Brian Burke's Legacy: Leafs paying big money on Failed Acquisitions


As we’ve all heard by now, Brian Burke was recently fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Yesterday, new General Manager Dave Nonis, and head coach Randy Carlyle finalized the Maple Leafs for the opening of the NHL Season tonight in Montreal.

Following final cuts, there was one astounding figure that many fans don’t even know about, and that is the huge dollar amounts the Leafs will spend this season on players who are not a part of the Team’s opening day roster.  By my count, if this was a full season, the total would be $8.425 million, and doesn’t include money that will carry over into next year, such as Armstrong’s buyout.  Of course this money will be reduced due to the season being only 48 instead of 82 games.  With the exception of the $1.0 million charge per season on the Darcy Tucker buyout (one of two remaining years for Tucker as well) that precedes Burke’s time as General Manager of the Leafs, the vast majority of these players were contracts given out by Burke, or players that Burke traded for.

Here’s the list, from least onerous contract…. to most.

Matt Frattin (2012-13 Full Season Salary – $0.925 million, Dead Cap Hit – $0.025 million, Opening Day Destination: AHL):  The least onerous of the dead money contracts, Frattin is a 25 year old winger who recieved a two year, one way NHL contract from Burke at $1.85 million.  After being a fixture on the Leafs third line in the second half of the 2011-12 season, and scoring 8 goals and 15 points in 56 games; Frattin finds himself cut from the team and playing for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.  Frattin was the final cut from the Leafs forward group and lost his spot when players like Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, and Colton Orr made the team.  This contract isn’t too bad, as its still likely that Frattin will see some time in the NHL as he will probably be the first forward called up from the Marlies, when inevitable injuries hit.

credit: bridgetds via photopin cc
credit: bridgetds via photopin cc

Colby Armstrong ( 2012-13 Full Season Salary paid by Toronto – $1.0 million, Dead Cap Hit $1.0 million, Opening Day Destination: Montreal Canadiens):  Signed to a 3 year, $9 million deal as part of Brian Burke’s truculence movement in  the summer of 2010.   He just couldn’t stay healthy, and after going through a number of injuries in two seasons playing for Toronto, Armstrong was bought out last June.  He was reasonably productive when healthy in his first season in Toronto with 23 points in 50 games.  However disaster would strike in 2011-12, as Armstrong found himself suffering from recurring injuries throughout the year and scoring just 3 points in 29 games for Toronto.  Shortly after Armstrong was bought out, he signed a 1 year, $1 million deal with the Montreal Canadiens.  In this way the Canadiens and Leafs are both paying him the same amount of money this season.  It will really haunt the Leafs if he becomes a productive player for their division rival, the Habs while Toronto is paying him half the money he will earn under his NHL contracts this season.

Matthew Lombardi (2012 Full Season Salary paid by Toronto – $1.5 million, Dead Cap Hit $1.5 Million, Opening Day Destination: Phoenix Coyotes):  Lombardi is heading to Phoenix where he hopes to rekindle the best days of his NHL career.  The answer to a future trivia question, Lombardi’s move to Phoenix was the first ever “salary allocation trade” in the new NHL CBA, with the Leafs sending him to the Coyotes while agreeing to pay $1.5 million of his salary and take a $1.5 million cap hit.  Lombardi was acquired by Burke in a July 2011 trade from the Nashville Predators.  This was always a gamble as it was unclear at the time of the trade if Lombardi was healthy enough to play.  He did end up being healthy, but did not produce at his pre-concussion levels scoring just 8 goals and 18 points in 62 games as a Leaf.

credit: wyliepoon via photopin cc
credit: wyliepoon via photopin cc

Tim Connolly (2012-13 Full Season Salary – $4.0 million, Dead Cap Hit – $3.85 Million, Opening Day Destination: AHL) : After coming up empty in the Brad Richards sweepstakes, the Leafs signed Connolly to a two year $9.5 million contract to be the team’s number one centre and play on a line with Phil Kessel.  Connolly and Kessel never clicked, and Connolly spent much of the year shuffling between the Leafs 3rd and 4th lines.  He scored just 36 points in 70 games last year, and often looked disinterested in the Defensive End of the rink.  One of Dave Nonis first moves as Leafs GM was an attempt to cut out the deadwood of the Connolly contract by waiving him and getting him off the team.  Unfortunately no one else in the NHL wanted Connolly at his full contract and cap hit for this season and he cleared waivers and was sent to the AHL.  Connolly says he will report to the Marlies, but i wouldn’t be surprised to see the Leafs trade him away in a cap allocation trade situation like the Matt Lombardi deal.  They will try to get a team to take Connolly, while the Leafs retain a portion of his salary and cap hit.

Now don’t get me wrong, we know that MLSE makes more money than God, but this is still a lot of money to be paying for players who will not play for your NHL team.  While they may not say much publically about the issue, I’m sure that Bell and Rogers cannot be pleased with these outlays of dead money either.  Lets face it, no corporation is going to want to cut cheques for expenses, with zero tangible return for that money.

Also there have also been a number of quality acquisitions by Burke during his time with Toronto (the Phaneuf trade, the Beauchemin trade) and some good value free agent signings (Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak).  The majority of his acquisitions have not worked out.  In addition to the names above the Leafs have another big name bust in Mike Komisarek still on the roster, and lets not forget money Burke spent on busted acquisitions like J-S Giguere, Jonas Gustavsson, Brett Lebda, and others.  Moves like these are the reason why the Leafs didn’t make the playoffs under Burke, and a part of the reason why he is no longer their General Manager.

And thats the Last Word.

Agree? Disagree?  Feel free to leave your comments below.

You can follow me on twitter @lastwordBkerr and be sure to join Max Vasilyev and I on Wednesday Nights at 11:00pm when we host the hockey radio show, “Puckheads”, on the Last Word Radio Network.  You can listen in live or to our past podcasts by clicking here, or by searching for us on iTunes.