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Alternative Options At Centre

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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First, the disclaimer.

While I am a salaried employee of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, this column is written for entertainment purposes (mine, not yours). As such, it should not be viewed as an attempt to tamper with any player currently under contract.

I am to the NHL’s inner workings what The Amazing Kreskin is to the New York Stock Exchange. At best, I deal in guesswork and supposition and while that does not make these offerings necessarily false, the only decision makers who make time for me are my wife and kids. Should I stop subsidizing my daughters’ ravenous acquisitions of shoes, books and airplane tickets, I would be excised from that inner circle as well.

But I digress.

When last we spoke, the Leafs were deliberating from where their star centre would come. A good way to understand the significance of this question is to imagine your car without a front axle.

There have been some developments. Canadian Tom Gaglardi has surfaced as a potential buyer for the Dallas Stars and his presence might lend credence to the notion that Brad Richards will re-sign with the Stars. This has been Richards’ longstanding wish. That said, if you look at the NHL salary grid, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see where this is going, even with the vaunted hometown discount.

Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Vincent Lecavalier make between $9 million and $10 million. Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Marian Hossa, Richards and Henrik Zetterberg earn between $7.5 million and $8million.

So the market is between $8 million and $9 million. That could be dropped by a few million a year depending on the length of the deal but term has long been considered a sticking point for Burke who rightly abhors long-term deals.

Despite whispers to the contrary, a look at Richards’ statistics reflects no drop in production after he lost about a month to a concussion. He remains a consummate centreman who will be 31 next September. He makes plays, scores, wins faceoffs and owns a very gaudy ring from his days in Tampa.

Three teams are believed to be ready to wow Richards, the New York Rangers, the Leafs and the Los Angeles Kings. Of course, there could me more. The most likely, as mentioned, may be the Stars.

If I was Brian Burke I would do the following things:

1.Swear. Just for the hell of it
2. Have dinner Colorado GM Greg Sherman at the draft in St. Paul. Nothing too heavy. No matter how tempting, absolutely no venison which is to my mind a little gamey
3.Trade for Paul Stastny. With free agency still a few days away, Burke can use an overflowing war chest to land free agent defencemen Christian Ehrhoff or Kevin Bieksa away from Vancouver

Paul Stastny should be available for a variety of reasons. He makes $6.6 million. That’s 22nd among NHL forwards. He recorded 57 points last season, that’s 56th.

The Avalanche seem to be influenced by what is known as an internal salary cap. That means without commensurate revenue streams, they can’t spend like the big boys. Second-string centres who make $6.6 million do not mesh with internal salary caps.

The Avs are convinced they have a franchise player in Matt Duchene. With the second and ninth overall choices, they have ample opportunity to add another skilled centre at the draft for what amounts to a pittance. That would in turn allow them to trade Stastny and address their need for help up front or land more mature prospects.

With Joe Colborne, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin, the Leafs have three former first-round prospects and the top goalscorer in the NCAA to dangle in front of Sherman. They also have two first-rounders in this year's draft.

For Sherman and the Avs, this is the chance to forge a new identity and Stastny looks like yesterday’s news.

Here’s why the Leafs should land Stastny at the draft.

At 25, Stastny is a five-year-NHL vet with all the required elements. He is a good skater and superb passer with an excellent compete level. He has broken the 70-point level three times. No current Leaf has reached that plateau. He has been a go-to guy.

Stastny is nearly six years younger than Richards and will thus mature with the team’s youthful core.

He should be easier to acquire than Richards. It’s up to Greg Sherman and Burke, not Brad Richards and his agent to determine where Stastny plays.

Stastny has three-years left at $6.6 million. That’s a whole lot less than it will cost to sign Richards.

Now I cannot guarantee that it will happen just this way in St. Paul. After all, Brian Burke may have an irresistible hankering for venison.

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