One week to go and the telephones are beginning to ring.
This is Brian Burke's first trade deadline as the Maple Leafs general manager, his first chance to make a difference for a team in desperate need of one.
Burke somehow must find a way to get better, younger, and reduce the $42-million US already accounted for on next season's salary cap, all by manipulating a roster that many around the NHL look down upon.
What will Burke do? The guessing game has begun. The trade focus -- and the following information -- comes from NHL executives polled, those not connected to the Leafs, speaking about those who may be available.
Listed is the likelihood (by percentage) of certain Leafs being traded before the March 4 trade deadline:
Position: Right wing
Contractual Status: Expiring contract of $2.15 million.
Antropov is the one Leaf who would be a comfortable fit for almost any team, with his size, his hands, his power-play ability, and a contract inexpensive by most NHL standards. Even if the Leafs have intentions of signing him as a free agent in July, they can get something for him now and in a watered down market of forwards and there should be a number of teams interested. The Leafs want a first-round draft pick for him but at least one executive thinks that's stretching his value. A collection of draft picks or a prospect is more likely.
Contractual Status: One more season at $1.75 million.
By necessity, Stajan has played the part of No. 1 centre for the Leafs, which even he knows is beyond his capabilities.
He is better suited as a second- or third-line centre, and the Leafs have to determine who they want to keep -- him or Mikhail Grabovski, because in the future there's no reason to have both. Stajan has never appeared to be a Ron Wilson favourite -- and maybe vice versa.
"Some people like Stajan," said one exec. "I've never been one of them. How many points does he have for a top-line guy?" The Leafs can get draft picks for Stajan, just not early ones.
Position: Left wing
Contractual Status: One more season at $2.5 million
At 6-foot-4, Ponikarovsky has size, speed and some offensive ability but can't seem to put everything together. He rarely adds up to the sum of his parts.
"I'd like to see what he could do with another team," one executive said. "Maybe they'll get a second-rounder for him. I don't think they can get more than that."
Contractual Status: Signed for $4.25 million a season until 2011.
Kaberle presents a quandary for Burke: He is his most valuable asset but also the player hardest to replace. Kaberle has given Burke a list of 10 Eastern Conference teams to which he would accept a trade. Whether any is willing to step up and overpay for the gifted puck-mover is the question. "Why would you trade your best player?" asked one exec. "You do that and you spend years trying to replace him."
Contractual Status: Expiring contract of $900,000.
Moore has been the Leafs' most complete player this season, but it's no certainty they will keep him: 1) They have to sign him; 2) Some GMs don't believe Burke wants to be associated with Steve Moore's brother, something Burke himself denies; 3) His trade value may never be higher. Moore has made this a complicated decision for the Leafs. "I heard one coach say that Moore was the best player on the Leafs, which tells you how bad the Leafs are," said one team executive.
Contractual Status: One more season at $5 million
Teams like Kubina as a player and as a person, just not the contract that goes along with him. "Ridiculous money," said one GM. Kubina has indicated he will not waive his no-trade clause, but also has said if the Leafs don't want him, he doesn't want to stay. He can be traded in the summer if he isn't a deadline transaction next week. "It's too much money for most teams. You may see him on waivers."
Contractual Status: One more season at $4 million.
"Toskala makes too much money to be a backup goalie," said an assistant general manager. "And you don't want him as your starter."