Why the Toronto Marlies Will be a Key to Any Future Maple Leafs' Success

Jeremy WarkContributor IDecember 9, 2008

The one legacy that John Ferguson Jr. left that must be admired has to be the move to relocate the "Baby Leafs" from St. John's Newfoundland back to the GTA. It was a tough decision, but in a salary-capped league, it will prove to be the right one.

This discussion is not about fan support or team revenues, as St. John's was a wonderful supporter of the Leafs' prospects and they played in a great facility. It will focus on the benefits of having a farm team so close to the Air Canada Centre.

It's obvious that having your prospects at arms length is an ideal for NHL GM's and their scouts. They can scout the AHL in their own backyard, call-ups are a cab-ride away and from a player perspective, they're living in a "big city".

But beyond the obvious, you've got salary cap implications, health/medical implications, training/rehab implications and potential opportunities for free agents.

From a salary cap perspective, the Leafs now have the luxury of carrying close to the minimum playing roster for half the season. For home games, they can reasonably get away with a 20-man roster (assuming they're injury free), saving at least a league minimum salary but probably closer to $1 million per season. Whoopee right?

But consider that come the trade deadline every $1 million in cap space is worth about $5million in terms of player value. An extra million at the trade deadline means space to absorb an average NHL contract, every cap dollar saved beyond that could be the difference between trading for a Robert Lang as opposed to a Joe Thornton at the deadline.

Since the lockout, there are plenty of NHL free agents who increasingly cannot find a NHL job, or are unwilling to resign with a team offering a two-way deal. If I'm a borderline NHL talent and am being forced to consider playing in the AHL on a two-way deal, Toronto suddenly becomes a very nice option.

Not only is the opportunity to make your case to be on the NHL roster literally just down the street, but you're living in a metropolitan city. You've got all the amenities of your NHL counterparts including training/medical/rehab facilities.

The Leafs and Marlies are now the responsibility of Brian Burke. While the salary cap implications won't likely be a factor for at least the next few seasons, but I'll bet that Burke starts to use the Marlies to great advantage over the term of his contract. He likes his NHL "plumbers", guys who can play in your bottom six forwards and your bottom defence pair.

With the Marlies within earshot, Burke has a team that will not only be the proving grounds for his draft picks, but should allow him to keep at least a couple of sets of forwards hungry for the NHL.