The Toronto Maple Leafs will enter the 2009-10 season with 11 pending unrestricted free agents, and eight restricted free agents.
Among the group of UFA’s: Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan, Wayne Primeau, Jamal Mayers, Ben Ondrus, Mike Van Ryn, Jonas Frogren, Garnet Exelby, Joey Macdonald and Vesa Toskala.
Among the group of RFA’s: Nikolai Kulemin, John Mitchell, Christian Hanson, Jiri Tlusty, Andre Deveaux, Ian White, Phil Oreskovic and Jonas Gustavsson.
What does this mean for the Leafs? Potentially, it could result in a playoff-berth for the Buds, who haven't made the big dance since the 2003-04 season. If some of the Leafs' core players can take advantage of their contract years, thus playing beyond their established level, making the playoffs can be a distinct possibility.
But then again, look at the Montreal Canadiens, who nearly cleaned house this off-season by simply letting their players walk via Free Agency. Were they successful last season with their core of pending UFA’s? Well, you don’t need me to tell you, just ask newcomer Mike Komisarek.
However, if players like Stajan, Ponikarovsky and Toskala, just to name a few, happen to elevate their game to the next level due to their contractual status , then not only would their play aid the Leafs in their quest for the playoffs, but their value could potentially sky rocket.
If that is the case, then Burke will have options entering the Trade Deadline. Obviously, it would be a pipedream to expect even the majority of these players to breakout simply because of a contract year. But, with such a large portion, is it not likely for even the biggest of pessimists to expect atleast one or two of these players to overachieve?
Perhaps the most intriguing player among the list is incumbent Toskala. He is coming off a trio of surgeries and four months of rehabilitation. Will the flashy and acrobatic goaltender leave his injuries behind him, or will his sluggish play persist? Questions surely to be answered in the coming months, but let’s assume he does have a comeback season. Will Brian Burke hold onto to the 31-year-old, or trade him at the Trade Deadline and let Gustavsson inherit the No.1 role?
There’s a story for every player on the list. Nevertheless, if things go accordingly, Burke will have options heading into the Trade Deadline next season. He has made his intentions of attaining the playoffs clear, but if players like Toskala, Ponikarovsky and/or Stajan happen to have overachieving seasons, will Burke pull the trigger on a deal to brighten the Leafs’ future, thus hindering their short-term success? Unless Burke has been spoon feeding us a big pile of bullpoop, let’s hope it’s the former.
Here are the players I think will take advantage of their contract year: Toskala, Ponikarovsky and Stempniak.
Who is/are your candidate(s)?
Now, I’m off for one last weekend of freedom before my last year of College starts. Hope you enjoy your weekend!