Can the Flames Take the Leafs to the Woodshed?

With Phil Kessel signing a contract extension for an infinite number of dollars spread over an infinite number of years, this got me thinking about the future cap situation of the Leafs which got me thinking of the recent Colborne trade as perhaps being a harbinger of things to come.

The Leafs traded a young but stalled prospect to the Flames for a song. A conditional 4th round draft pick of a song, to be exact.

Call it the Burke-Nonis factor. While Dave Nonis is busy driving the Leafs into the ditch Brian Burke can idle behind him picking up useful spare parts while cheering on his protégé.

Here is the Leafs’ cap situation as of today:

The part of the above chart to pay attention to is the difference in signed players from this season to next, a drop off of 12 bodies. If we assume that the cap rises by as much as $6 million for next season that gives the team roughly $28 million to fill those roster spots.

Here are their forward contracts for the next three seasons:

Note the NTC/NMC on the top five earners listed and keep in mind the team has already used both of their compliance buyouts on Mike Komisarek and Mikhail Grabovski. No more get out of jail free cards.

Here is their blueline roster for the next four seasons as well:

Here note that they don’t have a single blueliner signed beyond three seasons and the value contracts on the blueline are still not enough to offset the cap imbalance created by the forward contracts.

(All images taken from capgeek)

The Leafs have Kessel, Lupul, Clarkson, Van Riemsdyk and Bozak taking up around $27 million of cap space with pending UFAs Dave Bolland, Dion Phaneuf, and Nikolai Kulemin. They also have James Reimer, Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson, and Carter Ashton as expiring RFAs this year and Nazem Kadri an expiring RFA the following season.

Given the current salary structure of the team is it reasonable to expect that captain Dion Phaneuf will take much less than his current $6.5 million in a new deal? Or that Dave Bolland won’t threaten to explore free agency is the Leafs don’t at least give him $4 million? Reimer may no longer be the Leafs starter if Jonathan Bernier develops as is expected, but he currently makes over a million less than Bernier, who is an RFA in two years’ time so one can’t expect much of a savings on that front either.

The usual avenue of cap savings that teams in this situation exploit, specifically affordable entry-level contracts to offset veteran contracts, does not appear to be one readily available to the Leafs. Their prospect depth may not provide the cost offsets that would enable them to ice a well-rounded roster while still retaining, which implies re-signing, their current young players.

Something, or more specifically someone, is likely to shake loose. My guess is one forward, perhaps via free-agency like Jay McClement, and one defenseman. And the Calgary Flames, in my opinion, may be uniquely positioned to take advantage of this.

Burke and Nonis have worked together since their Hartford days. In Vancouver, Anaheim, and Toronto where you find one the other is almost sure to follow. They work well together and there is a very strong professional relationship between the two. The Leafs are obviously trying to build something in the here and now, while the Flames are attempting to gather together a collection of talented young players and rebuild.

The Flames could offer a collection of picks and prospects for one of the Leafs’ sacrificial lambs, forfeiting an asset from an organizational strength to shore up a weakness. For instance, Feaster and Burke could offer Laurent Brossoit and a 2nd round draft pick for Jake Gardiner, feeding the Leafs’ system needs for draft picks and goaltending prospects while adding to the Flames a potential top-four defenseman on the cusp of entering his developmental upswing.

It might not even take that much given Burke’s reputation for wringing deals out of otherwise competent GMs.

The other avenue would be to acquire JM Liles, whose demotion only saves the Leafs about 900k in cap space, resulting in nearly $3M in dead space for the Leafs. That’s a problem which limits the Leafs’ budgeting flexibility, but also for the next two seasons since Liles’ contract extends until 2015-16. Calgary could absord that contract easily and potentially wring a high draft pick or prospect or two out of the Leafs in return.

Either way, the Leafs have very real cap struggles both now and in the near future and the Flames are maybe the only team in the league who can offer them significant relief.

  • schevvy

    FYI- I totally watched that link Rex posted of the 3 goals in 1 minute. Some interesting points:

    -what a filthy pass by Stajan to Tanguay on the 1st goal shown.

    -Darryl looked pissed off even though they just scored, which is typical

    -On Jokinen’s PP goal, the forward lineup on the PP consisted of Hagman, Kotalik and Joker. I can’t believe this was a thing that happened; and that they actually scored.

    -And Bourque scored. So that happened.

    Back to your regular scheduled programming

  • Colin.S

    I’m still skeptical that anything of value can be had from this plan. Although I would look at trying to get a guy like JVR out of Toronto if you took JML with him, would lower the cost a lot and we easily have the cap space to make it work.

    I think the optimal route is to try and include a JML type guy out of Toronto to help lower their cap while at the same time lowering the amount of prospects/picks we’d have to send their way thus not interfering with the rebuild.

  • beloch

    I know Burke is a controversial figure, but he actually makes me look forward to Flames trades. Darryl Sutter’s trades made me want to punch things and my reaction to Feaster’s trades usually started with a face-palm before I gradually worked through the ten steps of dealing with loss and accepted the fact that players like Jay Bouwmeester and Jarome Iginla were overrated mediocrities who could never have brought back a decent return (i.e. Accepting Feaster’s trades usually required some self-delusion). Thanks to Sutter and Burke, the Leafs have it coming. It’s almost poetic that Burke might be the one to finally give it to them!

    I know I’m going to take some flak for suggesting this, but the Oilers are another team whose assets and needs may align with those of the Flames. They have a huge chunk of their salary tied up long-term in some young high-end players, but the rest of the team is a wasteland. They are not going to compete until that changes and, so far, have been unsuccessful fixing things using the free-agent market because, hey, it’s Edmonton! Their roster of centers is particularly laughable. The Flames are practically all support players but lack elite talent, especially at RW. In particular, the Flames have several center prospects currently assigned to the farm that would be instant upgrades to the Oilers bottom six with the added bonus of actually possessing upside! There’s no way I’d have ever sent Feaster up the QE2, but Burke… Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think a significant Flames-Oilers trade is ever likely to happen, but both teams want what the other has.

    • RexLibris

      While the two do have some interlocking interests (say a defensive prospect close to the NHL and a pick for a tough winger like Glencross) I very, very, very highly doubt that this is a road traveled by either team.

      There is simply too much at stake for either side to even risk helping the other.

      Looking at it regionally, the last two goaltenders that were traded this off-season (Bernier and Schneider) were both shopped by the Oilers. Neither team were interested in selling to a divisional rival and so inflated the price in order to ultimately weaken the buyer. The trades were all outside of the conference, nevermind the division.

      Sather once said that he and Fletcher had a dozen deals they’d have loved to do, but it was verboten.

  • RexLibris

    There was a great article in the Edmonton Journal about a month ago as part of a series of “Today in Journal History”.

    It featured an interview with then-premier Aberhart back in 1965 (’65!) about how the province had seen a rise in juvenile delinquency since moving from woodfired home heating to gas and oil.

    His reasoning: this shift from wood to fossil meant that fewer children were learning right and wrong because of the loss of woodsheds as a place of moral instruction.

    Not joking.

    Imagine being an Albertan in what was considered a modern and enlightened age and hearing your elected leader spout off that little bit of homespun wisdom.

  • RexLibris

    Many people feel the Leafs are a poor collection of gritty, unskilled players. I’m not one of those as I feel the Leafs have chosen a style they wish to use and have players who buy into that system. I also think they have some good prospects who would be great to get. We can forget about Gardiner though as he is a budding star. But, hopefully, we could possibly figure out a way to take some salary, a prospect and a pick for a player they want/need at some point. If they keep winning, perhaps Cammy with some salary retained for Liles, Percy and a 2nd. That kind of thing.

  • Brent G.

    This is off topic but I was just thinking about this. Overlooking the effect adding a player like Ryan Oreiley to the Flames and the waiver wire issues. If you could choose between having ROR on the team or drafting monahan, which scenario would you choose?

  • MC Hockey

    I wanted Jay McClement when he was a UFA after being traded to Colorado. He was exactly what we needed at the time, a big bodied center who is excellent defensively and wins faceoffs. Instead he signed with Toronto for less than I would have hoped Feaster would offer.

    Bolland would be an interesting addition as well, especially if we lose Stajan at the deadline/Free agency.