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NHL Free Agency 2014: The untouchables and tradables

The Untouchables is a 1987 movie starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Andy Garcia and Robert De Niro. Connery even won an Oscar for his role.

The 2014 version of the film, stars Phil Kessel, Morgan Rielly, Jonathan Bernier and Tyler Bozak on the Maple Leafs. These are the only four players Dave Nonis and Brendan Shanahan have said are safe from being traded from Toronto.

What about the supporting roles of James van Riemsdyk and Carl Gunnarsson? These two have quietly had great years. JVR at 25 had his most productive season yet, with 61 points, and reached the 30-goal plateau. Gunnarsson, two years his senior, has been a constant on a lacking team defense; he finishing the year off with a +12 (best on the entire squad, by the way). Alternatively yes they’d be attractive to shop, but hey, so are the untouchables!

The Leafs blueline has been their number one problem, especially in the latter part of this past season. A big reason? The big C. A disease to the defensive core. Getting rid of captain Dion Phaneuf should be the Leafs’ main concern. $7-million per season until 2021 is not worth how he’s been playing (and leading).

There are talks of trading him for another captain, Eric Staal in Carolina. Staal’s play has dipped steadily since his 40-goal season in 2009, so along with Phaneuf, Toronto could send a forward like Nazem Kadri.

Two big-headed birds with one stone. It would be ideal to deal Kadri before his contract his up next year and his swelling head believes his paycheque deserves to swell more, too. Another captain-for-captain rumour has been Kadri-Phaneuf for Jovonovski in Florida, as well as exchanging the teams’ first round picks, giving Toronto number one (aka Aaron Ekblad).

To replace Kadri’s offense, the Leafs could look to James Neal (who apparently has a no-trade clause that can be waived). Neil had a solid 61-point season in a short 59 games; the Whitby boy could have perfect timing for a homecoming. Another source could be centre Mike Richards out of LA; as nice as this past post-season was for him, he doesn’t want to be on the fourth line anymore.

This is a similar case for Vinny Lecavalier out of Philly.

Ultimately, Toronto needs to shake up their d-core, as stated, and also add a centre. Old folks Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle could make their way to the Leafs, but would only be beneficial for two to three years. Nonis isn’t looking to turn into the ancient early 2000’s Leafs either. Thornton and Boyle’s teammate Patrick Marleau is another route, however that rumor mill has spun in seasons past and amounted to nothing.

Other possibilities to fill out centre? Jason Spezza has listed Toronto as one of his open trade locations, however Ottawa’s GM would prefer not to send him within the division. Ryan Kesler is injury prone, Paul Statsny is inconsistent, and PA Parenteau is a steep price ($4-million) for only 33 points last season (to be fair, the untouchable Bozak had 49 and made $200-k more).

The Leafs have also been in talks with Edmonton to send Phaneuf back to his hometown for Sam Gagner or Nail Yakupov. At least there, the Flames could still boo him.

Nonis and Shanny have begun talks with David Bolland, and Mason Raymond, along with former Leaf Leo Komarov. It seems as though Nik Kulemin is on the outs. As a UFA, he had sad years following 30 goals in 2011. At the time, for $2-million a season, it was such a deal! Now he is considering joining fellow countryman free-agent (and former Leafs teammate) Mikhail Grabovski wherever he considers.

If the Leafs are letting Kulemin slide, they should do the same for David Clarkson. You don’t want to enter another decade paying him $5.25-million a year. He finished with 11 points this past year; he had more than double that in the lockout shortened season.

Lastly, with goaltending firmed up with Bernier, it’s time to say goodbye to Optimus Reim; perhaps sending him home to Winnipeg in exchange for big Byufglien. Matt Niskanen might be a difficult sign in Pittsburgh, so he may wade through the free agent pool. Other than that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see RFA Jake Gardiner out and Brad Stuart in.

Jake Gardiner wasn’t even born when The Untouchables premiered.

Tags: Dave Nonis Dion Phaneuf Jake Gardiner Nazem Kadri Toronto Maple Leafs

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