The Toronto Maple Leafs will play their last game before the Sochi Olympics this Saturday when they host the Vancouver Canucks.
Once they return to game action they’ll have eight days before the trade deadline on March 5th.
So it’s safe to say if GM Dave Nonis plans to make some moves, the clock is ticking.
But what moves can be made with a team that’s right at the cap?
Well first let’s take a look at what the Leafs could use.
With Trevor Smith and Dave Bolland both set to return to action soon, the Leafs will have their full lineup set pretty soon. Judging by the past few games, this is likely to be the roster.
James Van Riemdsky – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – Nikolai Kulemin
Mason Raymond – Dave Bolland – David Clarkson
Trevor Smith – Jay McClement – Colton Orr
Ex: Frazer McLaren
Carl Gunnarson – Dion Phaneuf
Tim Gleason – Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner – Morgan Rielly
Ex: Paul Ranger
To get to that lineup you’d have to send Carter Ashton, Peter Holland, Troy Bodie and the recently recalled Jerred Smithson all down.
So what are the holes in that lineup that need to be upgraded?
It could still be argued that the Leafs could use a number one centre. They could also still use some help on defence.
The Leafs are also very unlikely to make any short term moves. Nonis is more than safe enough at this point to not make any big move for a rental player that could blow up in his face.
It’s also worth noting that Kulemin, McClement, Raymond, Bolland, Bodie, Smith and Ranger are all UFA’s.
Ranger, Smith and Bodie can all be resigned for cheap and aren’t very tradable assets, so they’re all unlikely to move.
Bolland and McClement are both incredibly well liked by management and likely to be resigned.
Mason Raymond may have tailed off after a hot start, but he still has 33 pts in 57 games. Depending on how much he asks for he’s likely to be back next season too.
Which leaves us with Nikolai Kulemin. He makes $2.8-million this year and is likely to want more next year.
His 16 pts in 45 games aren’t very impressive until you realize he’s been used almost completely in a defensive role.
He’s got five pts in his last nine games since moving onto the second line with Kadri and Lupul.
He’s sound defensively and has shown flashes of good offense (30 goals in 2010-11) which is why he’s heading to the Olympics, possibly on a line with Malkin and Ovechkin.
So what do you do with him? If he’s not getting resigned isn’t it better to trade him before the deadline and get something for him?
If Kulemin is dealt, either for picks or prospects, it will save the Leafs money and open up a spot on the wing.
If the Leafs manage to sign a centre in the free agent market like Paul Stastny, they can easily drop Bozak to 2C and move Kadri to the wing to fill the gap left by Kulemin.
If they can’t sign a Centre or work a trade, Kadri could still move to the wing for Peter Holland or Dave Bolland.
The other major area to upgrade is defense. Phaneuf, Rielly, Gleason and probably Gunnarsson are all untouchable.
Jake Gardiner should be, despite the rumours.
That leaves only Cody Franson as a consistent Leafs defenseman who could be moved. He’s still a RFA but due a raise on his $2-million.
He also probably needs to be signed to a long term deal, so that he doesn’t walk away as a UFA.
There’s a market for a high point getting, powerplay quarterback defensemen in the NHL. Fransons role on the PP can easily be filled in by Gardiner or Rielly, so losing him won’t be a big hit to the back end.
Could Franson be flipped at the trade deadline or this summer for a piece of the Leafs future?
It’s possible, just as moving Kulemin is possible. The truth though is that the Leafs are more likely to make a minor deal or no deal at the deadline, than make a major one.