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Leafs Will Have Cap Room To Add Free Agents

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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Here’s the question: if Brian Burke takes a pass on Ilya Kovulchuk, what’s he going to do with the money left over.

Follow the money and you find the truth.

Why wouldn’t the Leafs want Ilya Kovalchuk. He is far and away the best unrestricted free agent on the market. He has five seasons of 30 or more goals. He is 27 years old,  six-foot-two and 230 pounds and they have yet to invent a game in which he could not dominate unless you count the playoffs where he has scored a so-so three goals on 19 shots over nine games.

This is the best chance the Leafs have had of scoring a franchise free agent since the blessed days that preceded the salary cap. The traditional competitors, the Rangers, Flyers and Blackhawks to name three, are capped out

Does Kovalchuk the player makes sense to the Leafs? Absolutely. Is a price tag expected to be in excess of $10 million way out of line? Well, Phil Kessel and Mike Komisarek will make $6 million this season and Dion Phaneuf is on the books for $7 million. If they are worth those dollars, Kovalchuk, one of the top three or four pure snipers in the league is worth $10 million.

Doesn’t matter.

“We do not plan to be in the hunt for Ilya Kovalchuk,” Leafs GM Brian Burke repeated on Thursday.

There are two reasons why this might be so.

First, maybe Burke doesn’t like Kovalchuk. Maybe he considers him soft and without the temperament he would need to shine amidst the general kerfuffle that goes on around here. I don’t put much stock in that one. Brian Burke knows what his hockey team needs: talent, and lots of it. Kovalchuk could score 40 over the next five years by accident.

Second, and more likely, things are in place for a mighty exchange of players, probably at the entry draft. Again, follow the money.

The numbers are always a little chancy, but the Maple Leafs are standing down with about $45.5 million committed  with another $12 million available for more spending based on a return of a cap that is around $56.8 million. Right now, they have eight forwards, seven defence and two goalies.

But give the numbers another look. First, there is Tomas Kaberle, the Leafs best trade chip whose final $4.2 million seems destined to be paid by someone else.

Should they decide to banish Jeff Finger to the minors, the Leafs could save another $3.5 million in cap space.

That’s a hair under $20 million of potentially available cap space. Throw six or seven million at players who can fill out the lineup - sign Nikolai Kulemin and John Mitchell if you like- and set aside some dough for emergencies and you are left with $13-15 million to play with.

I will tell you this. Brian Burke will spend to the cap. So the question becomes, what is he going be spending his $13 million on.

The same names are constantly circling around. Patrick Sharp’s $3.9 million cap burden  in Chicago has made him a staple of the trade sheets. Burke’s favourite Bobby Ryan is making less than $800,000 but were he to come here in a deal he would arrive to find a loud welcome in the form of a multi-year-deal.

These are just the usual suspects. Think about how often you heard about Dion Phaneuf before he came to the Leafs.

I have no idea where Burke is going to put all that money. But I’ll tell you what I do know, he’s going to put it somewhere.
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