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.
Continuing to work our way through the Western Conference as we search for potential trade or contract targets for Brian Burke, since he obviously refers to Editor-in-Leaf for all his offseason plans, we’ll look at the Northwest Division next. With teams like Colorado and Edmonton in the process of rebuilding, there will be a few more options for Burke here than there were in some of the other divisions we’ve looked at.
Calgary Flames: 18 players under contract; Current Cap Space: $3 million
The Flames have been partners in some of the larger trades in recent Leafs history, including the trades that brought Doug Gilmour and Dion Phaneuf. Unfortunately, Darryl Sutter is no longer at the helm, but there’s still a few Flames that could be of use to the Leafs. Anton Babchuk, a pending unrestricted free agent, is one of the more underrated puck-moving defenseman in the league, and I think he would fit in nicely with the youth on the current roster. He’s just 27 years old, but he’s already bounced back and forth between the KHL and the NHL twice in his young career. In the last two full NHL seasons he’s played, he’s scored 35 points apiece, and in both Carolina and Calgary, he was nowhere near the top of the depth chart when it came to offensive defensemen. At 6’5, 202 lbs, he is also a force ot be reckoned with, and has plenty of weight to put behind his heavy shot. Babchuk won’t be as expensive as Kevin Bieksa or Christian Ehrhoff, and I really hope Burke takes a shot at him. Veteran Alex Tanguay had another impressive season with the Flames, notching 22 goals and 69 points, and while he doesn’t fill the obvious need for help down the middle, if he’s still available after Burke has exhausted all other options to improve the Leafs’ offense, he could be worth a short-term contract. As far as centers go, don’t expect Burke to bring back Matt Stajan and his inflated salary, or make a play for veteran Olli Jokinen. And no, I don’t want Brendan Morrison.
Colorado Avalanche: 13 players under contract; Current Cap Space: $27.85 million
Let’s just go ahead and get it out of the way right off the bat. Yes, the Avalanche are about to be in serious rebuild mode. Yes, Paul Stastny could be the perfect fit for the Leafs, as a young, talented playmaking center that could rack up points and potentially form a lethal tandem with fellow American Phil Kessel for years to come. Do I think Colorado GM Greg Sherman is just dying to trade away a 25-year old center who’s already scored 70+ points three times in his NHL career? No, but the presence of Matt Duchene makes the possibility worth talking about. Stastny’s apparent distaste for the late season trade that sent Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk certainly hasn’t diminished the rumors. As far as what Burke would have to give up to bring Stastny to Toronto, it would almost certainly include one or both of the first round picks the Leafs own in the upcoming draft, and likely one of the Leafs’ top prospects (Kadri or Colborne), although with Colorado’s need for a goalie, one of the prospects not named James Reimer could be in the mix as well. Burke also could sweeten the deal by taking on the $4.2 million salary of 30-year old John-Michael Liles. When you look at it that way, it almost seems like the perfect deal for the Leafs, especially if they can somehow get out of it without losing Kadri or Colborne (highly unlikely, I know). The presence of Liles would give the Leafs’ defensive prospects like Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker another year to develop, while also relieving pressure on Carl Gunnarsson to step up and be that puck-moving defenseman immediately.
Edmonton Oilers: 14 players under contract; Current Cap Space: $22.1 million
Is there any area of the roster that the Oilers couldn’t use some help? You’d have to think that aside from their young stars like Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi-Svensson and maybe Sam Gagner, just about anyone on their roster would be up for trade discussion. Ladislav Smid and Taylor Chorney are both restricted free agents, but neither really fits the mold of the puck-moving defenseman that the Leafs need, while fellow RFA Andrew Cogliano hasn’t really proved his worth as a true number-one center. There’s a reason that the Oilers have been at the bottom of the standings for the past few years, and there’s really not a ton of appealing targets on the club.
Minnesota Wild: 20 players under contract; Current Cap Space: $6.9 million
There are few teams that have as many players already locked up for the 2011-12 campaign as the Wild, and as it stands now, they could just about field a full roster without much effort. Either Brent Burns or Cam Barker would probably be a great addition to the Leafs, and one of the two could be available as they’re both due for UFA status at the end of next season. The Wild aren’t incredibly deep when it comes to scoring, evidenced by the fact that they were among the lowest-scoring teams in the league with just 206 goals this past year. Mikko Koivu certainly isn’t going anywhere, and I doubt Burke is in any hurry to offer 38-year old John Madden a deal.
Vancouver Canucks: 13 players under contract; Current Cap Space: $13.7 million
Obviously, the Canucks aren’t concerned with their offseason plans just yet, as they still need just one win to bring home their first Stanley Cup, but it’s no secret that they’ll have some big decisions this offseason. There will certainly be suitors for Cory Schneider, who has proven his worth with a couple of solid stand-in performances for Luongo in the playoffs, but the two biggest attractions will be pending UFA defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa. If I had to choose one of them to add to the Leafs, it would be the gritty Bieksa, who offers a unique combination of offensive skill and truculence. Ehrhoff is certainly an offensive talent, having scored over 40 points in each of the last 3 seasons, breaking 50 in 2010-11. Other free agents like Raffi Torres, Max Lapierre and Chris Higgins will draw some attention, and while it would be nice to think that Burke could somehow extract Ryan Kesler from Vancouver, even the thought of it seems to be a stretch of the imagination.
So, after looking at all these teams, I would have to think Burke has had a watchful eye on the Northwest Division for some time now. What scenario would you like to see Burke pursue? A trade with Colorado for Paul Stastny, and potentially John-Michael Liles?Which defenseman would you most like to see in a Leaf uniform? Bieksa, Ehrhoff or Babchuk? Let me know what you think, or if there’s a scenario I’ve completely overlooked.
Thanks for reading, and just as a reminder, you can follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/editorinleaf.
Topics: Anton Babchuk, Brian Burke, Calgary Flames, Christian Ehrhoff, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Joe Colborne, John-Michael Liles, Kevin Bieksa, Ladislav Smid, Minnesota Wild, Nazem Kadri, NHL Free Agency, Paul Stastny, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks