Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has had a busy summer acquiring numerous players via free agency and trading for some much needed depth.
This summer Burke has acquired rugged forwards Colby Armstrong and via free agency and Mike Brown from Anaheim for a fifth round draft choice while also adding speedy Stanley Cup winner Kris Versteeg to the fold through a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks.
On defense Burke picked up veteran defenseman Brett Lebda, giving him even more depth on defense, which in turn may allow him to trade his ace in the hole, defenseman Tomas Kaberle.
The acquisitions of Armstrong, Versteeg, Brown and Lebda should help transform the Leafs from perennial bottom-feeders to playoff contenders.
Burke’s earlier acquisitions include defensemen Mike Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf (who was awarded the captaincy over the summer), and Francois Beauchemin, all of whom should play huge roles in the Leafs' success or failures this season.
At forward Burke has done an admiral job acquiring the likes of Luca Caputi, Tyler Bozak, Fredrik Sjostrom, Brayden Irwin, Christian Hanson, Marcel Mueller, Michael Zigomanis, Colton Orr, and, of course, Phil Kessel.
What it all amounts to is a complete facelift for the Leafs, an overhaul that gives the Leafs Nation some much needed optimism heading into the 2010-11 NHL season.
It is widely believed that Burke has as many as half a dozen offers on the table for Kaberle, none of which appear to have peaked Burke’s interest.
Given the fact that Burke has not pulled the trigger on a Kaberle deal, one can deduce that Burke has not been offered a top six forward (preferably a centre) who could significantly improve the Leafs' lineup up front.
While many Leaf fans are growing impatient with Burke, it appears as if Burke is on the verge of intensifying trade negotiations in hopes of soliciting a better offer from the NHL teams that have shown interest.
Will a bidding war for Kaberle’s services ever evolve? Only time will tell.
One thing’s for sure, Burke is going to try to milk a potential Kaberle deal for everything it's worth, and so he should.
According to capgeek.com the Leafs have 21 players signed for the upcoming 2010-11 season with just over $2 million in cap space left with which to sign another player.
That $2 million combined with the $4.25 million in salary that Kaberle will earn in 2010-11 should allow Burke to trade for a player making upwards of $6 million.
Which players making $6 million or less are on the trading block right now?
Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard has been mentioned in several deals, but his injury concerns will likely keep Burke from acquiring the talented set-up man.
Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza has been mentioned as a possible solution for the Leafs, but his $7 million cap hit in each of the next five seasons would be a huge commitment for Burke to make for a player who has been underachieving and, more recently, whining about his situation in Ottawa, something Burke has frowned on in the past.
While the Anaheim Ducks continue to try to hammer out a new deal with Bobby Ryan, the two sides still appear to be wide apart on a long-term deal. There's no question that given their history and the talent level Ryan would bring to the table, Burke would be interested in acquiring Ryan, but the asking price is likely to be a lot more than just Kaberle, and Burke does not have many assets to trade right now.
The reality is, Burke may have to take a lesser player in return for Kaberle or get stuck with a bloated contract, something I suspect Burke will avoid like the plague.
Alternatively, Burke could acquire a player in the $3-4 million range and dip into a depleted free agent pool that still includes the likes of elder statesmen Paul Kariya, Bill Guerin, and Teemu Selanne (none of whom are good fits for the Leafs).
Given the fact that Burke has been on a youth kick the last year and a half, I suspect he is done with free agency this season, which means if Burke chooses not to bring in a big ticket player via trade he can hold on to his cap space with an eye on making a big deal or deals at the trade deadline.
Without a significant upgrade up front the Leafs will struggle offensively, which will put them at risk to miss the playoffs…again!
Burke wants no part of a team that will not compete for a playoff spot. Leaf fans are growing antsy, as are Leafs' management and Burke himself.
While Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract seems to be holding a lot of NHL teams back from making free agent signings, it appears as if Burke will aim to get a deal involving Kaberle done sooner rather than later.
Needless to say, as good as Burke has been in acquiring talent for the Leafs' organization, his best work (a deal for a top six forward) is yet to come. Let’s hope he can pull off another steal, bringing in a top-notch set-up man to compliment Phil Kessel’s scoring abilities.
Anything less could be the difference between the Leafs making the playoffs in 2010-11 or heading to the golf courses in early April.
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Until next time,