As it stands the Leafs have 8 NHL defenceman signed for the coming season. Everyone assumes that number will hit 7 as soon as the much anticipated trade of Thomas Kaberle is finalized.
It's not unusual for teams to carry 7 defenceman during the season. Burke said it himself, you need depth on the blue line if you want to get through an NHL season on the winning side of the ledger.
But do we really think that Burke went out and spent $1.4M on a defenceman so that he could share that 6th spot with Jeff Finger all season? If that was the case, Burke probably would have went cheaper. Much cheaper.
Something else is cooking and I think it's unwise to assume that a Jeff Finger buyout is the only answer. Finger has two years left on his deal. I don't get the impression that Burke is the kind of guy who will ruin a players career by sending him to the minors and never calling him up for two years, just because his predecessor gave a decent depth defenceman top 4 d-man money. If he did call him up, Toronto would be on the hook for $1.75M for two seasons. No matter how you cut it, Jeff Finger must be traded or he plays here.
Which makes me think that two defenceman are going to be traded at some point, and one of them probably won't go by the name Jeff.
LUKE SCHENN: A couple of reasons why Luke should be a little nervous any time his cell phone rings and one of the Leafs GM's are on the display screen. First off, if Toronto really want a top 6 winger with star power, Luke Schenn is going to be asked about by a rival GM. If the package gets sweet enough, Burke may be tantalized. Second reason, Schenn is in the last year of his entry-level deal. If he has the kind of season this year that he did as a rookie and in the latter stages of 09/10, he will get a raise. Probably a good one. Which means cap decisions will shortly follow.
CARL GUNNARSSON: Everybody loves this guy and for good reason: who can resist a late-round draft pick who walks in, steals a job, and plays like a seasoned pro for an entire season. Here's the thing, he was a 6th round draft pick. He was never considered a major asset by the team but right now he has become one. If a GM can turn a 6th rounder into a top 6 forward, that's pretty good. Gunnarsson is also an RFA after this season and like Luke Schenn, he could be looking at a raise. And also like Luke Schenn, he is young and attractive to other GM's for that very reason.
MIKE KOMISAREK: When Burke signed Komi, it was pretty clear he had hopes that Mike would be the teams leader on the blue line. Immediately handed the assistant captain role, Komisarek represented everything Brian Burke likes about a player and I think most Leaf fans saw him as a cornerstone signing. But then Dion Phaneuf came along, and this leaves Komisarek vulnerable to being moved in my opinion.
FRANCOIS BEAUCHEMIN: A minutes eater, never complains and always gives it his all. His salary is reasonable for a player with a cup ring and who was invited to Canada's Olympic camp. He had a tough start to the season (along with everybody else who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs), but he's clearly a solid top 4 guy on most teams. He's also signed for the next two seasons at $3.8M, which is a certainty some GM's might want when dealing away a forward to Toronto.
While I don't pretend to know what Brian Burke is thinking, a part of me wonders if two players he convinced to sign in Toronto, Komi and Beauchemin, would be pretty much untouchable only because Burke doesn't like to dick players around. Then again he bought out Bertuzzi after one season in Anaheim, but a buyout gives a player the chance to choose his next destination. A trade means these guys have no choice and could leave a bad taste in their mouths it being so soon after they signed here.
The other side of the coin is that despite being up for raises, Gunnarson and Schenn could provide very cost effective defending for many more years and this would be more ideal for the Toronto Maple Leafs long-term salary cap situation.
What it comes down to in the end is this. How badly does Burke want a top six forward and how willing is he to have a $4.9M 6th and 7th defence combination?