*The following is an opinion piece regarding the players who, I think, are on their way out of Toronto by March 4th (not the off-season)*
The Leafs are in the midst of, yet again, a mediocre season. Unlike previous years, however, the Leafs have refrained from the up-and-down, "I BeLeaf in 8th place" facade that was commonly grouped with the Leafs during the past few years. Rather, the Leafs have been posting L's on the calendar regularly this season, "rewarding" their fans with dissapointing efforts.
On the flip side, the Leafs now have possesion of a much younger team compared to years past, containing a variety of young talent in Luke Schenn, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Jiri Tlusty, Anton Stralman, and Justin Pogge (among others...I think). While the aforementioned, besides Luke Schenn, don't have superstar potential, they are the beginnings of a new era in Toronto, one that hopefully brings a Stanley Cup to a franchise in dire need of one.
Pertaining to the point of this blog, here's a list of the players that I think will be moved. Hopefully the Burke-era is kicked off by an influx of youth and potential to be imported to the Leafs' roster.
(51 GP, 21 G, 44 PTS)
Many think Blake will not be traded due to his lucrative contract, but Blake's emergence as the Leafs' top player is beyond impressive, and he's making a serious case for comeback player of the year. While Blake's cap hit is at $4M, he's performing at a level which makes his contract terms somewhat of an afterthough. While it may be a little difficult to find a suitor that has the required cap space, it shouldn't be to much of a problem if Blake keeps up his current play. Also, consider Mathieu Schneider, who was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens, makes a whopping $5.75M this season, and at 39, he's not exactly the offensive force he once was.
Potential return: Roster player (salary return) and a mid-level draft pick/prospect
(49GP, 4 G, 30 PTS)
Kaberle's been a loyal member of the Maple Leafs for a decade now, and he will be remembered fondly, but his tenure is coming to an end with the Buds. While Kaberle's defensive game leaves much to be desired, his offensive game is his bread and butter. A premier puck moving defenseman in the NHL, Kaberle will fetch the Leafs their most valuable return at the Deadline. While he won't get the Leafs Jeff Carter and 1st round pick this time around, his value should ensure the Leafs a quality return in the form of draft picks and prospects. And considering his $4.25M cap-hit, Kaberle will be generating a lot of interesnt around the league, the only problem is whether he decides to waive his NTC or not.
Potential return: 1st round pick and a decent prospect
(52GP, 18 G, 42 PTS)
I wouldn't be afraid to guarantee this one. Brian Burke publicly stated that he wouldn't hesitate to trade Antropov if interest was expressed for the 28 year old. While Antropov went through a grueling slump (0 goals in 18 games), Antropov is on pace for another 50-point campaign. His cap-hit is also movable at $2.05M.
Potential return: 2nd round pick
And that's it, folks. Not half the team, just three core players. While many think players such as Vesa Toskala, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Pavel Kubina will be traded, Burke can't turn this team around in one swift motion. It will take time, and chiping away at the core of the Leafs is a start. The remainder of the players who Burke doesn't want will be dealt with during the off-season, when he can assess the team more clearly and determine who the Leafs may acquire through free agency to fill the void left by the departed players.
While this season will once again be proclaimed as a disappointment, let's think more positively, and determine the 2008-09 season as the year of change.
The Leafs will once again raise Lord Stanley, and it all starts on March 4th.