Can Leafs Afford Kessel AND Phaneuf?

By HOWARD BERGER

CALGARY (Oct. 30) – It is almost certain in today’s economic climate that a Stanley Cup contender will carry at least two mega-salaries, and probably more. How that team is built around it’s most expensive players will largely determine its fate.

Chicago Blackhawks provide the perfect and most-recent example – winning their second NHL title in four years last spring with a half-dozen players (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) siphoning $35,113,462: just more than half the the pro-rated salary cap figure of $70.2 million. Roughly 20 other Chicago players split the remaining $35,086,538. Somehow, general manager Stan Bowman was able to coerce the required balance and depth for the Hawks to go undefeated in regulation time in the first half of the lockout-shortened schedule and then knock off Minnesota, Detroit, Los Angeles and Boston in the Stanley Cup tournament.

Given the monstrous pact accorded Phil Kessel by the Maple Leafs a few weeks ago – eight years and $64 million, with an annual cap hit of $8 million per season – Kane and Toews are veritable bargains. With their names twice engraved on the Stanley Cup, the Hawks’ prime forwards each consume $6.3 million in cap space. Now that Dion Phaneuf is reportedly angling for $50 million over seven years to remain in Toronto, the Leafs – should they comply – will commit $15 million a year to Phaneuf and Kessel. Joffrey Lupul, David Clarkson, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak are also locked in, so Leafs would be doling out roughly $35 million to their top six players next season.

Could David Nonis retain and assemble enough workable parts around his lavish core for the Leafs to follow Chicago’s success?

It’s an issue the Toronto general manager has to be pondering with his much-improved team here in Calgary for Game 2 of a western-Canada swing that began with a 4-0 romp at Edmonton last night. Maple Leafs tackle the Flames at 8 p.m. Eastern on TSN before heading to Vancouver to conclude the trip late Saturday afternoon.  

TIP OF THE HAT FROM COW-TOWN UPON ARRIVAL THIS AFTERNOON.

As did Bowman in Chicago, Nonis and his chief advisers must determine how to preserve the quality and depth required to win a championship. It won’t be easy, given the number of key components Leafs must either re-sign or properly replace in the next couple of years.

As mentioned in previous blogs, Leafs will have to provide significant raises to Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner and Jay McClement before next season. The contracts of James Reimer and David Bolland are also up for renewal, along with lesser parts Mason Raymond, Nikolai Kulemin and Mark Fraser. Should Jonathan Bernier emerge as a solid No. 1 goalie, he’ll be in for quite the wallet-stuffer when his $2.9-million pact expires after next season and Morgan Rielly comes off entry level in the summer of 2016. All of this has to be carefully evaluated by Nonis before handing out a $7 million mega-deal to Phaneuf.

My photos, now, of the trip south earlier today from Edmonton:     

YES, THE OILERS DID “SUFFER” TUESDAY NIGHT.

FLEW HERE FROM EDMONTON ON A DASH-8-300 AIRCRAFT.

AFTER LIFTING OFF FROM EDMONTON (ABOVE), THE GROUND BECAME PROGRESSIVELY WHITER DURING THE 45-MINUTE TRIP HERE, AS EVIDENCED BY THE PHOTO-SEQUENCE BELOW. CALGARY GOT HAMMERED BY WEATHER ON SUNDAY.

THE CITY OF RED DEER, ALTA. OUT THE WINDOW (ABOVE) FROM 15,000 FEET – LOCATED EQUIDISTANTLY BETWEEN EDMONTON AND CALGARY.

FLEW PAST DOWNTOWN CALGARY (TOP-LEFT) AND THE CANADIAN ROCKIES – MORE THAN 100 KILOMETERS AWAY – ON FINAL APPROACH TO THE AIRPORT.

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