I'll be the first to admit, this article is only my opinion based upon different rumors and facts/statistical information that I have been able to dig up.
After a rather inactive trade deadline having come and gone, and a season so far down the drain most Leaf fans are wishing that the season was over already, I find myself playing the job of armchair GM and thinking about what Brian Burke has up his sleeves for the offseason.
Burke has sprung some darn-near magical moves in his management career.
Everything from his 1999 draft: moving down and then up again to select both of the Sedin twins for Vancouver, to his fleecing of Edmonton in landing Chris Pronger, to landing Dion Phaneuf (a not-so-long ago Norris Trophy Candidate as the best defenseman in the league) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (a Stanley Cup winner and owner of a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP) for spare parts earlier this season.
Frankly, the man has moves.
He also has a type of player that he likes to build his teams around, usually of the "North American, physically punishing to play against" variety.
With these points in mind, I've gone ahead and dug through rumors and speculation as well as facts and press conferences to come up with, at least in my mind, what will be Brian Burke's most likely course of action come this offseason.
Toronto's Potential 2010/11 NHL Lineup:
? - ? - Kessel
Stalberg/Caputi/Kadri - Bozak - ?
Sjostrom - ? - Kulemin
Lundmark - Primeau - Orr
Beauchemin - Phaneuf
Komisarek - Schenn
Gunnarsson - Frogren
Exelby, J. Mitchell, Van Ryn, Wallin
Most Likely Callups:
If Burke manages to pull off the moves listed on the next few pages, it allows him the ability to rotate the likes of Caputi, Stalberg, and Kadri in and out of the Leafs lineup, probably at the second line's Left Wing/Centre position.
V. Stalberg, L. Caputi, N. Kadri, M. Stefanovich
C. Hanson, C. DiDomenico
J. Rosehill, K. Rogers, A. Berry, D. Mitchell, A. Deveaux
K. Aulie, P. Oreskovic
Trade for LW Scott Hartnell (PHI)
Philadelphia is looking to clear cap space next season, hopefully, for the sake of their fans (If the Emery experiment is dubbed a failure and if Leighton can't pull through in the playoffs), to go looking at a legitimate starting goaltender. Hartnell and Briere are going to be on the block.
Hartnell, at an average cap hit of $4.2M, is signed through the the 2012/13 season and is the more attractive of the two at the prime age of 27.
With 36 points through 61 games, he's definitely off pace for his season high of last year (2008-09) of 60 points in 82 games as he is on pace for only 48 points.
Everyone on the Flyers is having a bit of an off year after such a disappointing start. He brings the hard-hitting "in your face" element that Burke loves.
Trade for C Stephen Weiss (FLA)
Weiss has been reportedly shopped around heavily by Randy Sexton (Panthers GM) and Burke was rumored in a few trades to bring him to Toronto at the deadline but couldn't pull the right strings.
If Florida is serious about their rebuild, look for them to flush out their core (including Vokoun, Horton, Stillman, Olesz, and of course Weiss).
Weiss is signed through the 2012-13 season as well, which makes him a nice temporary fit along with Hartnell.
At an average cap hit of $3.1M per season, and hitting a career high in points if he stays on pace (67, previous career high of 61) as well as already surpassing a career high in goals (23, previous career high 20), Weiss would be a great addition.
Weiss is a reliable, playmaking center, and an incredible improvement over anything the Leafs have right now.
Bringing him aboard allows time for Bozak/Kadri (although i'm not convinced the Leafs won't decide that Kadri belongs on the wing) to develop properly on the second line and in the minors, without the added pressure of being the "go-to guy" up the middle.
Trade C Mikhail Grabovski ($2.9M through the 2011/2012 season)
I'm not sure who would take a pass on him really, but I am convinced that his presence is not a welcome one in the Leafs dressing room and with his recent street brawl in Vancouver during the Olympics, he's definetly thrown himself in Burke's dog house... a very bad place to be.
Grabovski is a confusing player.
In a lot of respects he reminds me of Alexei Kovalev; he can be one of the most dominant players on the ice at times (See: total domination of any World Championship while playing for Belarus), and at others he can be a complete non-factor.
He has great hands, good speed, amazing creativity, and yet he still manages to make boneheaded plays that end up hurting his team (be it the Habs or Leafs) far more than he helps them.
At the age of 25, he's still really just getting to his prime, so you have to figure a rival GM will take a chance on him at the expense of a mid-round draft pick or two.
But I am convinced that through everything that has happened, from his three-game suspension to his on-ice fights with teammates Francois Beauchemin and Jason Blake, to his highly publicized street brawl during the Olympics... that he has "fought" himself a ticket into Burke's dog house and, very shortly, out of Toronto.
Trading D Tomas Kaberle (PHI, WAS, ANA, VAN)
All of the above teams made inquiries about Kaberle at the trade deadline, but Burke's asking price of a first-round pick, a mid-round pick, and a top prospect was too high for the mentioned teams and their GM's liking.
While Burke has stated that he would even consider re-signing Kaberle to a long-term contract, the benefit of adding his expected trade return to their system would (at least in my opinion) far outweigh him staying.
Having his calm, puck-moving presence on our blue line for the next four to six years, especially when realistically, the Leafs won't be doing much for the next three years if we follow our current talent trends.
Kaberle is the type of affordable, puck-moving, power-play-quarterbacking defenseman in his prime that Stanley Cup contenders (or pretenders) crave.
I'm not sure about Kaberle's desire to travel to the west coast, and if Burke does move him I think he'll consider Kaberle's preferences when making a deal.
Mind you, if Anaheim (owns two first-round picks this year) or Vancouver comes knocking with a drop dead deal, Burke will take it.
In the end, I feel Burke will trade Kaberle, as for where he goes, well that's very debatable as after the playoffs, the trade-scape will have changed dramatically.
But whatever it is, with his recent track record, you have to believe it will be worth the loss of arguably our best player.
Sign RW Colby Armstrong (UFA - ATL)
Unlikely to be happy with Atlanta's situation and if Pittsburgh won't bring him back, he might find Toronto a nice fit.
If he's looking for a contender to join, he will definitely find takers but he is a Burke type player and I have a feeling Burke will make a serious run at him.
Currently raking in about $2.4M per season, he could most likely be had for about $2.9M in the summer. Look for Burke to attempt to trade for his rights (if he is unsigned) prior to the draft.
Sign C Matthew Lombari (PHX)
Lombardi, is fast, a great face-off guy, good in the corners, great penalty killer, and did I mention that he is ridiculously fast?
A line with him at centre and Sjostrom and Kulemin riding shotgun definitely salivates the taste buds, and could possibly be the fastest line in the league.
He's a warrior, relatively inexpensive with a current contract at around $1.8M per year, and has a probable of asking price of $2.3-$2.7M per season.
Anyways, he would be a huge character boost for the locker room and a major improvement over Rickard Wallin as the third line checking centre.
The man might not have the greatest hands (although he does have 42 points in just 60 games) but he can make up for that with his grit and tremendous heart and in Brian Burke's books, those two things go a long way.
After My Predicted Moves, Here's what the Leafs "New" roster looks like:
Hartnell - Weiss - Kessel
Stalberg / Caputi / Kadri - Bozak - Armstrong
Sjostrom - Lombardi - Kulemin
Lundmark/Hanson - Primeau - Orr
Beauchemin - Phaneuf
Komisarek - Schenn
Gunnarsson - Frogren
Burke has three years with Hartnell and Weiss riding a line with Kessel to either have a prospect in the system (possibly Kadri and Caputi) develop into a legitimate top line NHLer or to find suitable long term replacements via trade and free agency.
If Weiss and Hartnell do work out? Then Burke has saved himself the trouble and created his first line of guys all in their prime already.
We have a legitimate checking line, something that is a mandatory for all Cup contenders (and has been a huge factor for cup winning teams, Pahlsson's line for the Ducks in 2006/07, Jordan Staal's line for the Penguins in 2008/09, etc.).
It might not be the greatest physical presence, although Kulemin is 6'1" and 225 lbs. and Sjostrom 6'1", 218. But they would be wicked fast and have a pretty solid scoring touch to boot.
Burke has previously stated that he likes the Leafs defense the way it is, for now at least, and Giguere will probably be signed to a one or two year extension in the offseason to continue to mentor and push Gustavsson.
In closing, I will again repeat this article is just my opinion and not based on anything concrete or factual (as far as the moves go anyways, my information is legitimate). But, they are nonetheless very plausible and, quite frankly, fit Burkie's M.O.
Here's to hoping.