Building a Blueline
MONTREAL--The Maple Leafs have two defenceman participating in this weekend's all-star festivities, veteran Tomas Kaberle and rookie Luke Schenn, but there's another blueliner here that's on the club's radar.
That would Jay Bouwmeester of the Florida Panthers, a brilliant skater and Canadian Olympian who has thus far been unable to make a major impression on the NHL because he toils for the little-watched Panthers. Bouwmeester has turned down a long-term contract offer worth more than $6 million per season from Florida and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in July at only 25 years of age.
The Panthers are looking a trade possibilities and hoping to get a first round pick, another top selection and a top, NHL -ready prospect if they move Bouwmeester. The Leafs don't have the wherewithal to put that kind of package today, although its believed GM Brian Burke might be willing to part with the team's first rounder this summer if he could first negotiate a long-term deal with Bouwmeester.
Barring that, if Bouwmeester gets to unrestricted free agent status, you can expect the Leafs to be at the front of the line of teams vying for his services. Interestingly, the Leafs would be well-positioned given that they currently operate almost $10 million below the salary cap. There's a threat the $56.7 million cap could drop significantly after next season, leaving teams with fewer salary committments - like the Leafs - potentially in a position to have far more flexibility over the next two years.
Even if Bouwmeester is traded before the March 4 deadline, he might still become unrestricted July 1st, as was the case with Marian Hossa.