It certainly feels like the Toronto Maple Leafs have endured a roller coaster of a season. A blissful first two months of the season eventually led to an inevitable regression that left Toronto in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Normally that kind of fall would result in a major roster overhaul, but the Maple Leafs are a unique case.
Yes, the team has been maddeningly inconsistent. But Phil Kessel is making a strong case for winning the Hart Trophy with 33 goals and 69 points. James van Riemsdyk and Jake Gardiner are enjoying breakout years. Mason Raymond has proven to be a good offseason acquisition.
But the Leafs are still as dependent on puck luck and goaltending as ever. They've allowed a league-worst 36.1 shots per game and would be even further out of the playoff picture if not for the impressive season Jonathan Bernier is having. They traded for defenseman Tim Gleason before the Olympics, but it's clear this team is still missing a few key pieces.
The problem is whether or not they can afford them.
Players to dangle
Toronto is blessed with a glut of impending unrestricted free agents that could be packaged for an impact player at the deadline.
The most prominent of those players is Nikolai Kulemin, who has been named in trade rumors since early February. According to TSN's Darren Dreger, the Leafs would want a "substantial player" in return for Kulemin.
But why would the Leafs want to part with Kulemin in the first place? He's 26, has played in the Olympics and has shown he's capable of scoring 30 goals while playing a physical brand of hockey. But with David Clarkson signed long-term and Jerry D'Amigo earning more time on the pro roster, Kulemin could be the odd man out.
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Besides Kulemin, the Leafs have decisions to make about James Reimer and Dave Bolland. As Jonathan Bernier has played himself into more and more minutes, Reimer's role has been reduced to the point that it's safe to call him a backup goalie.
Should the Leafs trade Reimer? There are certainly teams out there that need a goalie. Minnesota has been linked to Jaroslav Halak and Martin Brodeur, and teams like Carolina or New Jersey might look for a backup if they trade a goalie away.
But for now it appears Toronto is content with letting Reimer and Bernier continue battling for the position.
As for Bolland, the impending free agent center is reportedly asking for a six or seven year contract worth over $40 million. If Toronto decides he's not worth that much they could move on.
Toronto has the pieces to sell, but their financial situation ($3.35 million in cap space and 8 UFAs) presents a conundrum of sorts.
Let's say Toronto wants to go out and acquire a player that can impact a playoff chase. Someone like Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano, for example. A player like that comes with a relatively high cap hit, so the Leafs would have to send a few players back to
Unfortunately most of Toronto's available assets are unrestricted free agents. Teams generally don't give up impact players for rentals. So whether they like it or not, the Leafs probably aren't in a position to make a splash on deadline day.