In just over three years at the helm, Burke has made his mark on the team, dealing for Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul and youngsters Jake Gardiner and Joe Colborne, among others. Any transaction conducted before Monday will be scrutinized just as heavily, given the postseason implications.
The most pressing need is in goal. Last year’s half-season wonder, the likable James Reimer, hasn’t played with the clutch consistency that he exhibited in the first half of 2011 during which he almost vaulted the squad into a playoff berth. Backup netminder Jonas Gustavsson gives up too many weak goals—such as his crucial overtime blunder against New Jersey on Tuesday—to compensate for his occasional streaks of brilliance.
The Leafs could also use a big bodied presence to drive the net, as their recent losses during their current funk have been plagued with tentative, perimeter play. Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown fits the bill, even though Kings GM Dean Lombardi downplayed his availability after rumors became rampant. While Brampton, Ontario native Rick Nash is the prize of the forwards in this year’s market, the Blue Jackets would likely insist on the inclusion of Gardiner, a blue-chip asset who Burke would be loathe to relinquish.
As for who could be boarding a plane out of Toronto, Mikhail Grabovski, an unrestricted free agent on July 1 remains a candidate. The popular center has a young family in the city and has repeatedly stated his desire to remain in blue and white. His tenure in a Leafs uniform is contingent on the asking price of his next contract.
While 22-year-old defenseman Luke Schenn continues to be the subject of trade speculation, his error-prone habits have diminished both his ice time and his market value. Carl Gunnarsson, who is three years older than Schenn and has become a steady presence alongside blueline partner Phaneuf, may be the asking price if the Leafs are to receive a return of significance.
Any deal that Burke makes to upgrade the Leafs for a playoff push will not come at the expense of mortgaging the future.
Nevertheless, the pressure for Toronto to be playing hockey in the second week of April is not diminished.