So another free agency period has come and with the Leafs' cap situation we look about set (aside from, you know, that one major signing in our weakest position that I won't talk about just yet).
Thing is, this all feels slightly familiar. In fact, it seems very familiar. Of course, as with all blogging speculation, I was totally wrong about the aftermath of our last defensive logjam (though I would like to brag that I totally called Carlo being the odd man out later in the season).
That doesn't mean I'm not going to baselessly speculate again though! After all, what would be the point of this blog if I didn't?
Well anyway, onto the nitty gritty of things.
Currently our defense looks a little something like this:
Oof. That's... a lot of guys.
Luckily, I've learned that because Stralman signed his contract when he was 20, and has not played 160 games in the NHL, he will still be waiver exempt next season. However, since Frogren signed his contract when he was 27 and has played a season in the NHL he will no longer be waiver exempt. (thanks, nhlscap!)
Which means that once again, Stralman is our best candidate for "get buried in the minors until we can sort the rest of our roster out".
As new additions I severely doubt that Komisarek, Beauchemin, and Exelby are going to do anything other than play good minutes with the team. Schenn will likely stay with the club as well, Burke likes him and sending him down would be a PR disaster.
So assuming that our roster will consist of the 4 of...
who takes the other spots?
Van Ryn: The bastard child of a salary dump, Van Ryn is actually probably one of the better Dmen on the team. Unfortunately now that Colaiacovo is gone somebody had to catch jelly bones, and it happened to be him. As a player we never really planned to have on the club in the first place he's panned out well, but that doesn't mean he's become part of our future plans.
Why he could stay: Good presence in the offensive zone, solid overall play. Shatters glass with his face. Injuries place his trade value at near zero.
Why he could go: Downright dreadful injury history means we can't count on him as a roster player. Relatively large cap hit. Nearing 30, he may be getting too old to factor into the future of the young club. Will be a UFA after this season.
Finger: Our most contentious free agent signing of last season, he is the living embodiment of the fact that you always overpay in free agency. Negative media reaction was definitely overplayed, Finger was largely solid and played with a good physical edge (TSN also had him listed as a top free agent mere hours before Pierre Maguire spouted off about his contract on-air). All in all, as a free agent signing we didn't really give anything up for the guy, and he played in a style that was lacking from the roster previously.
Why he could say: Hits in every zone, blocks shots, holds some offensive skill. Salary makes him nearly impossible to trade.
Why he could go: He still hasn't proved himself one way or another yet. His inexperience with the speed of the NHL game still showed in several games last season. He'll be 30 in December, and will still likely have question marks all over his game by then.
White: A rare Leafs draft pick still playing with the club, he enjoyed increased responsibility last year as injuries took their toll and Wilson began punishing Kaberle by cutting his minutes. While I've made many a post on his mediocre offensive skills, the fact is that he acquitted himself as well as can be expected from a player of his size and skill level.
Why he could stay: His age and cap hit make him an attractive depth defenseman. Always stays healthy. Makes good transition passes out of the zone. As a homegrown Leafs pick he makes a statement for younger players earning their way to the team through the minor league system.
Why he could go: His value might never be this high again. The added depth this year almost pushes him completely off the team in terms of actual skill level and physical assets. Did poorly on the penalty kill, and while a self-styled offensive defenseman he doesn't produce as much as the shots and opportunities he takes should warrant.
Frogren: A free agent signing by Fletcher to add toughness to the line-up and ease Stralman's transition into the NHL, the manner of his signing ended up costing us a draft pick. While his hit count was impressive over the season, he tended to roam around the defensive zone and generally didn't take to the North American game as well as we might have hoped.
Why he could stay: A low cap hit makes him attractive. Plays a tougher, gritty, Burke style of play.
Why he could go: At 29 next season he'll be older than some other physical defensemen in the line-up, notably Schenn, Komisarek, and Exelby. For a defenseman who is not expected to contribute offensively his defensive play should be spotless, but he needs work.
Kaberle: The last one, and a big one. By far the best player in terms of talent and experience on the team, he also possesses a great contract. If we wanted to move him badly, I can't imagine there isn't a team out there that won't eventually break down and pony up assets to get him.
Why he could stay: Is another Leafs draft pick, and a veteran mainstay on the team. We would be hard pressed to replace his skills on the roster, especially if Stralman can't figure out his defensive game, and losing simply because we lack a good passer on the back end would just make us the Ottawa Senators.
Why he could go: Is extremely affordable for teams looking to compete, and is very skilled. The departure of Kubina likely makes him a little more uncomfortable in the dressing room, and he was non-commital on his future with the club last season. Had confrontations with Wilson last season, and as the oldest player on the defense he may not be around by the time we're ready to compete.
My baseless predictions? Kaberle and White will get traded, Frogren will likely be sent down.
Why? Players get dealt when either their values or high or they've had an unproductive season but are still felt to have upside. Teams don't want another teams garbage. Kaberle is easily our most tradeable asset, and White likely has more value than any other defenseman on that list, purely because of his age and cap hit. Van Ryn and Finger are both making too much money for too little of a showing last season, and there's no good reason for any club to take them off our hands.
Frogren is just getting left out due to our recent signings, there's at least 4 people on the squad that can fill his role but do it better. Maybe if his game undergoes some major revelations he'll make the decision harder, but as of now it's just hard to see where he fits in at his age and role.
I think I'm correct in saying that we've likely overpaid by about 500K-1M for Komisarek and Beauchemin, but I don't mind the signings. If we replace Kaberle with some prospect/draft pick, and factor in shipping out Kubina for Exelby, replacing May with Orr, and losing Cujo for... anybody then our roster gets significantly younger and tougher this year, both good things and both guaranteed by Burke before the offseason started in earnest. Good times.
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