Monday, November 19, 2012

Why a Year-Long Lockout Helps the Leafs

Getzlaf Luongo Leafs
"Meet me in Toronto," Roberto Luongo whispered to Ryan Getzlaf.
The lockout is undeniably terrible. But when play resumes (hopefully before 2022) Leafs fans might discover it was the best thing to happen to the team.

1. Cap space

The Leafs have approximately $22 million in expiring contracts at the end of the season. Realistically, the only two players that will command a cut of that space are Joffrey Lupul and Carl Gunnarsson. Nazem Kadri's entry-level contract is finished, so he'll get a slice of the pie (but hopefully not actual pie), and you could make a case that David Steckel could be retained as well, although neither will be in for a major payday.

Others, such as Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, and to a lesser extent, Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur, will be finding employment elsewhere.

Mike Komisarek will also be in the final year of his contract, making him a buy-out candidate. Buying him out would cost less than $1.2 million in cap space in each of the next two seasons instead of $4.5 in 2012-13, saving the Leafs $2.33 million next year.

Even after calling up players from the Marlies, the Leafs should have a healthy amount of money to play with. Having money to spend will be important because next year's unrestricted free agent class, which has been relatively unaffected due to the lockout, has impact players, most notably Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

The Leafs would have enough cap space to offer major deals to both Ducks superstars, finally solving the gaping holes on the No. 1 line.

As a former GM of the Ducks, perhaps Burke still has some sway with the two and could convince them to sign in Toronto. It's a stretch, but with the cap likely to go down substantially it's possible the Leafs will be one of the few big market teams with money to spend. Detroit has close to $50 million committed, while Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, LA, Chicago, and New York all have over $50 million committed in 2013-14, some closer to $60 million. In comparison, Toronto has less than $40 million tied up in salaries.

The main problem with convincing the pair to sign in Toronto won't be money, it'll be Toronto. It's hard to sell Toronto as a destination after years outside the playoffs, plus the pressure that would come with playing in a hockey-mad city ready to anoint you as the saviour.

But the Wild were able to land both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter because Parise desperately wanted to go back home and Suter desperately wanted to play with his good buddy. In our dream scenario, Peterborough boy Corey Perry pulls a similar move and brings Getzlaf to Toronto.

Start dreaming, Leafs Nation.

2. Draft lottery

Do you have some more room in your dreams? Good. Here's something else to keep you up at night.

Losing an entire year would necessitate creating a full draft lottery like in 2005, when Sidney Crosby conveniently landed in Pittsburgh, thus saving the franchise.

In that draft lottery, each team was given a certain amount of lottery balls depending on whether they made the playoffs or selected first overall in the previous three years. I don't have to tell you about the Leafs' playoff drought, do I? But the Leafs haven't been bad enough to select first overall. That would give the Leafs three balls, giving them a 6% shot at selecting first overall. Most teams will only have between a 0% and 4% chance of landing the top spot. No, that isn't a huge difference and doesn't put them as the overwhelming favourite, but it does give them about a 50% chance of drafting in the top 10.

The team that does have a great chance of selecting first overall is Columbus. The Blue Jackets, like the Leafs, have three lottery balls themselves. But they also own first round picks from Los Angeles and New York from the Jeff Carter and Rick Nash trades. That would put the Blue Jackets' chances of selecting first overall at 10%.

But when has anything ever gone right for the Blue Jackets?

Let's just hope that Brian Burke convinces his buddy Gary Bettman that a revived Toronto franchise would be good for league coffers, which would certainly be in need of stuffing after a lockout, and Bettman calls up his buddy David Stern to help organize another draft rigging.

Bam, welcome to Toronto, Nathan MacKinnon.

3. Buys development time

The Leafs have a number of prospects on the cusp of becoming legitimate NHLers, but could use a little more time in the minors to develop. Players like Joe Colborne and Jesse Blacker could use some more AHL time, without the chance of being an injury replacement/desperation call-up. Additionally, giving Nazem Kadri a little more time to figure things out without fans crying "bust!" over the fact that he's yet to make the NHL is a good thing.

More time in the minors is also a positive for Colborne and Matt Frattin, who are both still fresh off serious injuries incurred last season. Better that they get back to full speed in the AHL rather than attempt to do so while trying to figure out the NHL.

And losing a whole year would mean the Leafs won't be tempted to rush Morgan Rielly from junior, increasing the chances he's ruined by before the end of his entry level deal. It's rare for a teenaged defenceman to break into the league and make an impact. Combined with the fact that Rielly missed almost all of his draft-eligible year with a knee injury means he should spend the entire year in junior, regardless of how good he looks.

4. Miss out on the Winter Classic

Yes, the Winter Classic would have been really cool. It would also be fun watching the Leafs on HBO's 24/7. I envision Mikhail Grabovski being this year's version of Ilya Bryzgalov, except good at hockey. Phil Kessel would be somewhere hiding from the cameras and Joffrey Lupul could show the world just how nice it is to be a young, attractive, rich hockey player in Toronto.

But it would all go so terribly once they, you know, actually had to play the Detroit Red Wings.

The match-up was set last year before the Leafs went into their late season tail-spin. At that time, it looked like they were taking a big step towards respectability and were a team on the rise. Sure, the Red Wings would still be the favourite in the Winter Classic, but the Leafs would be able to put up a good fight. Fast-forward to the end of the season and the match-up looks much more one-sided after the Leafs flamed out and ended up in the draft lottery.

Plus, as all self-loathing Leafs fans know, Jonas Gustavsson would get the start for the Wings and miraculously register a 67-save shutout, confirming that God does indeed hate Maple Leafs fans.

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