Brian Burke appears to slowly whittling away at his list of offseason to-do’s, having inked James Reimer a few days back, and finishing up negotiations with Carl Gunnarsson earlier this afternoon. The Swedish D-man will hopefully experience a similar fate as Luke Schenn, rebounding from a slightly unremarkable sophomore season with a solid third season in the NHL during 2011-12. While the rumor broke early in the day from a Swedish website, it was officially announced on TSN just before 4 PM today that Gunnarsson had been locked up for another two seasons.
After putting up 15 points in just 43 games in his first taste of NHL action, Gunnarsson appeared to regress a bit last year, notching just 4 goals and 20 points in 68 games. While there was really little doubt that Burke would re-sign “Uzi”, its comforting to see it taken care of so quickly, with the end of the postseason just one day away. Gunnarsson, unless he’s traded, will play the next two seasons with the Leafs, making $1.4 million next year and $1.25 million the following season.
What can we expect from Gunnarsson now? He’s certainly staked his claim to one of the 6 spots on the Leafs’ blueline, and rightfully so. Whether he turns into the puck-moving defenseman of the future remains to be seen, but if he does, the current contract gives both him and the Leafs more than enough time to prove his worth. As it stands now, he would make a solid partner for Luke Schenn, provided the two can create some chemistry, and as he continues to grow (he’s still just 24), he should add some weight, both to aid in his physical play and to add some mustard to his already strong shooting. While some might consider it a bit over-enthusiastic, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gunner put up somewhere in the vicinity of 30 points next season, especially if he gets some quality time on what will hopefully be an improved powerplay unit.
If you’re keeping track at home, today’s activity puts the Leafs at 16 players under contract with another $18 million+ to spend before hitting the current cap. Hats off to Burke for getting two valuable young players signed to good deals that will enable both them and the franchise to establish their worth before breaking the bank on them. If I had to bet, I’d say we hear on a finalized deal for Luke Schenn by week’s end, while the jury’s still out on Clarke MacArthur.