D-Men, new money and the future.
Here is how the new optimism works for me and the new revamped Leafs (I know Leaf fans are forever optimistic but I believe there is truth in my words). To assess the situation of Leafland we need to start from the net out. Giggy is expensive (but a proven performer) and "The Monster" is unproven. We have $6 mill freed up in 2011 if Giggy isn't good; Gustavsson still has time to develop. Worst case scenario both don't pan out and sometime in the next 2 years we have $8,000,000 to find a solution. $8,000,000 and 2 years will solve almost every problem; best case scenario they both pan out and we get a smooth transition to Gustavsson to lead us into the Maple Leaf glory years.
Now to defense; where the meat of my optimism lies.
Phaneuf is a little overpaid; but he is a big guy with a personality big enough for Toronto. He will hit hard and sell t-shirts. He felt the squeeze with the Calgary Maple Flames after J-Bow came in; and Burke started blowing up the team to get him (everyone benefits! except the Flames). In the end we got a fresh start and a good defensemen who may turn out to be one of the best.
Schenn is young and solid, I believe Burke realizes the financial benefit to acquiring family in the post-lockout NHL; because of this Brayden will (hopefully) eventually end up here. When this happens we'll lock up the Schenns for less than market value, same as the Sedin's in Vancouver.
Komisarek, Beauch are both reasonably paid and solid defenders.
Rounding out defence we have Carl Gunnarsson and MVR; Gunnarsson is a great 5-6 D-man and if MVR ever stays healthy has proven he can be 3-4 on any team in the league. Worst case scenario MVR gets injured again and we have another $3 mill to play with.
We all know Finger is overpaid and Exelby is on the way out; they won't be part of the future which gives us another $5 mill to play with.
All said and done for D we'll have $5-8 mill to play with in the off season. This brings me to Kaberle. Kaberle has been great for us; he has told/shown us that he wants to play here if we let him. So let him! Even with a moderate raise we can afford it; let him retire a leaf for a few reasons:
1 - He is one of the best passers and puck moving d-men in the league
2 - He has always been a Leaf; it will resonate a message to the youth of the team "play well, show you want to play here and you will be here for your career. We blew up the rest of the team because it wasn't working; but this is your shot, be like Kaberle and retire a leaf". This is something we want the new youthful Leafs to feel/think. Start building the new culture with Kaberle as the vet role model; he's the perfect vet role model for Wilson/Burke, he's quiet and respectable.
3 - what are you really going to get for him? A draft pick? a prospect? Would we be better off with Jeff Carter? D-men play more minutes and Kaberle generates offence as well as or better than most forwards in the league.
4 - sure he doesn't shoot enough but Beauch/Phaneuf/Kessel shoot enough to cover the difference
5 - one of your "A" 's should have been on the team for longer than a year.
6 - he sell's jersey's and posters
He makes over $4 mill now; give him an extra mill or two and lock him up until he hangs up the skates. Pay him more than Beauch/Komi and less than Phaneuf. He is worth it and this would lock up our defense for the next 2-4 years (pending injury).
That means best case scenario we have Phaneuf, Kaberle, Schenn, Beauchemin, Komisarek, and either MVR/Gunnarsson. Not even considering any of the prospects we have. Aulie, Blacker, Oreskovic, Mikus, Holzer or Frogren, any of them coud still turn out to be NHL calibre; plus some of them are huge 6'6! (With that defence I won't even need to make a trade in NHL 2011 to make my blue line solid.)
Defense looks solid for the future; goaltending looks promising with the mantra "$8 mill can fix anything in 2 years" and when you look at the 5-8 mill we may free up with Finger/Exelby/MVR we should be in a good spot to fill out the forwards.
Finally forwards are wide open on this team.
Kessel is the only lock but some of those young guns are sure making a push.
Grabovski is back tonight, hopefully his wrist healed well and he finds his form quickly. I also anticipate he doesn't fit the blue and white mold. Either he performs or we have another $3 mill to play with (or trade bait).
Bozak has proven he can be at least a second line centre if he keeps this up; Stalberg is on the edge of being a good player. Kulemin has been the best player on the ice with increased frequency.
I've been happy with Sjostrom and Lundmark. Primeau is playing out his time, Orr is a goon, Wallin shuts people down and makes "The Monster" happy, Mithcell has heart, Hanson is worth keeping around to keep Bozak/Stalberg happy. Which brings me to another point of optimism: college recruiting. Burke has proven to college prospects that if they play well, and want to play in the NHL, Toronto will give them a shot. This should help continue to replace draft picks.
Nazem Kadri could turn out to be a first line centre; Jimmy Hayes, Slaney, Dido and more all have a chance to make it. We're in good shape for developping prospects and we have money moving into July 1st.
So be optimistic Leaf fans!
Reason 1: We have the money to scout/train as required; we have potential and the resources to harness them.
Reason 2:We also have money to grab 1 or 2 forwards this summer. (who knows what we'll get! With Burke at the helm there isn't a soul out there who can predict who will be in Blue and White next fall)
Reason 3: We're in good shape Burke has set us up; this is the bottom.
Let Kaberle stay and make a playoff run with this team; we're not that far off and it would be great for the lockeroom to send the message "play well, show loyalty and we'll give you a chance to hang up your skates in Toronto". (unless of course we can get the other Schenn somehow and Kaberle has to be involved, then lock up the brother discount fast!)