Whenever there is a star player in the rumor mill Leafs Nation immediately begins to buzz, speculating (or dreaming) about how Brian Burke will trade some third liners, mediocre prospects and a bad contract to make the star a Leaf. Most of the time I put very little stock in the Leafs chances of making a major deal, but in this case I believe there is substance to Burke being able to acquire Rick Nash.
What makes this situation different? Three factors; Columbus is rebuilding making them a motivated seller, Nash wants out and will approve a deal to Toronto, and Toronto desperately needs some size scoring and leadership.
With the philosophical ideals all in alignment, the salary cap and player exchange also needs to make sense. Let’s look at the Cap implications first.
Toronto is currently up against the cap with just under $1.5 million in available cap which gives them about $6.7 million in deadline cap space according to Cap Geek. Assuming a roster player or two from Toronto are involved in the deal, there is room for Nash this year. The trouble though is with only 16 players under contract for next season the Leafs are already at $51 million, and with CBA uncertainty who knows what the cap will be. That means if Toronto does land Nash either by the deadline or in the off-season they will likely need to clear some cap space. There are plenty of contracts on the Leaf roster that could become sacrificial lambs such as Colby Armstrong ($3 million), Clarke MacArthur ($3.25 million), Matt Lombardi ($3.5 million), and Mike Komisarek ($4.5 million). All these players have varying interest and some are more moveable than others. The return for these players in trade may be limited, but the cap room could be made.
Now I am certainly not suggesting Burke is going to trade Armstrong and Komisarek for Nash. But what players would Columbus covet from the Leafs enough to part with Nash? Scott Howson has let it be known he wants a roster player of significance, a top prospect or two and a first round draft choice. Elliotte Friedman reported on CBC that with Columbus recently acquiring Jack Johnson the focus for a roster player has become a forward. Assuming Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are not going to be included the next best option is Mikhail Grabovski. Grabovski is set to become an unrestricted free agent this July so unless there is a change in his status Columbus would not look at him as a long term asset or viable option. That leaves Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur, both are good players, but both are not producing as well as the previous season. If the forward position is not a sticking point for Howson, the best roster player option is Luke Schenn. If Toronto was using either MacArthur or Kulemin as the roster player in the deal the prospects will need to be very impressive! The most impressive rookie the Leafs have had in a long time is Jake Gardiner. Gardiner has played the second most minutes as a rookie defenseman in the NHL this year second to Ottawa’s Jared Cowen. Gardiner has been playing big minutes and in key situations. He is a fluid skater, carries the puck with confidence and has a high hockey IQ. After Dion Phaneuf, Gardiner is the teams’ best defenseman, and on some nights he has been the best! After Gardiner the leafs have prospects Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Matt Frattin, Korbinian Holzer, Greg McKegg, and Brad Ross. Put it all together and what are the Leafs offering?
The deal would go in either one of two directions and hinges on which defenseman of either Schenn or Gardiner is involved. Having Schenn as the roster player and Gardiner as the prospect would not work as it is too much defense for Toronto to sacrifice. That means there are two potential options here. Variations on either one of these scenarios; Kulemin, Gardiner, Kadri and a first round pick, or; Schenn, Kadri, Colborne, and a first round pick. Howson would prefer the Gardiner option, while Burke would prefer the Schenn offer.
Are either or both offers good enough to beat out the competition for Nash? One factor working in the Leafs favor is their first round pick will be well before the New York Rangers, the other favorite in the Nash sweepstakes. Can Burke and Howson agree on one or the other? Even if Nash is not traded by the deadline on the 27th the rumors and speculation will continue through to the summer and heat up heading into the draft.
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