Bargain Hunting In The New NHL
BY ALIN MATEESCU
The Maple Leafs waived Jeff Finger Tuesday, a move that can bring both short and long term benefits to the club.
With Finger's $3.5 million cap hit gone (as well as Matt Lashoff's $0.55 million cap hit, who has also been waived), the Leafs sit at around $4.85 million under the NHL's salary cap ceiling. (All figures U.S.)
This sets up a number of possible scenarios, both with current and immediate implications.
The Leafs now have the flexibility to acquire players at bargain prices from teams desperate to shed payroll. The New Jersey Devils come to mind. They've got serious cap issues and may be nearing the point where they have to make some major roster moves.
A number of Devils players could be made available for trade and some that may be of interest to the Leafs include Jamie Langenbrunner, Travis Zajac and David Clarkson.
Back on September 26, Leafs GM Brian Burke stated that he may have to fill the center position with players from outside of the organization. But with the inspired play of Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski, and the unexpectedly strong performances of both Tim Brent and Mike Zigomanis thus far, it's quite possible the Leafs aren't shopping for centers anymore.
Still, if/when players like Langenbrunner and Zajac become available at potentially reduced rates, it's hard to believe that Burke takes a pass on the opportunity to acquire them. A solid veteran presence like Langenbrunner's would go a long way in providing the young Leafs forwards with some leadership. As for Zajac, he is a points producing center who can immediately upgrade their offense.
Another potential trading partner may be the Anaheim Ducks. Their defense core is depleted due to injuries and lack of NHL-calibre blueliners. The Ducks desperately need some competent rearguards to help them stop the bleeding and all the goals they've been letting in. With their depth on the blue line, both at the NHL and prospect level, the Leafs may be the perfect match for the Ducks.
In addition to immediate cap relief, the Leafs could potentially save $3.5 million in cap space next year if Finger is kept in the minors or dealt to another team. The under-performing defenceman comes off the books at the end of the 2011-2012 season as an unrestricted free agent.
Thus, waiving Finger gives the Leafs flexibility next year when they will have to re-sign free agents Tomas Kaberle (unrestricted), Luke Schenn (restricted), and Carl Gunnarsson (restricted). Each are expected to garner raises, with Kaberle possibly requiring the most substantial pay increase of the three.
All in all, with the demotion of Finger the Leafs have created salary cap room that can be used to invest in the team now or in the future. It remains to be seen whether Burke and company will take full advantage of the situation.
Alin Mateescu, a long-time Leafs fan, is also the founder of
RumorMeThis, a blog dedicated to NHL trade rumours and player movement.