Just behind Kaberle trade rumours, the most prominent issue being discussed in Leaf nation right now is how contract talks are proceeding between the buds and Kulemin. As we are all too painfully aware, the two sides are not seeing eye to eye at the moment. Many sources report that Kulemin is asking for money in the $3 million per year range while Burke is imagining something more cost effective. Kulemin did end up playing on the first line at the end of the year, but Burke has very rightfully pointed out this was from a lack of players rather than talent levels. The Leafs desperately lack scoring right now and a man who scored 16 goals last year simply can't remain in that position.
Kulemin is a very good player though and I would be thrilled with him on the second line. He's no offensive juggernaut but he's quite reliable defensively. He's a big body that works hard in both ends of the rink. If Leaf fans could only keep one of Kulemin or Grabovski I feel Kulemin would be the heavy favourite. But this all comes back to determining what Kulemin is worth. If most Leaf fans feel Kulemin is the better player, then how can he not get roughly the same paycheque Burke handed out to Grabovski.
The more obvious explanation is that Grabovski should never have been given that much in the first place. I am also starting to believe in a second contributing factor though. Eklund earlier reported the rumour that the Leafs would conduct multiple trades before the conclusion of this year's draft. While these trades were to be significant themselves, his second source claimed that a very important part was the Leafs would be clearing cap space to make a run at someone on July 1st in the 6 million plus range.
Now ever since the Leafs traded the sticks in for the clubs and the speculating kicked into top gear I've admittedly been skeptical about what the Leafs can acquire from the free agency market. However, it would be irresponsible to not consider if there was some truth to this information. This source not only specified the 6 million plus range, but further added, "Offense, offense, offense." I think we can all agree that the players that most correctly fit this description are Marleau and Kovalchuk.
Now if I'm to be honest, I never really kept up with the gossip of team relationships in San Jose. However, not a single article I've read about the possibility of Marleau signing with Toronto has led me to believe there is any chance of this. Apparently Wilson and Marleau were not the best of friends. As I watch interviews where Wilson publicly rips on underachieving players I can't help but think him not being good friends with one of the heaviest labeled underachievers in the league is not all that unlikely.
This leaves us with Kovalchuk, who at first glance seems almost equally as unlikely to be headed to Toronto. Kovalchuk probably doesn't fit the mold of a 'Burke type player' and Burke has said he's not too keen on locking so much money into one player. However, I truly do believe that Kovalchuk simply wanted out of Atlanta and is not after a contract of 10 million a year. I'm of the mindset that anything 8 million and under is closer to reasonable. Just for the sake of discussion I will assume Kovalchuk would be willing to sign a reasonable contract. This will allow us to ask two questions; 'do the Leafs have that kind of money?' and if so, 'would Burke be willing to spend it on Kovalchuk?'
I'm no cap expert but I do feel that the Leafs can free up the cap space if they desired. If the Leafs made no trades at all they'd likely have around 3 million to spare. Consider the cap is expected to go up by 2 million next year and now they have 5 million to spend. Sinking Finger in the minors brings that to 8.5 million. Freeing up a roster spot will save around another million. And after all that, if Eklund's second source is to be believed, one of the rumoured deals would be to free up more cap space on the already open 9+ million dollars. Add this all together and even if I've overestimated some I still believe there would be enough money. At the end of the day though it's a lot of estimations and uncertainty. Burke knows he needs to give himself every last cent he can to work with, and this could be what Burke's stinginess with Kulemin is implying.
So the next question is why would Burke want Kovalchuk? I think if you spend some time thinking about it you'll come to the same conclusion I have. The Leafs desperately need more scoring. A consistent 40+ goal scorer would certainly help tick that off the checklist. Burke's draft is July 1st, as he's said all along. Kovalchuk is a steep price, but Burke can less afford another dismal season by the Leafs. If the draft pick Boston has next year is anything like this year's, Burke might have to go into witness protection. Burke type players are nice, but options are quite limited and this team needs some major improvements. Fights aren't as effective as goals on average. The person with the 13th most powerplay goals would probably help the league's worst powerplay. And finally coming back to Kulemin, that 16 goal scorer won't be your first line left winger anymore.
Now this whole time I did not address on whether Kovalchuk would be interested in coming to Toronto. Quite frankly, I don't have any idea right now how he feels about Toronto and I'm even less certain what kind of money he'd want to come here. I can only make the argument that while he's asking for a whole lot of dough, Kovalchuk could be the best option out there and maybe the signs are pointing in that direction. Maybe I'm reading too much into all of this, maybe these rumours were just made to get people talking, but the good news is we won't have to wait too much longer for answers.
What do you think?
Here is the link to Eklund's blog writeup about the trade rumours for citing purposes or if you haven't already read it. http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=28609