As we quickly approach the highly anticipated NHL draft this year, not to mention, a swollen free agent market, Leafs fans have a lot to expect from GM Brian Burke. For example, in addition to to a trade here and a trade there, involving players like Tomas Kaberle and Mikael Grabovski, Burke has a big bag o' loot to throw around, and thus a lot of decisions in order to produce a burly Cup winning team.
It is rather pointless to discuss our draft hopes, as The Leafs management have to watch 60+ players float on by before naming their first choice in the 3rd round. Of course, we can argue endlessly how many awesome players were picked in the 3rd round and who have gone on to enjoy stellar careers for the respective teams.
Apparently, from over 2,000 players selected in the third round and beyond during 1990s, just 261 made it as NHL career players. For the record, that's about 12%. Back in 2005, the team selected Phil Oreskovic in the 3rd round, and Justin Pogge in the 3rd the year previous. Of note, in 1975 the top pick for The Leafs was none other than Don Ashby, and in the 3rd round...? Bruce Boudreau.
Keep in mind, however, the Leafs' first pick in 1996 was Marek Posmyk, who was drafted 36th overall from Dukla Jihlava of the Czech League. Ends up Posmyk only played 19 games, none with the Maple Leafs - recording 3 points before he to went off to play in Europe. So there's hope. Maybe Burke trades a few players to Edmonton for a first rounder.
To bolster the ranks of finely selected US college players, the free agent pile is a good one... because of the aforementioned pile of dough, which given a trade or two and a demotion nets in at about $13 million.
Kovalchuk won't be pulling on a Leafs jersey, according to all the reports, but Burke'll look elsewhere and pull off a trade, likely with Chicago and Anaheim, where we hope to acquire a few decent men in return like Patrick Sharp and Bobby Ryan. Colby Armstrong also makes a nice fit, as do Patrick Marleau and Vincent Lecavalier who managed a meagre 70 points last year, though not a UFA. Besides, Yzerman has his hands full with Stamkos' ego.
We all thought Jason Blake would still be on the team this year, so as I said, there is hope, in terms of trying to "dump" weighty contracts.
Speaking of captains, and although Phaneuf has been anointed, Burke might take a look at Mike Modano or a savvy veteran like Ray Whitney. Among the so-called youngsters, there's speedy Matthew Lombardi (Phoenix) worthy of consideration for the blue and white and (a local guy) Raffi Torres is available for a potential left wing spot.
Speaking of Marek, the team is taking a long and hard look at Marek Svatos, a 7th rounder taken in 2001, in case Kulemin ends up back in Russia.