2013 NHL Free Agency: Which Players Should Burke Target?

July 13th, 2012 No Comments

With the 2012 class of free agents slowly starting to sign with their new clubs, it appears as if Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke will stick to his words and avoid making a big acquisition via free agency this summer.

According to capgeek.com the Maple Leafs currently have $58,353,333 invested in 19 players for the 2012-13 season, leaving them with just under $12 million to spend based on a $70,200,000 Salary Cap.

While it is fairly clear that any cap room Burke has will likely be spent on acquiring a player with a large contract via trade, next summer becomes very interesting in Leafland as Burke will have just 11 players under contract at a cost of $38,103,333. That will leave Burke with just over $32 million with which to fill out his roster.

With key players like Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski, James van Riemsdyk, Dion Phaneuf, John Michael Liles and Jake Gardiner under contract for the 2013-14 season the bulk of Burke’s roster (or at least the top-end of his roster) will already be filled out.

Forwards Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak, David Steckel  will all be UFA’s next summer, while defensemen Carl Gunnarsson and Korbinian Holzer will be RFA’s. With that in mind, the only player of significance that Burke will have to re-sign next summer will be Joffrey Lupul.

Lupul currently commands a salary of $4.25 million. If he has another season like 2011-12 in which he scored 25 goals and registered 67 points he can expect a small raise, but given his history of injuries and inconsistent resume it’s hard to imagine Lupul commanding much more than $5.0-$5.5 million per season on a long term deal.

That leaves Burke with close to $27 million to go free agent shopping with and given the names that may be available next summer, that’s a good thing.

Here is a look at the top unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents for next summer. This list will change over time as teams lock some of these players up to long term deals before next summer comes.

Top 10 UFA forwards:.

1. Corey Perry
2. Ryan Getzlaf
3. Jarome Iginla

4. Travis Zajac

5. Nathan Horton

6. Brendan Morrow

7. Derek Roy

8. Mike Riberio

9. Ryane Clowe
10. Andy McDonald

Top 10 UFA Defenseman:

1. Kimmo Timonen

2. Alexander Edler

3. Rob Scuderi

4. Tobias Enstrom

5. Mark Streit

5. Lubomir Visnovsky

6. Robin Regehr

7. Douglas Murray

8. Ryan Whitney

9. Ian White

10. Ron Hainsey

Top 10 UFA Goaltenders:

1. Tim Thomas
2. Niklas Backstrom
3. Kari Lehtonen
4. Jimmy Howard

5. Mike Smith
6. Evgeni Nabokov
7. J.S Giguere
8. Jason Labarbera
9. Jose Theodore
10. Nikolai Khabibulin

Top 12 RFAs:

1. Jeff Skinner (F)

2. Tyler Seguin (F)

3. Taylor Hall (F)

4. Jordan Eberle (F)
5.Milan Lucic (F)

6. Alex Pietrabgelo (D)

7. Tuukka Rask (G)

8. Cam Fowler (D)

9. Jonas Enroth (G)

10. Jonathan Bernier (G)
11. Wayne Simmonds (F)
12. Ryan McDonagh (D)

A quick look at the lists reveals some very impressive talent at the top end.

At forward Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf will likely garner the most interest, while Jerome Iginla will get his fair share as well.

On defense, Alexander Edler and Rob Scuderi will be in high demand, as will Kimmo Timonen, health permitting.

And finally, between the pipes the sometimes controversial Tim Thomas will get plenty of action, while Minnesota Wild backstopper Niklas Backstrom and Detroit Red Wings keeper Jimmy Howard will also get plenty of interest.

In the RFA department it is very unlikely any of them will make it to market, but there sure are some great names listed, including youngsters Jeff Skinner, Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall.

Of the key unrestricted free agents listed one has to think that Burke will have considerable interest in both Getzlaf and Perry, as well as shift disturber Ryane Clowe, whom Burke has been rumored to have gone after before via trade.

Of course, the Anaheim Ducks will have something to say about Getzlaf and Perry leaving town, but with the Ducks seemingly sliding in the standings again this season and the team looking pretty bare in the prospect department, the Ducks may chose to trade one or both of Getzlaf and Perry instead of taking their chances in free agency.

Neither one of Getzlaf or Perry has a no-trade clause, so a trade at some point next season might be imminent. If and when that happens, Burke will surely be front and centre with an offer for his former team.

As impressive as the names of the unrestricted free agents are, the list is fairly thin. After the high end talent of Getzlaf, Perry and Iginla, the forward group dwindles considerably to a bunch of mid-tier players and grinders.

With Toronto already deep on defensive talent and prospects it is hard to imagine Burke going after a key defenseman, although Stanley Cup winner Rob Scuderi might be of interest.

Between the pipes Burke appears to be looking to upgrade sooner rather than later. If that is the case, and if Burke pulls off a trade to acquire a true number one goaltender, there is zero chance he will look to sign any of UFA goalies next summer.

Which brings us back to Getzlaf and Perry.

With between $27 and $32 million (depending on the Joffrey Lupul signing) with which to sign potential free agents next summer, is it possible that Burke will go after both Getlaf and Perry should they become free agents?

As it stands, Getzlaf and Perry are each set to earn $5.325 million this season. If all goes well both Getzlaf and Perry should have decent seasons, which probably means a decrease in salary is not forthcoming. When we consider their overall career numbers, their age and the upside that many still attach to them, Getzlaf and Perry could command in the neighborhood of $7-$8 million apiece, which could potentially drain upwards of $16 million of Burke’s salary cap dollars should he sign both players.

With Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf set to become unrestricted free agents the following summer Burke will likely have to make a splash to keep them in Toronto. Would the signing of Getzlaf and/or Perry be enough to keep Burke’s top players in the fold?

With Kessel finishing in the top ten in scoring last season and with no indication that he is going to slow down, he will be looking to cash in himself. While not as accomplished as Getzlaf or Perry, Kessel’s statistical resume is looking better and better every day, so it is reasonable to imagine him commanding a salary in the $6-$7 million range.

As for Phaneuf, there is no way in he-double-hockey-sticks that he gets another contract in the $6.5 million range that he is currently bringing in. More likely, a step down in salary towards the $4.5-$5 million range is what Phaneuf can look forward to, which might be generous at that.

Given the fact that Getzlaf and Perry look to be the only players available that could change the course of your franchise next summer it appears as if Burke is going to have to get a little lucky if he expects to sign them.

First, they have to make it to free agency, and then Burke has to sell one or both of them on becoming a Toronto Maple Leaf, something that few top-flight UFA’s seem to be buying into these days.

Burke was hampered from making key signings this off season by a lack of funds and the feeling by many that Toronto simply was not close enough to competing for a Stanley Cup. Let’s face it, unless Getzlaf and Perry are available, Burke will have little chance of improving his club next summer, unless he makes some key trades.

Here’s hoping Burke can make something happen next summer, but the odds are long at best.

Until next time,





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