Who Wants to Be A Leaf?
So Dave Nonis has cleared the decks to aggressively change the face of the Maple Leafs.
But he's still got to find some players to take the money he's got to spend.
That's what will be fascinating over the next couple of days, with the Leafs owning as much cap flexibility to sign UFAs or trade for players with significant existing contracts as any other NHL team.
Take a look at existing NHL payrolls. There way, way, way almost at the bottom, with just $41.6 million committed for next season (the reduced cap is set for $64.3 million) would be the Leafs.
Only the perennially cheap Islanders have a lower payroll number as of today.
Guess we're going to find out - with very active Toronto having already added goalie Jonathon Bernier, centre David Bolland and new Marlies coach Steve Spott - who else wants to be a Leaf.
Actually, it's more complicated than that. A lot more complicated.
By using the compliance buyout route to escape from the contracts of Mike Komisarek and Mikhael Grabovski without any cap complications, Nonis has left himself with something in the neighborhood of $23 million to spend with about 10 players to sign. He has RFAs Jonathan Bernier, Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson and Carl Gunnarson to sign, and that's going to eat some of those cap dollars. Then again, he might be able to clear up even more money by, for example, deleting the contract of defenceman John-Michael Liles through trade.
At the same time he created a chunk of money to spend, however, Nonis has said repeatedly he's very focussed on not spending for the sake of spending, or not replacing bad contracts with other bad contracts. So it seems unlikely he'll, say, give Tyler Bozak more than $5 million a year over five or more years just because Grabovski's been cleared from the books.
So what about, for example, New Jersey winger David Clarkson? Good, gritty winger, father's a huge Leaf fan, the player has an interest in community and making a contribution beyond hockey. The Leafs might give him the same deal they gave Joffrey Lupul (five years, $26.25 million) but they are unlikely to give him more.
And other teams are likely to be willing to give him more.
Bozak and Clarkson, meanwhile, are also both clients of Newport Sports, the giant player agency. As is Stephen Weiss, the UFA centre from Florida who might fit the Leafs' needs. Newport's job is to do the best for their clients, and they need to find a way to steer them all to places where they can get maximum dollars.
So if the Leafs were to sign Clarkson, that might mean less money for Bozak, at least with the Leafs. If Bozak signs with the Leafs, that's one less option for Weiss.
As noted, it gets complicated in a hurry.
The Leafs - who, by the way, never made an offer to Vinny Lecavalier - could conceivably chase Jarome Iginla for the veteran leadership they need, but that seems a stretch. Val Filppula would be a nice replacement for Bozak, but again, the salary number would be interesting based on his nine goal, eight assist season.
Would the Leafs give Mike Ribeiro the money that Washington would not? As enigmatic as Grabovski was, Ribeiro's had his ups and downs as well.
What does seem true is that few teams have the money the Leafs do to spend, which could mean good deals at significant savings for the Leafs and Nonis. A veteran defenceman like Andrew Ference, for example, might keenly understand that when the dust clears there will be established NHLers without a team and a contract, and he might look to make sure he gets a good job at or around his current salary of $2.25 million.
Or, he might be looking for a big raise. Again, it gets complicated, and even with lots of money to spend, the Leafs know it's not just about what they want.