July 1st is approaching and Maple Leaf's GM Brian Burke is sure to be busy.
With endless trade rumors, free agent possibilities and draft day shenanigans being thrown around, we can be sure of one thing. Burke will make it happen.
Whatever 'it' is, is another story. But I, as well as many others, trust Burke in building this team to be a contender in the 2011 and/or 2012 seasons.
Burke has made a bunch of things fairly clear:
1) He wants to acquire a top six forward, preferably by trade.
2) He is not afraid to re-sign Kaberle, but would like to trade him.
3) Kulemin's asking price is too high right now.
4) Kadri's spot on the team is his to lose.
From these we can gather a couple other things:
1) No one is safe from trade (except certain players for political reasons).
These players would be Kessel (due to trading two first rounders and a second), Kadri (he has basically said Kadri has a spot on the team, PLUS I do not see Burke trading away a highly touted, seventh overall centre.)
Phaneuf (he will be the captain, and unless they could bring in the greatest captain of this century that will be able to play for the next ten tears [I'm lookin at you Toews] he will have a safe spot on the roster).
2) He does not necessarily want to acquire a top five draft pick. (However possible it is or isn't).
3) WIth the signing of Holzer, the strong play of Gunnarsson, the large contract of Jeff Finger and the imminent release of Exelby there will be spots on the blue lineup for grabs in training camp.
Taking all of these things into account, Burke looks to be focusing on offense. Already stacked on the back end from NHL to Junior leagues, the Leafs needs forwards. Burke will get forwards this offseason. I can promise you this, only because Burke is known for his big trade prowess.
As we all know, Kaberle is Toronto's biggest trade asset. Seeing as Toronto has given up its 2010 first and second, as well as its 2011 first, draft picks aren't going to be a factor.
But Kaberle alone isn't going to bring in anything special. However good numbers he's put up on a bad team, he's not the greatest defensively. Not to mention, Western Conference teams know he won't sign back with a Western team.
But could a deal to Chicago be a possibility? They need the salary dump and Toronto has got cap room.
To Toronto :
Patrick Sharp/Dustin Byfuglien?
(Mid-Level Prospect Paradis Maybe?)
This deal would rid Chicago of Campbell's gross $7 million contract, as well as $3 million in Patrick Sharp (or Byfuglien). In return they get a very solid, high-IQ and wide skill set defenseman in Tomas Kaberle. As well, they get John Mitchell who is a very cheap option, and will probably ask for only $1 million at the most.
Kaberle does not want to go to the West, but there is a certain attraction to being traded to the defending cup champs, who have a GREAT, young team and will be contenders again.
Other trade options could be Tampa Bay for Lecavalier, Dallas for Richards, Neal and/or Benn, or possibly Anaheim for Bobby Ryan.
One other deal that has been rumored, that would work well for the Leafs but not so much for the other team, is a package going to Colombus in exchange for the fourth overall pick and possibly another player.
The problem with this deal, is that Colombus is not a very attractive city for Kaberle, mostly because of its small market and the fact that it's in the Western Conference.
Additionally, Buffalo is apparently interested in Kaberle and there might be a deal in the works.
Other teams that plausible deals have been set with are Florida and St. Louis,
The less specified trade possibilities are not one for one trades, they would include other assets going either way.
This is probably one of the bigger issues that is being debated by Leafs fans.
Who should take the top two centre spots? Should the Leafs try and acquire a top six centre?
My personal opinion, is let Kadri and Bozak battle it out for the jobs. Kadri looks to be the future for the Leafs in the middle and the only way he'll ever develop into an upper-echelon player is by getting on the ice.
One thing Burke could do to help the cause is sign a veteran presence to play on the wing with Kadri. There is no better way to let a low risk, high reward prospect break in than playing with someone who's been around.
With Bozak, already being 24, he does not have as much room for development as Kadri. Taking this into consideration, Bozak will probably be the number one centre coming out of training camp, a lot due to the success he had playing with Kessel.
Althought we won't have the best two centres in the NHL, we will by far have two of the youngest per combination and both have the potential to be very solid NHL players.
With the exits of Kaberle, Finger and Exelby imminent, not to mention the possibility of Van Ryn and Beauchemin not coming back, there are spots open on the Leafs blueline.
Right now, Phaneuf, Komisarek, Schenn and Gunnarsson make up the top four defenseman, leaving room for two more on the blueline.
With the recent signing of Korbinian Holzer, he is sure to challenge for a spot on the blueline.
From the Marlies, I see Phil Oreskovic and Keith Aulie also battling for those last spots. Jesse Blacker is another possibility, however I see it unlikely.
However, there is the possibility that Burke does go out and sign a middle aged defenseman for three years. Dan Hamhuis and Paul Martin are the first two names that come to mind. Jordan Leopold is another option, but I see Hamhuis as the strongest option.
As I mentioned earlier, breaking Kadri in would go a lot better if you got a veteran to play with him and Stalberg.
Arron Asham (pictured) could be a steal for the Leafs. At only 31 and making $640 000 last season, the Leafs could get him for three years, 1.5 mil. Asham is a grinder who is good at being in the right place at the right time... A lot.
Another possibility is Ray Whitney, who although he is 38, has put up 83, 61, 77 and 58 points in his last four seasons. Clearly he can still produce at this age and could help Kadri and Stalberg break out. One problem with Whitney would be the length/amount of money we pay him.
Obviously, Kovalchuk is another option for free agency. Seeing as he is the best free-agent this year, he will be considered by Burke. But Kovalchuk is going to want a LOT of money for a LOT of years and this will hold Burke back from signing him. Burke is going to want to save his glorious cap room for July 1st, 2011.
On the defensive end, there may be no need to sign a player.
But if Burke feels the need to, he may pursue players like Dan Hamhuis or Paul Martin. Hamhuis, 26 and Martin, 28 are relatively young but would bring experience to what is shaping up to be a very young Leafs blueline.
There are obviously many other options that Burke could take, but especially for the forwards, the players mentioned would positively affect the players now, for the future.
With Gustavsson looking like the starting goaltender for the upcoming season and Giguere being the wily, veteran backup (who happens to be making three times as much) the spots for goalie on the big club are locked up.
But what about the Marlies? With the recent signing of 'phenom' Jussy Rynnas, NCAA tendy Ben Scrivens, not to mention already having James Reimer and Grant Rollheiser, there isn't a ton of wiggle room in the crease.
I could see Burke potentially trading any of those goalies in the minors as part of a package. If Burke really wants to make a playoff run, he will hang on to Giguere this year (if anyone even wants his contract) because he is a proven playoff performer.
Scrivens was a very good NCAA goalie and Rynnas was one of the top goalies in Europe this past year (similar to Gustavsson two years ago) and either could be part of a package to a team that might want to beef up their goaltending (cough, cough—Florida—cough, cough).
As you can see, Burke is going to be very, very busy this summer. These are obviously not all of the options Burke can take, and knowing Burke, he'll probably pull something out of mid-air.
But this just shows that although the Leafs don't have many valuable trade assets, we definitely will be busy over the off-season.
Whether before the draft, during the draft or after the draft, Burke will make moves for the better of the team.
If there's one thing he can do, it's the improbable. (See Sedin twins.)