Caution Flag Waved in Leaf Nation

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Caution Flag Waved in Leaf Nation
Abiding by Central Scouting projections, there were no deviations within the five first-round selections at the 2009 NHL entry draft last night.

Like cans shot off a fence with methodical pace, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke saw each player he wished to obtain escape his grasp.

The Islanders, Lightning, Avalanche, Thrashers, and Kings pounced on each prospect, while the hopes of Burke executing another draft day heist went flatter than a deflated balloon.

Shortly after, it was the Leafs’ turn to pronounce their choice at the dreaded seventh overall spot, even though fans wished it had vanished in favour of a more lucrative plateau.

It was to the surprise of some, to the ire of others and the delight of the rest that London Knights forward Nazem Kadri was the chosen as the backup plan to Burke’s futility on the floor.

Ambivalence, of course, incites us to consult the stats.

Kadri, who recorded 78 points in 56 games with the Knights this year, has been touted as a brisk centre with the ability to be an adept penalty killer, having scored 10 shorthanded goals in the OHL last season.

Although Kadri has the capability to navigate and direct play on the ice, he doesn’t quite fit the archetypal player makeup—belligerence, truculence, and testosterone—Burke so dearly covets.

Nevertheless, there is enough upside to his game to vest confidence in the 18-year-old.

"We really like him," Burke said. "He's got good offensive skills and he has a bit of feistiness, too."

Kadri has proven to be a playoff performer in the OHL, too, as he registered 21 points in 14 games last season when the Knights advanced to the conference finals.

So his prospects are compelling for a first-rounder; a fine alternative in the face of squandered efforts to move up in the draft.

But the lack of extravagant transactions—with what Burke’s previous public assertions about his intention to grab Tavares at the draft’s summit—surely did have an effect on the way in which Leaf fans, in particular, will view the night’s proceedings: a failure to capture what was desired.

And that should be taken into further consideration, given the Leafs’ plans to rebuild their franchise from this moment on.

How Burke struggled to solicit other teams for a feasible deal, it should be noted, may become a microcosm of future attempts to add and restructure this organization.

Granted, his vain endeavour to poach draft picks is different from making free agent signings or trades, as those teams which Burke had been pestering are in the same rebuilding mode as the Leafs.

Looking at the Leafs' situation, though, there aren’t many players to use as bait for a significant return. And if their cap room isn't exploited, there is a cautionary flag waving in this corner about Burke’s capability to ink complimentary and compulsory players.

He has been prudent about the salary cap, the Leafs’ ample space in that department notwithstanding and stated he doesn’t want to flirt with the ceiling of the cap in anticipation of its reduction after next season.

Burke has some $20 million free for the 2010-11 season, and that is enough buffer room to embrace bigger, expensive contracts. If he wishes to enhance his team to be a contender, Burke would be forced to exercise that muscle.

If he wants to make a decision based on maintaining cap room in the threat of a massive decrease, the project will be indefinitely extended.

The draft’s outcome proves that patience will be required. It also displayed how difficult it will be for Burke to ice a contender in the next two years.

Kadri is a step forward in initiating a return, along with collegiate stars Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson, but they’re not going to be employed as temporary bandages.

Tomas Kaberle looks like he may be cast off, so the Leafs’ defense needs to be bolstered with a more balanced core of individuals. They desperately need to rejuvenate their round of centres, and eminent goal scorers must also be tossed into the formula.

Money, needless to say, must be spent.

The forum will be presented four days from now, when free agency commences on July 1. The result of this summer will determine whether the Leafs have rectified any extant problems and if there is reason to believe the project is progressing.

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