Fans, media and Leaf haters alike are quick to jump down the throat of Brian Burke for the infamous Phil Kessel trade because of the sacrifice of two first round picks and a second rounder .
This majority argues that the Leafs brass, namely Burke, sacrificed the club's future by trying to catch lightning in a bottle rather than going the traditional route of building through the draft, a method that they pointed out worked wonders for the Penguins, Blackhawks and Capitals.
At the same time these "experts" conveniently failed to mention that the endeavour didn't go so well for the likes of the Islanders, Panthers, Blue Jackets and Thrashers.
Before anybody starts thinking that I consume large amounts of Brian Burke-flavoured Kool-Aid, realize that if I had been in Burke's position I probably would have avoided the Kessel trade, and the Beauchemin and Komisarek signings as well.
I would have instead opted for the popular strategy of bottoming out and obtaining a few top-five picks (Stamkos and Doughty, for example), and built around them. John Ferguson Jr started the Leafs down the path to attempting a quick rebuild by committing too many dollars and too many years to unworthy players, and Burke decided that doing a u-turn wasn't the way he wanted to go.
So, while people beat a dead horse on the radio call-in shows, clamouring for Burke to tear down the house, I have come to realize it's just not going to happen. Thus, I have made it my mission to enter into the brain of one Mr. Burke to see where he could be going with this.
Before I go any further, allow me to present some context behind my thoughts. Brian Burke is a Harvard graduate and a very intelligent man. He's been successful in this league as a GM in the past in stints with Vancouver and Anaheim. In short and despite what some have said, he's no idiot. He has a plan, and while people claim they know what it is, only those in Burke's circle truly know. Speculation has been rampant, but what if his plan included the following:
Trading defenceman Francois Beauchemin at the trade deadline for a young prospect or a draft pick or a combination of the two. This would save the Leafs almost $4 million in cap space heading into the offseason, leaving the Leafs with approximately $18 million of total cap space to lure an unhappy Zach Parise out of New Jersey by signing him to an offer sheet that the Kovalchuk cash-strapped Devils couldnt possibly match. Signing Parise would likely cost the Leafs an annual cap hit of approximately $6.5 million. I also understand the Leafs would likely have to forfeit 3 first round picks and many people would be loathe to see the Leafs go down that road again. However, players of Parise's ilk don't come along very often. He is entering his prime and he's a legitimate big game franchise player. He's well worth the price in both dollars and draft picks. They could then approach Brad Richards and ask him how he would feel about centring a top line of Phil Kessel and Parise. I'm sure he would oblige if they then offered to pay him upwards of $7 million per season. At this point the Leafs would still have about $4-6 million in cap space depending on if the salary cap increases as is expected for the 2011-2012 season. They could take about $1.5 million of that and offer the very deserving Clarke Macarthur an extension that would pay him about $2.5 million per season. After all of these moves you are left with a top line of Parise, Richards and Kessel and one of the best second lines in the league consisting of Macarthur, Grabovski and Kulemin.
What about Nazem Kadri you ask? Well, if he impresses at camp you could start him on a checking line and play him on the power play or you could always re-visit trading Grabovski who now has some pretty good value on the trade market. But that would be a good problem to be faced with.
And what about the defence? Well, you would still have Schenn, Phaneuf, Komisarek, Gunnarson, Aulie and Lebda. Take the remaining cap space and sign a veteran defenceman to a reasonable contract and you would still have some intriguing youngsters such as Jesse Blacker, Juraj Mikus and even Matt Lashoff to fill out the depth on the back end.
The potentially big problem would be between the pipes. However, there are three intriguing youngsters in Gustavsson, Reimer and Rynnas who may just be ready to take the reins in net.
We are left with a lot of if's, however this roster would already be an expected playoff team with potential to be a very good team.
Now before you jump all over me with comments about me being a dreamer and the ever-popular quips of "why would Brad Richards even want to play in Toronto" understand that what I'm suggesting in this article is not that this WILL happen or even that it is probable. Rather, I am saying it could reasonably happen as Brian Burke has both the means and the savvy to be able to pull these moves off. The most pressing need that the Leafs have, in my humble opinion, is talent up front. The Leafs lack star power up front, and bringing two studs on board such as Richards and Parise would give the Leafs what they are lacking. These guys are NOT Phil Kessel. Both are legitimate franchise-type players that would take a ton of pressure off of Kessel and provide the Leafs with depth up front that they haven't seen in decades.
On a side note, it was reported in the Globe and Mail today that the Leafs are not actively shopping Beauchemin at this time. I still believe if they got the right offer they would ship him out in a Hollywood minute.
Another possibility would be to go after Ilya Bryzgalov, however this would require shipping out more salary (probably an additional $3-4 million) which would be tough, but not impossible. A lot depends on how the young goaltenders play the remainder of the season, and of course, Parise and Richards have to want to come here. But we know that Parise has a connection to Burke and Wilson from the American Olympic team, and we also know that Brad Richards appreciates that Toronto would be a great place to play as his comments earlier in the season indicated as the Stars visited Toronto.
All I know is that a Leaf fan has one thing to hang their hats on and one thing only: HOPE.
Here's hoping Brian Burke can find some of the magic that landed him the Sedin twins and brought Anaheim it's first and only Stanley Cup.