Free Agency Gives Burke His First Chance To Rework Leafs Roster

Chris MontaniniContributor IJuly 2, 2009

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 29:   Brian Burke speaks to the media after being named President and General Manger of the Toronto Maple Leafs November 29, 2008 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)

"We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence, and  belligerence."

If there's one thing you can say about Brian Burke since he was hired as the new president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs last November, it’s that he's honest.

He also has a pretty impressive vocabulary.

After reportedly flying to Sweden only to miss out on making an offer to the Sedin twins when they signed with the Canucks just before hitting the free agent market, Burke finally got a chance to put his fingerprints on next year's edition of the Leafs.

He was visibly frustrated at the NHL draft, unable to trade up without moving 2008 first rounder Luke Schenn. Perhaps Burke was buying into his own press, but looking at the Leaf's roster it’s fair to say moving into the top five at this year's draft would have been impossible, despite his enthusiasm.

So Leafs fans had to wait until July 1 to see what their new GM and saviour had in mind for their club come October. And they shouldn't be surprised.

Muscle, muscle, and more muscle.

Seeming keen on building from the back to the front, Burke acquired two hard hitting defensemen in Mike Komisarek and Garnet Exelby, sent Pavel Kubina to Atlanta, and got a gritty fourth-line bruiser in Colton Orr.

Now maybe Schenn won't have to drop the gloves every time Alexei Ponikarovsky gets man-handled.

Like he did at the draft, Burke is also getting younger and more North-American. Kubina in his days with the Lightning was a Burke-type player, despite his nationality. At 32 though, even with a lot left to give and a pretty fair mean streak, the Czech defensemen doesn't fit into the Leafs long-term plans.

The one casualty of Burke's first shot at free agency as a Leaf might be Tim Stapleton. The 26-year-old late bloomer was an instant fan favorite when he was the first and only Leaf to step onto the ice during the team introductions for a game against the Islanders on February 26. Despite the practical joke, Stapleton went on to score the shootout winner.

But fuzzy feelings aside, the Leafs shouldn't be relying 26-year-old rookies to round out their prospect list. We all remember how much ice-time John Pohl got under head coach Paul Maurice when the Leafs were supposed to be "contending for the Stanley Cup."

It will be more interesting to consider what Burke has left up his sleeve. Kubina's offensive contribution from the blue line will be sorely missed. With Tomas Kaberle still a Leaf, the impact is far less, but according to reports today, Kaberle is still being shopped aggressively.

That leaves Anton Stralman, Mike Van Ryn, and Ian White as offensive defensemen. Stralman has the potential to replace Kaberle and the young Swede has good puck moving skills. But he isn't ready for Kaberle's minutes.

Van Ryn has always been a threat offensively but can't seem to stay healthy.

Ian White is a useful player who can also play on the wing, but from the back he's nowhere near Kubina's level.

There isn't much talk about Burke going after any offensive minded d-men, and there aren't really any notable young blue-liners with a scoring touch on the free agent list. It will be interesting to see what Burke does, if anything, to replace the point production the Leafs are losing with Kubina and Kaberle.

One thing is for sure, Burke isn't done yet. He is still rumored to be in on the Ducks' Francois Beauchemin.

And of course, there's that whole 'skill' thing.

I guess nobody said the rebuilding process was going to be quick.