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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Battle of the Fourth Defenceman - Will Leafs Make a Big Change to Defence?

Brian Burke Pursued Dan Hamhuis
This Summer to be
One of His Top Four Defencemen

If contracts mean anything, Toronto Maple Leafs already committed to three of their so-called top four defencemen.   Dion Phaneuf ($6.5 mil) and Mike Komisarek ($4.5 mil) have big cap hit contracts with four years remaining while Francois Beauchemin has two years remaining on a contract with $3.8 mil cap hit. . 

Although Luke Schenn is in the last year of his entry level contract, Leafs control him for an addition five years.  Tomas Kaberle is in the final year of his contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

So, two questions beg to be asked:
  1. Who is the fourth top four defencemen?
  2. Who will be the fourth top four defencemen for the long term?  
As of training camp, Tomas Kaberle is paired with Mike Komisarek.  This implies he will be one of the four top four defencemen.  But, there is a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over him.  How long will he remain one of the top four defencemen if this uncertainty doesn't get resolved?

If Kaberle remains on the path to becoming a UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent), he may decide it is in his best interest to play on a team with high scoring forwards.  This may compel him to waive his no-trade clause.  He may very well be traded during the season.

Luke Schenn is arguably one of the best defencemen prospects in hockey.  Although he has not played close to his potential, he is at an age where a player's development can advance rapidly.  Do the Leafs see him as an imminent top four defencemen or a very marketable player?  Perhaps both.  None the less, he is in the final year of his ETC (Entry Level Contract) which forces the Leafs to decide whether to give him top four playing time or cash in on his marketability.

Maybe, Burke is buying time for a third option to develop.  As it stands, there will be many top defencemen who will be a RFA (Restricted Free Agent) at the end of the season.  Drew Doughty, Brett Seabrook, Jack Johnson, and Shea Weber plus some UFAs in James Wisniewski and Andy Greene.  Remember, Burke did try to sign Dan Hamhuis this summer.

Ultimately, when making the decision for this year, Burke must decide by the end of this season on whether to commit to someone in the declining years of his career; unrealized potential; or top players in the prime of their career.  This provides plenty of incentive to have Kaberle as a top four guy at the start of the year in order to move him quickly and then transition to Schenn so as to assess his development.

However, I have this nagging feeling that Burke already decided on a third option.

You are welcome to contact me (Leafschatter) at Twitter.

Post script.  You can find other interesting posts relating to this topic at TML Fan Fury; Blue Chip Prospects; and Mike In Buffalo at HockeyBuzz. Three of several excellent hockey blogs I have been reading.

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