The announcement on Friday afternoon that the cap was going up to $50.2 Million was great news for leafs as they already have committed approximately $43 Million, which leaves $7-8 million to play with. if the cap had only come in around $48 Million mark before the NHLPA voted in favor of the 5% increase, they would've have only had about $5-6 Million, and wouldn't have been able to make a splash in the free agent market.
In order to make a big splash in the free agent market the Leafs need to get rid of Pavel Kubina and his $5 million contract. He was a terrible signing from day 1, Kubina is a top pairing d-man on most teams, he has some offensive upside and showed at times last year he could handle the minutes, but doesn't succeed being a #3 or #4 d-man. This is the year to move Kubina's big contract as their isnt a whole lot of good d-man available, and a lots of teams are need of his services. Moving Kubina's Contract would free up anywhere from $2-4 Million in additional cap space, depending on what they get in return. Moving Kubina moves the amount to spend anywhere from $10-12 Million.
The leafs best plan of action is to forget about going after the big name players Briere, Drury, Gomez, Smyth, etc. and go after a few of the $2-3 million players that have some offensive upside. The Leafs cannot afford to have another big contract on the team, the Leafs have way too many as it is. The big names are all after $5+ Million, and want longer term deals, which is something that the leafs need to try and stay away from, to give themselves flexibility in the coming years.
Here is a list of the $2-3 Million guys the leafs should target.
1) Vyacheslav Kozlov 35 years old towards the end of his career but still has some game left in him. He could be the sniper the Leafs have been looking for ever since Alexander Mogilny left to play with Mats Sundin. He is natural goal scorer and has a good shot he would be an excellent fit for Sundin or Wellwood. Had 80 pts last year, and 71pts the year before. He made $2 Million last year, the leafs should be able to pick him up for $2-3 Million/year for 2 years.
2) Ladislav Nagy 28 Years old, still a young guy who is just about to enter his prime and hasn't yet reached his full potential, He has a great shot, a true goal scorer, has been 20 goal scorer 3 times in his career. He is prone to taking dumb penalties and suffers from the Kovalev syndrome (very talented when he wants to be, takes too many nights off). if the leafs can sign him for $2-3 Million/year for 2-3 years this would be a great signing and he would fit in nicely either with Sundin or Wellwood.
3) Michal Handzus 30 years old, still tonnes of hockey left in him. Could be the defensive specialist the leafs need, by not re-signing Peca. He also has good offensive upside, better then Peca, but isn't as a good defensively but thats a trade off JFJ should make. Handzus is a big strong guy and is very hard to defend against at 6-5, 220 pounds he can force his way around the rink. Seeing as he came off an injury last year the Leafs should be able to pick him up for $1-2 Million/year for 2 years.
4) Zach Parise 22 years old, he is still very young but he has loads of talent, he has a great hockey mind, and sense. He has an excellent shot, and a great set of wheels to go along with it, he had a great year last season scoring 31 goals, 62 points overall. This kid is the real deal, and has tonnes of untapped potential, being a restricted free agent he is in for a big raise, but with NJ up against the cap wall already I would send on offer sheet for $2 Million/year for 3 years.
If the (Leafs) can manage to sign two or three of these free agents they will be in good shape, also assuming the manage to unload Pavel Kubina and his large contract. With 2hours, and 25 minutes to go until all hell breaks lose, it will be interesting to see who ends up where and what the Leafs actually do.