The math does not necessarily add up well for the future of the 29th-place Maple Leafs.
Trapped by their own economics, the Leafs appear to be caught in salary cap hell, frozen by too much money committed to too few players and not enough flexibility to complete a roster in need of completion.
Thatís the way it looks from the outside. Thatís not the way itís being interpreted on the inside.
ďIím not worried about (the cap),Ē general manager Brian Burke said. ďWeíre not shackled here. I donít think weíre handcuffed. If I thought we were handcuffed, Iíd tell you that.Ē
Here are the numbers:
The National Hockey League salary cap for the coming season is expected to be around $57 million US.
As of today, with no roster changes made, the Leafs have $51.55 million committed for next season. That figure of $51.55 includes $1 million in Darcy Tucker buyout money, the $1.75 million Nazem Kadri will make should he play for the Leafs, and one of the highest paid bluelines in all of hockey at $26.32 million. What the $51.55 million doesnít include are new contracts that will be rewarded to restricted free agents, goalie Jonas Gustavsson and forward Nikolai Kulemin, which would bring that total closer to $55.55 million.
That would leave Burke less than $2 million to spend on whatever he sees viable come free agency on July 1, which isnít much.
From afar, it looks like Burke and the Leafs are trapped. But again, not being stubborn, he doesnít view it that way.
While he wonít go into details, there are moves at his disposal, and as he has shown this past season with the controversial acquisitions of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, he isnít afraid to make bold ones.
The first victim of cuts is all but certain to be defenceman Jeff Finger. He makes $3.5 million as a part-time player. If Burke canít somehow trade him, which is next to impossible, Finger will become the first casualty of the Burke ďIím not afraid to bury money in the minorsĒ mind-set.
That would free up $3.5 million, so instead of having $2 million to spend, Burke would be up to $5.5 million.
The second and third situations to address may be on defence, where more than half Burkeís money is committed. Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin, who combined represent a cap hit of $8.3 million, both had lousy first seasons in Toronto. Rookie Carl Gunnarsson, who only takes up $800,000 in cap room, outplayed them in his rookie year. Burke wonít say so but he may attempt to move one of either Komisarek or Beauchemin, with the Leafs top four defencemen being Dion Phaneuf, Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn and Gunnarsson.
Thatís one possibility. The other is to deal Kaberle, probably for a young forward and a draft pick, or some kind of combination. If Kaberle and his $4.25-million salary are gone, and say, the replacement for him at forward earns in the $2 million range, thatís a saving of another $2.25 million.
Which brings Burkeís cap room up to $8 million. If Kaberle is traded only for draft picks, he is now in the
$10 million cap area.
There also is an issue at centre, where Burke talks about his top six/bottom six mix of forwards being off kilter. He has too many dancers and not enough plumbers.
The Leafs like Tyler Bozak and have to be impressed with what Kadri is doing in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, but no team can employ three relatively small centres such as Bozak, Kadri and Mikhail Grabovski.
Expect Grabovski to be dealt somewhere for a draft pick and scratch another $2.85 million off the Leafs list of cap hits.
If that happens, Burke would have just about $11 million at his disposal to spend ó $13 million if he gets no NHL-ready players for Kaberle.
Come June and July the flexibility will be necessary for the Leafs because several teams are in worse cap shape than they are. Players who otherwise would not be available will be made available because of money concerns. General managers around the NHL are already talking about how active they expect trading to be around draft time.
Burke plans to be very active. If heís isnít aggressive, he wonít be able to continue his roster remake. This is an economic tight-rope walk. He claims he is well balanced. Time will tell.