The Dwindling Dream
There is a distinct possibility, it seems, that the Maple Leafs could have all this cap money to spend this summer and nobody to spend it on.
Nobody, at least, of the substance that will add a proven, world-class player, specifically a forward to help out Mats Sundin.
There is still Patrik Elias of the Devils, of course, although those in the know suggest that since Elias' best friends in hockey are Martin Havlat of the Senators and goalie Tomas Vokoun of Nashville, you might want to keep an eye on those teams and those players.
The bidding for Elias is probably going to start around $6 million, and the chances of him becoming a Leaf are slim.
Other good skill players have been picked off, or at least re-signed. Columbus re-inked David Vyborny, and Nashville re-signed clever defenceman Marek Zidlicky.
Another distant dream died Sunday when Brad Richards re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning for $39 million over five years. Some had wondered if the Bolts would be able to pony up the cash to keep Richards, or if he might force their hand this summer through arbitration and thus become available on the trade market immediately or through unrestricted free agency.
As it turns out, not so much.
The signing apparently pushes the Bolts near the $40 million mark in payroll, but they're not going to dump Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis has a no-trade clause.
Which brings us back to the Leafs.
Assuming they won't blow their brains out on an aging veteran centre like Joe Sakic or Doug Weight, the mid-range forwards available may be people like Anson Carter, Sergei Samsonov, Mark Parrish, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jeff Halpern and Matt Cullen.
All good players. But not quite the home runs Leaf fans - or even new coach Paul Maurice - had in mind, and some will be re-signed by their current teams before the free agent season begins.
There's still the biggees on defence, namely Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden and Ed Jovanovski. All three could be re-signed by their current teams, and the Leafs might yet take themselves out of the running if they decide to give Bryan McCabe the big dough.
One thought on McCabe, by the way. He's a superior athlete with very questionable decision-making talents, which makes you wonder whether he could ever really be worth the $5 million or more he wants.
But after three years of watching him run around under the coaching of Pat Quinn and Rick Ley, it sure would be interesting to have a look at how his talents could be harnessed in the kind of structured system Maurice is proposing.
Problem is, the Leafs will have to commit to four years or more to find out.