Too Many Men On The Payroll

Editor’s Note: This is an entry in our search for Fresh Blood at TLN. Every possible contributor will get three posts to strut their stuff and then we’ll ask you readers to help us choose who is going to join.  

By: Matt Stephen @mattystephen

As the February 27th trade deadline approaches and next to nothing has happened, and looks like very little will happen, we should take some time to step into a blue and white time machine and go to trade deadlines past.

In the Burke era, trade deadline has been kind to the Leafs and their fans, but as pundits grasp at straws for trades sending Grabovski to Nashville, purporting Schenn’s healthy scratch as a sign he’s been shipped and Kadri as the go-to trade bait, they all seem a little far-fetched. Then again, ask me today would I trade Matt Stajan and Niklas ‘cleared waivers’ Hagman for now-captain Dion Phaneuf and defensive partner Keith Aulie, the answer is obvious. Or, not to outdo himself, trading Francois Beauchemin for now-All-Star Joffrey Lupul and second in rookie points for defenseman Jake Gardiner.

Burke has made moves that left the Ducks, Preds and Flames all feeling slighted, though for some, his track record with the Leafs isn’t necessarily spotless, especially if they don’t make the playoffs once Seguin (again) this year.

It’s worth looking back on what could have been if Burke was at the helm when a certain #16 and his 6-million 6-year buyout took place.

The last goal he ever scored in Toronto was off a feed from future Leaf John-Michael Liles back on Oct. 13 2009 as a member of the Avalanche, but his vengeance wasn’t over and won’t be until 2014. Tucker remains the last reminder of the Leafs’ recent past, an era that ended when Mats Sundin left that same year. Tomas Kaberle’s exit last year was the final step in making the slate blank for Burke to rebuild as he liked.

The Leafs 2.0 are built around a new core of speedy players, making bottom-six forward Daryl Boyce the longest serving Leaf thanks to having played just one game in 2007-2008, before runners-up Schenn, Grabo and Kulemin joined the squad. The Leafs aren’t missing out on a Bobby Ryan while they’re doling out Tucker’s salary, but another affordable sandpaper power forward might have done nicely. Tucker’s on-ice legacy could end up being dwarfed by what he’s cost the team since he left.

Tucker, who retired in 2010, is now an NHLPA-certified player agent joining forces with ex-agent, now-colleague, Carlos Sosa at Turning Point Sports Management. While he works out of retirement negotiating and then re-negotiating contracts for his clients, he still remains on MLSE payroll. Tucker has the second-longest active buyout behind former Sen/nemesis Alexei Yashin, who is being paid 17.6 million over eight years by the Islanders.  Other than these two, the only notable buyouts are Chris Drury (3.2 million over two years) and Sheldon Souray (3 million over two years).

Tucker’s buyout is a lingering reminder of an ugly era for the Leafs, and it’ll lift some psychological weight when the mistakes of the past have been paid for. But there are also real consequences to being one of the few teams carrying that kind of cap hit while also scrambling to re-build.

Tucker’s departure doesn’t need defending, but I’d like to consider the ‘what ifs’ of its circumstances for a second.  Think of Tucker as a modern day Bill Barilko, without the need for superstition – instead of being "the fifty mission cap", he’s more like "the six year cap-hit". For a season of a Tucker-buyout, you could pay for on ice talent like a Joey Crabb ($750,000), a Mike Brown ($736,667), a Darryl Boyce ($700,000), a Cody Franson  ($800,000), or a Jake Gardiner ($1.11 bonus included).

Over his six-year tenure as the spectre haunting MLSE’s payroll at 6 million dollars overall, Darcy Tucker makes up enough to pay for all three years remaining on James Reimer’s contract with 600K to spare, or enough for a season of Phil Kessel, again with 600K to spare.

We’re three weeks away from the trade deadline and with the Buds on the bubble once again, despite being on pace for the most wins since the lockout, it’s still going to be a crunch of numbers and hard-fought games to make it to the coveted 92-93 point mark. When it’s (always) this close, it’s hard not to feel like the dollars and cents are a big deal.

So what holes need to be patched up to make arguably the "best" team since the lockout into a serious playoff contender? The defense? The one that carries a revolving door of eight qualified blueliners all playing more than 15 games…probably not. The goaltending? With two goalies having both played over 20 games both with three shutouts, nope. To compete in playoff hockey they need a top-six power forward, a Mike Brown on steroids, a Scott Hartnell/David Backes power forward. You know someone who can score, hit and fight, someone with experience who can bring energy to the lineup, almost sounds like #16 doesn’t it?