When Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke began the re-tooling of his club, he promised to bring in a group of players that would play with an element of testosterone, truculence and pugnacity.
The additions of Dion Phaneuf, Kris Versteeg, Colton Orr, Colby Armstrong and Mike Komisarek were a move in the right direction but collectively, this group has failed to put the fear of God in the opposition.
Now don’t get me wrong: the additions Burke made are a big improvement on perimeter players such as Nik Hagman, Matt Stajan and Jason Blake (to name a few), but you get the feeling that the Maple Leafs are still in need of another player of substance/grit.
There is a fine line between a player of grit and a player who simply fights (think Colton Orr). There is also a fine line between a player who plays with grit and a player who plays with stupidity (think Sean Avery).
Burke has a couple of players in the system who could potentiality bring the qualities he is looking for. Luca Caputi comes to mind, as does highly touted prospect Brad Ross (who will likely be ready in 2012-13) and, of course, Keith Aulie looks to be a player who may evolve into a little bit of “nasty.”
NHL GMs rarely part ways with a player that exhibits the type of qualities the Leafs desire, but the possibility exists that a GM could be convinced to part ways with his prized pony.
While there is no way the Atlanta Thrashers would be willing to trade Dustin Byfuglien, how good would he look in a Maple Leaf uniform right now?
Chad LaRose, who has been hot of late, might be had in the right trade scenario from the Carolina Hurricanes. Maybe a player like David Clarkson could be had out of New Jersey, or perhaps Jarkko Ruutu from Ottawa or Daniel Carcillo out of Philadelphia?
As good as many of those players may fit into the Maple Leafs' plans, what the team really needs is a Matt Cooke, T.J. Oshie, Ryane Clowe, Steve Downie or Ryan Callahan—none of whom are going anywhere.
While finding a player with the skill set the Maple Leafs want will not be easy, in order for this team to turn the next corner, Burke will have to solidify his forwards with a player that exhibits that unique combination of substance, character, grit and skill.
On the free-agent front, there are few players available next summer.
Tim Connolly, Jason Arnott (who is past his prime), Erik Cole (too risky), Scottie Upshall (who will likely be re-signed by Phoenix), Brooks Laich, LaRose (who is a legit option), Pascal Dupuis (who likely re-sign with Pittsburgh) and Raffi Torres all have a chance to hit free agency, but there are never any guarantees.
Of those potential UFAs, Upshall would be my choice to join the Maple Leafs, but again, there are no guarantees he will ever make free agency, let alone sign with the Leafs.
With a little luck Burke will see one of his prospects step up. Until then, let’s hope Burke can find a way to bring in a player of substance...the sooner, the better.
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Until next time,