Dreger: Free agency to provide Leafs with chance to change

Darren Dreger
11/21/2009 12:07:18 AM
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On July 1st, the Toronto Maple Leafs may have as many as 17 free agents to contend with, and 11 of those players will be unrestricted.

For many teams this would be considered a horrendous challenge.

The Leafs look at it as a great opportunity.

The corps of the 11 unrestricted free agents includes Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan, Vesa Toskala, Garnet Exelby, Wayne Primeau and Mike Van Ryn.

Matt Stajan is believed to be a prime trade target and isn't likely to be back.

Ponikarovsky is valued and will likely be offered an extension, however after that the interest in those remaining is quickly fading.

Under Cliff Fletcher's supervision, Toronto acquired Stempniak from the St. Louis Blues for Alex Steen and defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo.

Unless Stempniak's play warrants a renewal, any contract he's offered from Toronto will be at significantly less than the $3.5 million he's being paid this season.

The rest as they say....are history, through trade if possible, or simply contract expiration.

Close to $15 million could be saved.

However, some of that money will be reinvested in the Maple Leafs' crop of restricted free agents, such as current NHLers Ian White, Jonas Gustavsson, John Mitchell and Nikolai Kulemin.

At the moment, White is the most deserving of a big raise on his $950,000 salary, while the jury is still out on Gustavsson, Mitchell, Kulemin and Jiri Tlusty, who will also be looking for a new deal.

Brian Burke is expected to embrace the opportunity to clean house this summer.
With Victor Stalberg, Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and Christian Hanson promising a brighter future,  Burke will again scour the college free agent market, and likely target one or two NHL free agents and continually kick tires on trades.

However, one thing is certain: the 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs will have a much different look.

Darren Dreger

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