re-sign:
RFA's Kulemin, Aulie, Franson, Lashoff and Rosehill
UFA's Grabovski, Liles, Gustavsson, Boyce and Dupuis
As you can see, there are some very important pieces of the puzzle in this list. Many of these players will be due for significant raises.
This article will outline the five most likely candidates for the Leafs to trade by the deadline in the early spring of 2012 so that Burke can continue to move forward with the true core of players that he feels will help bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto for the first time since 1967.
I will not specify possible returns—I will leave this sort of speculation up to you fine folks in the comments section.
This season may well end up defining Bozak's entire career path.
He must prove that he is capable of producing enough offense to be a reasonable addition to any team's top six, or that he is defensively responsible enough to help out with the other "plumbers" of the league.
I've personally been highly critical of Tyler Bozak's play, dedication and ceiling this past year. Whether this criticism was warranted will be demonstrated in the 2011/2012 season.
The thing that bothers me the most about Bozak is that he, and fellow college free agents Hanson and Stalberg, were brought in in an effort to justify giving up the picks that went to Boston in the Kessel trade. It was said that they were as good as first-round picks.
Well, Stalberg left for Versteeg, who ended up garnering a first and a third, which was a decent swap. Although, Stalberg never would have brought in anywhere near a first-round pick on his own. Hanson is now gone for good and Bozak has done little to justify such lofty expectations over the course of his time in Toronto.
Yes, I know what many of you will say—he had a half-decent 37 games in his first year. He also had a brutal 82 games this past season. At the end of the day, I feel like he will be a 40-point third-line center—which is somewhere between his decent half-year and his crappy full one.
Due to his reasonable cap hit, strongly developing penalty killing skills, solid faceoff ability, and his offensive touch, I feel like there would be a number of teams who would make a trade for Bozak.
With the large number of NHL-ready centers now in the Leafs' system, Bozak could become easily replaceable.
For example, if Joe Colborne shows strong indications in the AHL of being ready this year, I think this greatly increases the chance that Bozak will be dealt. Just like he did with Aulie, I expect Burke will first make sure that Colborne is ready for full-time duty.
Colborne should get multiple call-ups this season for tryouts and should also be first in line in the event that the Leafs lose a center to injury. If he impresses, Bozak becomes the most logical trade commodity on the roster.
This must have been photo-shopped. Komisarek would never leave a man with the puck unchecked in front of his own net. Never.
Folks, this is a tough one to justify.
The only real way I see Komisarek getting traded is that a team struggling to reach the cap floor makes a truly terrible mistake in dealing for him.
Yes, Garth Snow is at the top of my list of GM's who could make this mistake.
In a recent article, I did make a case for a list of teams who Komisarek could possibly be dealt to, but realistically, it is a long shot no matter how you slice it.
First, there is the low return on your $4.5 million investment because his performance has been abysmal since signing with Toronto in 2009.
Complicating matters further is his limited no-movement clause. It stipulates that he must submit a list of 12 teams he would agree to be traded to every year and that he cannot be sent to the minors without consent.
Additionally, as was pointed out by some of my esteemed colleagues on Bleacher Report, teams wanting to reach the cap floor can just as easily sign players to contracts with low base salaries but lace them with performance-related bonuses in order to drive up the cap hit.
To round things out nicely, Komisarek makes $5.5 million in actual salary this season. This makes it even tougher for small market teams to use him as a cap-floor-reaching-tool. In each of the last two years of his deal, however, he gets paid $3.5 million.
So while this might not be the year Komisarek is traded out of Toronto, the likelihood of it happening increases greatly at the end of next season.
Either way, as long as he is a Maple Leaf, Komisarek will always be a candidate to be traded. How close this ever comes to happening is up in the air. But for the purposes of this article, he makes the list.
Armstrong doing what he does best
Colby Armstrong is a fan favourite, plain and simple.
He brings exactly the right amount of grit, peskiness, veteran leadership, and of course, humour, to this young group of Toronto Maple Leafs. In a nutshell, you might say that Colby Armstrong has "personality".
His ability to lay a game-changing body check, goad the opposition into taking an ill-timed penalty, block shots during big moments, and dominate control of the puck along the boards are some of his most prominent strengths.
There's a little dash of offense sprinkled into his game as well, which certainly doesn't hurt.
Overall, despite the time he has spent on the injured list, this defensive specialist has been an effective player in Toronto. Unfortunately, due to a $3 million cap hit, Armstrong may well be a cap casualty before too long.
Brian Burke loves his style of play but that may not be enough to save Armstrong by the deadline in 2012.
Like the next two players in this list, he would be an excellent addition to a playoff team looking to go deep in the spring.
All in all, I would hate to see the man in any other uniform but Toronto's Blue and White.
When I think of the one centerman on the Leafs that most GM's in the league would request from Brian Burke in trade negotiations, I don't think of the aforementioned Tyler Bozak—I think of Mikhail Grabovski.
While he is not as likely to be moved as Bozak is—due to his production and excellent chemistry with linemates Kulemin and MacArthur—he is likely to be one of the most sought-after players on the Leafs when it comes to a playoff-bound team looking to add that last missing piece to put them over the top.
He would be a very affordable addition to a lot of teams as a point-producing playoff rental, unlike, for example, the $6.7 million Alex Semin. Not to mention that his work ethic, heart, and durability are miles ahead of Washington's enigmatic No. 28.
Make no mistake, for teams looking to make an impact in the post season, Grabovski will be a prime target.
Whether Burke opts to deal him is another matter.
The return would have to be substantial, but I'm sure someone out there will meet Burke's demands. Considering the deadline deals this past season, dealing Grabovski could really help the Leafs in the long term.
Personally, I would hate to see him go. He emerged as a true leader this past year and really salvaged a career that seemed eternally destined to be hindered by personality issues, questionable dedication to the game, and a never-ending stream of off-ice indiscretions.
The best way, in my mind, to describe Grabovski's successful 2010/2011 NHL campaign? He finally figured it out. All of it.
Who was a bigger surprise for the Leafs in the 2010/2011 season? James Reimer or Clarke MacArthur? It is truly a toss up. Considering what James Reimer accomplished in his half season stint with the Leafs, that's saying a lot for MacArthur's performance.
Like Armstrong and Grabovski, MacArthur would be an excellent addition to any team wanting to go deep in the playoffs. Every single night, he brought an abundance of the grit, determination, and heart that earned him his new two-year, $6.5 million deal.
I imagine that Burke's phone will be ringing off the hook in the weeks leading up to the 2012 NHL trade deadline with inquries for the 26-year-old winger who will provide the high intensity and never-back-down attitude that every playoff team needs to find success.
Of course, this all supposes that MacArthur can either match or improve upon his 62 points in 82 games this past season. In the event that he suffers a slump following his first real big payday, his marketability will drop significantly—especially given his new cap hit.
Regardless, he is a definite candidate to be traded over the course of this season.
I would love to see him stay no matter what. As with Grabovski, it would be a very tough loss for the club as they've both emerged as natural leaders after stellar seasons.
And as with Grabovski, it seems as though he finally put two and two together this past season, going a long way toward earning himself the title of "Late Bloomer."
Once expected to be part of the core, Versteeg and Kaberle no longer call Toronto "home" after deadline deals in 2011.
I think it's very fair to say that with the exception of the Tomas Kaberle trade, no one has seen the deals Brian Burke has been making over the last couple of years coming.
I've been a huge supporter of the direction Burke has taken the franchise in, especially lately.
He's given Leafs fans around the world reason to trust his judgment when it comes to making trades—Kessel deal and all.
This helps makes things easier, when it comes to thinking about trading some of the key components of the Leafs—players like Armstrong, Grabovski, and MacArthur.
I take solace in knowing that Burke will not just trade players away on a whim. The return in any trade going forward will match the needs of the franchise and improve the club one way or another.
So it is with this vote of confidence in Brian Burke that I can say in conclusion that I believe Leafs fans must begin to prepare themselves for the likelihood that at least one of these players will be traded over the course of the coming season.
And it WILL be for the good of the franchise.
Thanks for reading!