Editor’s Note: This is an entry in our search for Fresh Blood at TLN. Every possible contributor will get three posts to strut their stuff and then we’ll ask you readers to help us choose who is going to join.
By: Ryan Fancey @rfancey3
It’s hard not to get caught up in everything surrounding the Maple Leafs right now. Finally in midst of a real playoff hunt, the feeling around most fans is excitement. It’s the first time since the whole sports blog, Twitter, and social media scene really came about that we’ve been able to discuss a winning team. This season has been rightfully looked at as a success so far, but there’s still a bigger picture here.
Burke has made clear on more than one occasion that his goal isn’t to simply scrape into the playoffs and get knocked around, but to ultimately contend for the Cup – nothing ground-breaking here, as this should obviously be the outlook or plan for any general manager. We’ve heard Burke repeat that he believes the stages of building a real contender are to crawl, walk, run, and eventually sprint. I probably would’ve left one out, personally, and just went with three, but four is fine I guess.
Right now the Maple Leafs are somewhere between walking and running, they’re enjoying a light jog. But as you can probably tell, this club is looking to run. What moves they have to do to sprint are unknown, and likely a year or two down the road. In fact, as @draglikepull pointed out on Twitter a few days ago, it appears as though Burke is perhaps targeting 2013 as his year to gear up to be a contender.
If you take a look at the Leafs’ current club, and what their cap situation looks like for the 2013-14 season, there are a few things that stand out. For one, tons of potential space – the team has seven forwards all set to become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2013, accounting for 21.35 million in cap space. Secondly, three of what are believed to be the Leafs’ core players, Kessel, Phaneuf, and Reimer, are all going in to a contract year for the 2013-14 season.
Burke has set up a scenario where he can tinker with the lineup in 2013 with a fair amount of flexibility, and easily cut loose those who he believes shouldn’t be along for the ride. In a sense, the players currently on the roster are taking part in an audition until then. J-M Liles has already managed to snag a part, earning an extension earlier this month. Grabovski could be well on his way to doing the same.
We’ve been hearing a lot of rumors lately, so I think it’s fair to question where James van Riemsdyk would fit in to the picture. Well, by then he should begin to peak, much like Kessel (two years older) is doing right now. Of course there’s no guarantee he’ll be in a Leafs uniform, but it’s no secret now that Burke will be making a push to acquire him. At least now we can somewhat understand why.
The list of unrestricted free agents in 2013 includes some huge names like Crosby, Iginla, and Tim Thomas. It’s doubtful Burke is banking on any of those. But further down the list you’ll see Perry, Getzlaf, B. Morrow, Hartnell, J. Staal, Clowe and Horton. I’d be crazy to think all of these guys will make it to the market, but some will.
The Leafs are hoping to use this season to springboard into a run. When Burke decides it’s time to sprint, he’ll have a pretty substantial number of ways to go about it.
Email ryanfancey@gmail(dot)com and follow on twitter @rfancey3