Potential Trade Partners: Central Division

Disclaimer: These are not rumors based on any sources, simply speculation based on what the Leafs need, have to offer, and could be looking for in a trade partner. Current cap space does not take into account the expected increase which will go into effect for the 2011-12 season.

We’ll continue our look at the Leafs’ potential offseason shopping list today with a look at the Central Division. With some big names headed for both retirement and free agency, there may be some new looks for teams in what has been one of the most competitive divisions in recent seasons.

Chicago Blackhawks:16 players under contract; Current Cap Space: $5.1 million

After coming within a goal of upsetting the eventual Western Conference champs in the first round, the Blackhawks probably don’t have much room with which to play this summer. Despite last summer’s exodus of players, they still have one of the most talented young cores in the league, built around Jonathan Toews, Pat Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Of the players on their roster at the moment, Patrick Sharp is the only one that jumps out as someone that could fill a need on the Leafs’ roster, and potentially be available, given his free agent status at the end of next season. While his versatility as both a center/winger makes him especially attractive, it would take quite the package to move him out of Chicago. Once the Hawks fill out their bottom six (Pisani, Johnson, Brouwer, Kopecky, Frolik and Stalberg are all restricted or unrestricted free agents), they don’t have a ton of needs, especially since Corey Crawford looks like he’ll be the real deal.

Columbus Blue Jackets: 13 player under contract; Current Cap Space: $23.06 million

The Jackets continue to be in need of some help for Rick Nash, but with limited spending ability, regardless of the cap, I don’t think they’re going to be huge spenders this offseason. There have been whispers that they may be interested in Jeff Carter’s services, but they’ll need to shore up their blueline first. Of the defensemen on their roster last season, only three (Grant Clitsome, Fedor Tyutin, Kris Russell) are under contract at the moment. In terms of players Burke could have interest in, Anton Stralman (a restricted free agent) is the only player that has any real appeal to the Leafs, although RJ Umberger’s name has been tossed around, but he’s far from the true number one center that the Leafs desperately need.

Detroit Red Wings: 16 players under contract; Current Cap Space: $17.5 million

With Brian Rafalski and potentially Nicklas Lidstrom headed for the green pastures of well-earned retirements, the Red Wings may find themselves with all kinds of money to play with in the upcoming offseason. I could absolutely see them being a dark horse candidate to land Brad Richards, especially if Lidstrom truly is done. That said, that doesn’t mean Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg is suddenly going to be available. In fact, I doubt they really have plans to move anyone, as the Wings continue to do a remarkable job of building through the draft and adding one or two pieces to complement what they’ve constructed.

Nashville Predators: 17 players under contract; Current Cap Space: $18.5 million

Despite the impressive amount of cap space, it’s highly unlikely that the Predators spend anywhere near the cap ceiling. Priority number one has to be re-signing stud defenseman Shea Weber, who is entering restricted free agency. Joel Ward may have priced himself out of the Preds’ spending abilities with a stellar postseason, and he could be a great addition to the Leafs’ bottom six, but if he wants Colby Armstrong money, I’d rather pass. UFA defenseman Shane O’Brien doesn’t really appeal to me either, and I don’t think Burke has his eye on anyone else on the Preds’ roster.

St. Louis Blues: 14 players under contract; Current Cap Space: $21.3 million

The Blues have always kind of intrigued me as a franchise – I never really hated them, except for that one series when Wendel Clark had to blast Cujo’s head off with a clapper before he finally started to play goalie like a human being, but I never really had a reason to cheer for them. They’ve definitely got some work to do to stay competitive in this tough division, but if the Erik Johnson deal at the deadline said anything, it’s that they’re ready and willing to do what management feels will put them in the best position to build long-term. Winger David Perron had a tough season this year, playing just 10 games due to a severe concussion suffered early in the season, but he’s a talented kid coming into his prime. While I would love to see Perron playing in Toronto, with his talent and relatively low cap hit, I don’t see the Blues moving him. Of the remaining Blues on the roster, TJ Oshie certainly has some appeal, but again, I don’t see the Blues not retaining the pending restricted free agents.

All that to say, I don’t really see Burke getting involved with anyone in the Central Division. The needs of these teams don’t really fit the positions that the Leafs will probably be looking to deal from, while the prospects of any of these teams trading away pieces that are appealing to Toronto’s needs are minimal at best.

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