Now I don't profess to be an expert on this Maple Leaf team, unlike several of my B/R colleagues (MR for one) nor a number of its players but I do watch their games from time to time and a number of their players did play in the Western Conference. So I know a bit about their new look.
I have a quick story about Brian when he was with the Canucks. This was during the time that Mike Keenan was coach and the team was going through a horrific losing spell.
I got fed up with the losing and fired off a rant to Burke via a fax stating that I was a long time supporter (since 1970), a ticket holder and that the team had tuned on Keenan. Still fired up after this last loss, I also stated that this losing was unacceptable and that some changes had to be made.
The next day I received a phone call and when I picked it up it was Brian Burke at the other end. He went on for the next five to ten minutes to tell me that he also was not happy with the team, did some P/R work and thanked me for my support.
I never forgot that he took the time out to speak to me, a fan.
He did a lot of good and not so good things for the Canucks but his article is about what I see he has done and is doing for the Leafs.
Boy—when I look at the Toronto lineup as compared to what it was at the end of last season, I see a huge improvement.
The Leafs now have a lineup that can support the lonely Phil Kessel in scoring, with the additions of Colby Armstrong, Kris Versteeg, and just recently signed Clarke MacArthur.
MacArthur was a player that I wrote about previously, as someone that would help the Canucks third line but the ‘Nucks decided to add a little more toughness in Raffi Torres.
The former Atlanta Thrasher will help the Leafs on the third line as he has been consistent over the last two seasons posting up 17 and 16 goals respectfully, along with 14 and 19 assists.
Burke got MacArthur for $1.1 million compared to the $2 million that he was asking for. Looks like the teams that have the cap space and patience can pick up some good bargains, with the number of UFA’s that are still floating around out there.
Armstrong was another player that I knew would help the Canucks and being a BC boy I really like what he brings to a team. Not only can this guy score as shown by his 22 and 15 goals over the last two seasons but he is a feisty player, which fits into a Burke type of forward.
Kris Versteeg was a player that the Chicago Blackhawks did not want to lose but got caught in the cap squeeze and couldn’t afford to keep him. Here’s another player that can give you 20 plus goals a year and has an edge to his play.
The signing of defenseman Brett Lebda, who was a former Detroit Red Wing for $1.5 million was an excellent one, as he adds some much needed depth to an already good looking back end.
The Leafs do have a couple of D-men that they over paid for in Francois Beauchemin ($3.8 million) and Jeff Finger ($3.5 million) but that’s the cost of doing business in today’s free agent market.
With Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Thomas Kaberle and Luke Schenn, this has the makings of a solid top four and now the only question will be the goaltending.
Will J.S. Giguere play up to $6 million contract that the Leafs are stuck with this season or will he be the most expensive NHL backup?
If Giguere can regain his Anaheim Ducks form from the days when his GAA was between 2.12 and 2.66 then the Leafs will be a play-off team once again. Otherwise they will be pinning their hopes to second year pro Jonas Gustavsson.
I believe with the defensive core in front of them and the addition of the new forwards, that will play hard defensively under Leafs Coach Ron Wilson, that both goaltenders will have better seasons.
With 23 players signed and $376,000 cap space I would think there will be one to two players cut loose or shipped to their farm team, the Toronto Marlies. Even Burke is intelligent enough to know that the team needs at least $1.5 to 2 million in cap space to get by a season.
Overall, I think Brian Burke has done a remarkable job in the short time has been with the Leafs especially when you think about the team that he inherited.
You can catch more of my articles at nucksiceman.com.