Part 2: The Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2012 free agent market.

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Today I will discuss who the Leafs should pursue this off season in the free agent market.

You can click here for how the Leafs roster should look after they have made their off season acquisitions.

I will start things off by saying that all the recent talk about Brian Burke quitting or getting fired is completely and utter BS. Yes he probably wants a contract extension and Yes if the Leafs fail to make the playoffs again in 2013 then he may well be a dead man walking. However until then BB's job is quite safe here in Toronto and I expect him to get his extension regardless of if the team makes the playoffs as long as they are developing good prospects.

The prospects that might buy him an extension would be Alex Galchenyuk and Nail Yakupov. As it has been reported today that Brian Burke is looking to obtain both somehow. This report comes from Yakupov and Galchenyuk's agent, the former great Red Wings player, Igor Larionov. So take this rumour for what it is, and that is just a rumour, as it could simply be a ploy by Larionov to make sure that his clients go one two in the draft this year.

But without further ado I will now present who should be on the Leafs radar in the Free Agent market this summer.

Leafs 2012 Free Agent Signings:

Ryan Suter

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Age: 27
Plays: Defence
Currently makes: $3,500,000

Everybody knows that Ryan Suter is due for a raise this off-season from his $3.5 million deal that expires on July 1st. The question now is more; How much? What kind of terms? And where is he willing to go to get these?

I posit to Brian Burke that Ryan Suter is perhaps the most valuable free agent in the market this summer and would be a great fit on a Randy Carlyle team. Much the same way Chris Pronger was a great fit on the Anaheim Mighty Ducks team coached by Carlyle and built by Burke.

This signing will likely make either Dion Phaneuf or Luke Schenn even more expendable in trades which is not the worst thing in the world for BB. Both of these guys are very tradeable assets for the Leafs and Suter would be an upgrade over both. The hope would be to sign Suter and flip Phaneuf and some others for Nash in a trade with Columbus. 

For more insight on this and more possible trades please refer back to my first article in the series.

Suter is the ideal defenseman for a Brian Burke team as he is big, mean, strong positionally, can play the power play and the penalty kill, add on the fact that he is american and Burkie should be practically salivating at the thought of landing Suter. In order to land him BB should trade for his negotiating rights either once the Preds have given up on signing him or at the draft. It shouldn't take much to get his rights if it becomes clear that Nashville isn't going to be able to sign the lumbering defensman, maybe a 3rd round choice. An intriguing option if this is the case is to try and pick up Radulov's rights as well for maybe a 2013 1st round pick of the Leafs. 

If the Preds haven't given up on signing Suter by the time of the draft the Leafs should look to give up a roster player like Armstrong, Lombardi, Connolly or Komisarek (Hopefully they would value him as a replacement for Suter) as well as a pick. If BB is unable to trade for Suter's rights it will be hard to sign him away from NYR and the Flyers, not impossible though.

As to the terms of the deal Suter should be looking for a $5-$6 million/ year deal with anywhere between 5 and 13 years depending on what he wants. If Burke wants him for less years he will have to pay more, up to $7.5 million/ year. This leaves a question mark as to whether Burke is willing to make a long-term potentially front ended deal as he has been unwilling to do so in the past, with answer being for a Ryan Suter, Yes.

Yes, because Suter is the guy Burke will appoint to lead the team into the future and look to give him the C if not immediately down the road. Leadership has been as big an issue as talent if not bigger for the Leafs in recent history and this will provide a major leadership shakeup, and in my estimation an improvement.

Shane Doan

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Age: 35
Plays: Right Wing
Currently makes: $4,550,000

Shane Doan may or may not be a UFA come July 1st but if he is the Leafs should pursue him with much moxie. Doan is an ideal guy for a Burke-Carlyle team as he is Big, Strong, Smart and a great leader. This signing would help fill the Blue and Whites need for improved leadership.

Doan not only brings leadership to the Leafs, but veteran leadership. This is not to say that we haven't had veterans on the club in recent years, however we haven't had veterans come in who have been a captain on an NHL team for years and a Captain for team Canada.

Doan should also help improve the Leafs paltry penalty kill of years past. He will bring years of NHL experience on the PK and should be a good fit for a revamped Carlyle PK unit.

If all goes well this off season Doan should fit into a sort of Burke in Anaheim top line clone. It would hopefully have Nash and Doan surrounding Kesler (Refer here for more info) or even a Jordan Staal if the market dictates. This would look alot like the Anaheim line of Perry - Getzlaf - Ryan, as they are all big and uber skilled. A Doan-Kesler-Nash line would be deadly with a Kessel-Lupul and maybe Bozak line backing them up or perhaps vice versa. Doan, Kesler and Nash although all extremely offensively gifted can used defensively to shut down opposition top lines. Which would be a new tool for Carlyle and Burke to use and would prove to be invaluable to the teams success. 

I will talk more later on in the series about the impact of a second 1st line for Toronto so please come back later for more.

As to the actual contract negotiations with Doan. Burkie will need to sell him first on the Leafs being contenders next year and years to come. At this juncture in that will be a very hard sell for the Maple Leafs GM, but with the acquisition of Luongo, and maybe Kesler, the task will be far from impossible. Doan has played in front of Luongo and knows he has the potential to be the top goalie in the world, and has been in years past. He is the goalie, or soon to be former goalie, of the team that has won the President's trophy the last two years, an Olympic Gold medal winner and arguably the most dominant goalie of the last 10 years. The acquisition of Bobby Lue will show savvy veterans like Doan that the Leafs are serious about winning now. Perhaps more importantly it will show that they are capable of doing so.

It will cost the Leafs between $2.5 and $5 million a year to sign Doan in Toronto. The reason for the $2.5 million gap is based on the term preferred by Doan. For 1 year Doan might want up to $5 million, for 2 years $4 million,for 3 years $3 million, for 4-5 years Burke might get him on a front end loaded $2.5 million / year deal. A 4-5 year deal is highly unlikely both for Doan wanting a contract that long and Burke willing to offer one of that length for him.

Now that the money is out of the way the only thing left to discuss is whether BB should try and trade for his negotiation rights. I think the signing of Doan is of the utmost importance if Burke trades one of his top six wingers (not Kessel or Lupul), that being said I think Doan will either sign with Phoenix or will be a UFA regardless of who has his rights. So Burkie should hold tight, save his pick and outbid the other GM's come July 1st. 

Justin Schultz

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Age: 21
Plays: Defense
Currently makes: $0

Justin Schultz has come out of relative obscurity last year as an Anaheim defensive prospect with Wisconsin. He is now widely regarded as one of the most desired Unrestricted Free Agents available in a relatively weak 2012 UFA class.

Schultz is projected to be a top four defensmen in the NHL and should be able to step into the NHL in the 2012-2013 season. He could look to be of comparable value as Chris Kreider is for the New York Rangers as he is the closest comparison in talent level to Schultz coming out of college this year. The difference between Kreider and Schultz is that Kreider signed with the team that drafted him late last season. Anaheim would have liked to have done the same with Schultz but apparently Schultz wasn't interest in making a deal with them and was rather intent on testing the Free Agent market this summer. Regardless of where he signs he should have comparable impact as Kreider has on his the New York Rangers this coming year.

The Schultz connection with the Leafs is a strong one as he is a former Brian Burke draft pick from when he was in Anaheim as their GM. Schultz is also a former teammate of the Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner acquired via trade from Anaheim. They both played in the NCAA with Wisconsin. It has also been widely reported that in the Lupul-Beauchemin trade Burke would have preferred to have Schultz as the defensive prospect included but accepted Gardiner instead as Anaheim was unwilling to part with Schultz as he was deemed to be a better prospect. If Burke gets his way he will have landed both defensive prospects from his former employer by the start of the 2012-13 season.

This however is by no means a lock there are roughly 29 other teams that will be looking to improve with the acquisition of Schultz. Toronto's advantage of having a former teammate of Schultz is also not an exclusive one as the Rangers have Mcdonaugh and Stepan from Schultz' Wisconsin team. It is also thought that Detroit will make a hard run at Schultz and Suter with the departure of Nicklas Lidstrom.

The problem with Schultz coming to Leafs as of today is that they don't really have room for him on the backend as they have 6 D signed, Franson is an RFA and they Korbinian Holzers's bargaining rights and he looks to be ready for the NHL. This is not a terrible problem for any GM to have, nonetheless a GM in an off season where there is a very shallow pool of top notch NHL defensemen available. Brian Burke should work this off season on trading away some of his lesser defensive assets for some help in front and behind the D.

Part of the reason that Schultz is so attractive as a UFA this year is that he will have to sign an entry level deal since he is coming out of College. These deals are often a standard 3 year 2 way deal at a $900,000 per. It is expected that he will probably also get a nice signing bonus and perhaps other incentives. He might also be able to sign a 1 way deal I'm not 100% sure exactly what the restrictions will be this year and it could even depend partially on the new CBA as to what exactly Schultz can get in a contract.

Look for more to come on the Leafs Free agent front, the 2012 entry draft and how Toronto will look next year, in Part 3 of the series.

 


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