Is There Enough Cap Space For Brian Burke To Make A Key UFA Signing?

April 21st, 2012 7 Comments

According to, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has a total of $56.7 million wrapped up in 17 players for the 2012-13 season. Based on a salary cap of $64.3 million that leaves Burke with about $7.6 million with which to fill out his roster.

Burke has already hinted at the fact that he will be looking to make an upgrade between the pipes but with few options available via the free agent market Burke will likely have to find his goaltender via the trade route.

One would have to think any goalie worth his weight would have to cost Burke at least $1.5 million. That said, Burke could chose to spend more than $1.5 million on a new goaltender, but with little wiggle room, there is every reason to believe Burke will continue to attempt to address his goaltending on the cheap.

While some rumors are suggesting Burke may try to take a run at acquiring goaltender Roberto Luongo from the Vancouver Canucks in the off season, there is little chance. At 33 years of age Luongo has probably played his best hockey already and with ten years and upwards of $54 million left to be paid on his contract there is too much risk associated in bringing in Luongo, even for the fat cats at MLSEL.

With few goaltenders available Burke may shift his efforts towards bringing in a defenseman, but with so much potential in his current defense corps and so much depth on defense within the system, it would seem unlikely that Burke would go down that road.

Which brings us to the forwards.

Zach Parise, Alexander Semin, Jaromir Jagr P-A Parenteau, Shane Doan and Ryan Smyth will likely attract the most attention, and by default the most money.

While Burke would love to add the likes of Parise to the Maple Leafs lineup, it is hard to imagine he will be able to outbid the likes of the New Jersey Devils ($22.4 million), Detroit Red Wings ($20.8 million) and Colorado Avalanche ($43 million) who all have huge cap space available this summer.

That means Burke will likely be looking to make some changes to his third and fourth lines, as the likelihood of attracting, or at least being able to afford, high-end talent looks to be pretty bleak at best.

We all know the Maple Leafs need some relief between the pipes, but there are also those that believe the Maple Leafs greatest organizational need is down the middle.

Veteran centres such as Olli Jokinen, Saku Koivu, Daymond Langkow, Jason Arnott and Brendan Morrison are not going to be on Burke’s short list, which means he will have to pick from an already mediocre list.

Boston Bruins centre Chris Kelly (31) would be a great acquisition for Burke. His 20 goals would be welcomed with open arms, as would his leadership, experience and truculence.

Outside of Kelly, Burke will be hard-pressed to find a great fit for his club. More likely, Burke will turn his sights to one of his prospects (Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne) to make the club out of training camp, or attempt to upgrade via the trade route.

On the wing Burke will have to make a decision on Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur, both of whom underperformed this season.

If he could manage to trade one of both of these players his cap restrictions would get some relief, which may lead him to get into the bidding for another winger.

On the left side Detroit Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler would make a nice addition, but it is very unlikely Detroit would allow him to walk.

Once again, high-priced options Ryan Smyth (who will probably re-sign in Edmonton) and Zach Parise look to be the best options, but Burke will not have the dough to compete for either one of those players?

On the right side New York Islanders forward P-A Parenteau (29) would be a nice fit, but does Burke have enough cap room to bring him into the fold?

Toronto’s own Joey Crabb (29) will also be a UFA this summer. When you consider his efforts this season it would seem Burke would like to re-sign him, but will Crabb return on the cheap?

With his personal problems seemingly now behind him Jordan Tootoo (29) could be an option for Burke. God knows the Maple Leafs could use Tootoo’s physical presence, and if he was afforded more ice-time he could potentially hit double digits in goals scored.

On the other side of the coin, should Tootoo relapse his “situation” could become a distraction to the room and huge story in the media, which Burke likes to avoid.

Colorado Avalanche forward David Jones (27) could also be on Burke’s radar, but with Colorado flush in cap space it will hard to outbid them for Jones’ services.

With the CBA agreement set to be renegotiated this summer, salary cap limits have never been more uncertain. That said, it is hard to imagine the players settling for anything less than what they already have, which suggests a raise of some kind is forthcoming.

Still, Burke will be hard-pressed to make significant player acquisitions this summer, so don’t expect any big moves unless they come via trade.

Until next time,



  1. Dave says:

    Hey dude,

    Given your reasoning and the logic behind it, I agree whole heartedly. If all things remain equal, your article may as well be a crystal ball going into mid July or early August.

    Having said that, I get the sense that there will be some major cap relief coming to Leaf land this summer. The proverbial stars will have to align for this to happen, but I’m betting Burke and team are going to make a hard run come hell or high water to move contracts. Also, bearing in mind that teams can be 10% over the cap in the off season, not having to be cap compliant until the puck drops on the regular season.

    We’ve had this discussion before, but consider this: Lombardi – has proved not to be a fit because of his style of play (not condusive to the Burke/Carlyle style) given where he will be slotted in the line up. Connolly – refer to Lombardi and add that his cap hit is north of of Lombardi’s amd the issues are similar. Only argument against this theory is that he upside in that he can play a more physical two way game and has the ability to be more effective (IMO) if moved up due to injury. Armstrong – yes, he’s a favorite and apparently a mentor in the room, but he carries a large cap hit with little return on that investment thus far. Komisarek – see Armstrong, enough said.

    Theres 15.5 in cap room there for four players. Now, there is no argument out there to be made that any one of these players can be packaged for anything of significance whether packaged or on their own. However, there is a glimmer of hope for a few reasons:

    1.) Many pundits out there are actually calling for two action items of significance out of the new CBA. One is the addition of an amnesty clause for one time buyouts. Second is that, the cap could go up for 3-4 million. Either singular option would help the buds out quite a bit. If both were added, we’d likely be discussing another 8 to 8.5 in cap space in addition to the 7.6 thats there now and thats a significant number.

    2.)We have seen players who are struggling with big cap hits get moved as recently as 2011/2012. Albeight these types of players who moved for little retun. In the case of the Leafs, the cap space gained is the most important moving forward. Examples include Mike Commodore being sent to Detroit and I’m not sure even Komo has sunken that low.

    Now, I will admit that Burke can and has been a bit of a blow hard in the past and in recent history. Having said that and given the set of circumstances the Leafs find themselves in, I would come close to banking on Burkes statments that there will be change this off season. I’d say look for a big name trade to occur (Nash is my first choice in terms of a prediction) and I’d also say look for a FA aquisition in either Parise (I’d bet a ton of money that Burke will make one hell of a run at him) and if that fails, expect a moderate run at Doan. The goaltending situation is a little more complicated although, I think there are options out there and Burke will do his due diligence there. Bobby Lou isnt an option, period ( as much as the media would have is think that he is).

    I think you may also see a Run at Kelly or a similar type in a trade and then look for some hungry Marlie talent to round out the bottom six which I think is the best plan of all. I’d also bank of seeing the likes of Holzer/Blacker and possibly Percy seeing some time of the blue line next year which is a good thing.

    As pissed as I am with the way our season went (and contrary to popular belief) there are alot of positives to point to in 2011/2012. The Marlies are in the midst of a run with our young talent progressing and gaining invaluable experience (D’Amigo is again proving to be a big time player when it counts as I predicted and have been damn near crucified for) and we also own a number 5 pick with some serious talent to choose from. Its frustrating, but I think this vaults us ahead of where we would have been after a first round elimination anyway. Blessing in disguise? I hope so, we deserve it dude.




  2. Mark Ritter says:

    Hey Dave-

    Great comment!

    Trouble is, even if the the cap gets increased, that increase applies to all 30 teams, which means the Maple Leafs are no further ahead. Jersey has a ton of cap space, so I just cannot see Burke outbidding them.

    To me, Burke’s “plan” should all come to fruition in three years. I know that sounds crazy, but that is when he will have significant cap space, a good handle on his minor league talent and an indication of whether or not Kessel is staying and what to do with Phaneuf.

    The bottom line is, like every NHL team, Burke’s draft picks need to evolve into impact players. If that happens he’s gold, if not, we’ll be watching another ten years of crappy hockey!

    Chris Kelly would be a great addition. Not sure Blacker is ready, and Stuart may be a season away as well…again, I really see the 2013-14 season as Burke’s time to shine, anything positive between now and then is going to be a bonus.


  3. Peter says:

    Wow, so we need to sign more free agents who have the same credentials as the ones we already signed and did not perform? Chris Kelly is a big upgrade over Colby Armstrong? Why would we sign more mediocre talent when we have mediocre talent with big upside in the minors? Komisarek and Connolly were supposed to be studs but they don’t get top ice time on this team so they can’t perform. Kulemin is a player we have been waiting for for 20 years and the media is already trying to ship him out. Personally, if the leafs are so poorly managed that they ship out a 6’2″ 235 lbs 30 goal scorer because he had an off year, so that we can sign Chris Kelly, I might have to call Shenanigans.

  4. Dave says:

    Agreed dude. Thats the million dollar question. Thus far, theres been quite a bit of success in the world of draft picks for Burke. Bradley Ross, Greg McKegg, Sondre Olden, Stewart Percy, Garret Sparks, Jesse Blacker and Jerry D’Amigo have all made good strides to varying degrees. Some look to be good depth players and others look to have impact ability so theres a good mix there. The question is, can these players take there success and translate that into NHL success. Were still waiting on that answer out of Nazam Kadri (notice he wasnt on the list above) but I personally believe its more that our coaching staff didnt give him ample opportunity. I think that situation has now progressed into having a blue chip for trade bait.

    Starting next year were going to get a good indication of where these players are at with likely a few getting some fill in time with the Leafs after a roster injury. 2012/2013 will also be huge for the Marlies with a lot of this talent getting prominent roles with the club so its also going to be a pivitol year on the farm. Lets hope Eakins is still around to work his magic (dont want to rant any further on the Eakins front). A calder cup would also go a long way for these players both the current ones – in terms of building confidence and for the ones coming in knowing that they have a standard to hold.

    Another aspect of the “build” (agreed it does sound crazy – but it does has a basis in fact) is the supplemental talent Burke has been able to add. Joe Colbourne, Nicholas Deschamps, Carter Ashton, Marcel Mueller, Mark Frasor and Jussi Rynnas all have been nothing but positives and shown that they can be leaders and solid contributors on the farm. A few were struggling when we aquired them (Deschamps, Frasor) and Eakins found a way to turn their games around and make them into top end talent (top end meaning on their respective clubs). Deschamps is solid in the top six and Frasor is in the top two pairing defensively. Pretty impressive if you ask me.

    Bottom line is like you said, these names will either be main stays in three years on the big club or will be perennial AHL talent. One or two of those names may still be on the bubble because of their age but generally we’ll know whats there and will have seen them play in the NHL.

    IMO with a solid draft here in 2012 things should continue to build in a positive manner. The real issue is what to do with the NHL roster and how do we move the deadwood out. This season will also be interesting to see who out of that 2013/2014 group gets resigned and who holds out. Like you say, thats going to be the year of the UFAs if we see players wanting to test the markets.Lets hope Burke plays his cards correctly on this one.


  5. MarkRitter says:

    Nobody is suggesting shipping out Kulemin so you can sign Kelly. Kelly would be a good third line player. He had 20 goals this season on a deep Boston team, and yeah, Kelly is a huge upgrade on Army, check the stats and watch his performance with the Bruins in last years Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    Would I ship Kules out? For the right return yes. Sure, Kules has size and he does try hard, but he had a hell of a time hitting the net this season. He has one good season, the rest have been very average—which player is the real “Kules” is anyone’s guess.

    Army, Komi and Connolly all underperformed and it has little to do with their ice time. All three were injured this season (which is not an excuse as much as a fact), Army and Komi can’t keep up in the skating department and Connolly was just being “Connolly”, which is to say a big disappointment!

    When you consider Burke’s options I think the only player I really think he has a shot at is a guy like Kelly…so no, I am not suggesting Burke make a ton of FA signings, rather I would like to see him give the kids a chance and make some trades.

    I am calling shenanigans for not reading the article through!

  6. Dave says:

    Well said on Kuli Mark. Will the REAL Kuli please stand up? Not sure we know who or what he is aside from an outstanding guy with a great work ethic and a well rounded two way game. That describes a great 3rd liner, not a winger in the top six. Can he get back to being all of those things with a scoring touch? Nobody really knows and the guys value is still relatively high. Therein lies the dilemma.

    Dont look now dude, but the Marlies just sweep Rochester. In the broom game, Scrivens pulled off the shoutout and D’Amigo got his league leading 5th goal and 6th point. This guy is again showing he shows up in big ways under pressure and in games that matter. Lets hope this continues. This is a huge step for our young talent!


  7. Mark Ritter says:

    Hey Dave-

    Yeah, marlies have been impressive. Burke often speaks about his players going to battle together and learning how to win. That is why I keep pointing to 2014 as the key season for the Maple Leafs. By then this organization should have been through a number of battles, ups and downs and should be ready to take the next step. D’amigo is a bit of a shock to me, I mean, he was great at the Junior tourney’s but I haven’t seen much out of him since—at least statistically. Heart can take you a long way in this game, D’Amigo is proving just that!


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