Quietly, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke is righting the wrongs that he made in offseasons past.
Gone is veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin, as is speedy forward Kris Versteeg, with a real possibility of more changes to come.
Along with that announcement, Burke stated that he already had the Flyers' third-round draft choice in play in hopes of landing another forward to help fill the void left by Versteeg.
When you look at next year's payroll, the Maple Leafs have a total of 12 players under contract at a cap hit of $35,170,000. That leaves Burke with $24,230,000 with which to sign 10 players, one of which must be a top-six forward, preferably a centre to complement sniper Phil Kessel.
Restricted free agents Luke Schenn and Clarke MacArthur are shoe-ins to be re-signed, while Carl Gunnarsson and Tyler Bozak, while likely to sign, could be moved or low-balled in the offseason.
While Burke may be willing to stretch the budget where MacArthur and Schenn are concerned, I cannot see Burke willing to overpay for either Bozak or Gunnarsson, two players that have fallen short of offseason expectations.
Unrestricted free agents Fredrik Sjostrom and Tim Brent are likely to get a sniff from Burke, but don’t count on either one receiving a long-term offer, if any.
With news emerging Tuesday night through Sportsnet that Tomas Kaberle is willing to look at a move to the Boston Bruins, he may be on the move sooner rather than later. The Bruins could use a puck-moving defenseman that could feed the puck to Zdeno Chara on the power play, and Kaberle (who has long been rumored to be headed to Boston) fits the bill.
That said, Burke remains noncommittal on whether or not Kaberle is in play with Boston, citing an agreement bewteen Kaberle, his agent and Burke himself to keep the matter out of the newspapers.
What comes back to Toronto is up in the air, but don’t expect it to be the 2011 first-round draft pick the Maple Leafs gave up in the Phil Kessel deal.
Burke recently suggested that he was not in the position to move a goaltender anytime soon, but with J.S. Giguere looking more and more like he no longer fits into Burke’s newly found youth movement, it’s safe to assume Giguere will not return for a second tour of duty with Toronto, trade or no trade.
Of the remaining roster players, the Leafs Nation would love to see a taker for Mike Komisarek, but the reality of any team stepping forward to take on Komisarek’s bloated contract is slim to none, and slim just left town.
Burke looks reasonably confident that the group of Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Joffrey Lupul, Colby Armstrong, Clarke MacArthur (RFA), Mike Brown, Colton Orr, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn (RFA), Mike Komkisarek, Keith Aulie, Carl Gunnarsson, Brett Lebda (who may remain as the team's seventh defenseman), Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer are his key building blocks.
That said, while Burke is known to be loyal to a fault, his recent trade activity suggests that Burke is willing to turn the other cheek, preferring to make deals regardless of his current or past relationships with his players.
With Burke already trading two of his acquisitions out of town, could there be others to follow?
Colby Armstrong was brought in to bring an element of toughness and scoring to the Blue and White, and, while injuries have taken their toll, I don’t think anyone would call Armstrong’s season a huge success.
With a cap hit of $3 million through 2012-13, Armstrong is not grossly overpriced, but I am not sure anyone would suggest Burke is getting tremendous value on his investment.
From the seats, Armstrong looks to be a strong leader on the team, a popular player in the locker room and someone who gives a good effort night-in, night-out.
The issue with Armstrong has been his inability to light the lamp. That said, with a total of 85 goals scored in 399 career NHL games, Armstrong may have been unfairly relied upon to hit that 20-goal mark, which many Leafs fans felt he was capable of.
Defensively, Armstrong can be that shutdown player. His minus -3 rating ranks him 18th overall on the team, while his 16:36 minutes of icetime per game ranks him 13th overall.
The point is, as great as Armstrong’s defensive contributions have been and as strong as his personality is in the locker room, he is replaceable and, for the right price, Burke may be able to bring in another asset (a la the Versteeg trade) and spend his money on a unrestricted free agent more wisely this offseason.
Either way, Burke may take a run at one or both of those players, but with several RFA’s to re-sign and the need for a frontline centre continually glaring, Burke may need to free up some more cash if he wants to fill some holes.
The one certainty is IF Dallas Stars super-star Brad Richards becomes available, Burke will all but hand the talented centre a blank cheque in order to bring him to Toronto.
That said, Burke’s bigger need may be between the pipes.
Rookie goaltender James Reimer has done a nice job in the 12 games he’s appeared in, registering a 6-4 record to go along with his 2.39 goals against average and .930 save percentage, but the jury is still out on whether or not the kid can get the job done over an 82-game schedule.
Both the future of J.S. Giguere (who is a UFA this summer) and Jonas Gustavsson (recently sent down to the AHL and battling a heart ailment) are questionable at best to start the 2011-12 season with the Maple Leafs, which makes you wonder if Burke will go after a UFA goaltender this summer?
Ilya Bryzgalov (30) and Craig Anderson (29) would probably be high on Burke’s list, with Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (26) emerging as a great, yet unlikely signing.
If Burke decides to keep Colby Armstrong on the roster, few Leaf fans will complain. If not, there are plenty of options out there, at least where replacing Armstrong is concerned.
Which teams would be interested in Armstrong? For starters, the Montreal Canadiens could use some size and grit, as could the Pittsburgh Penguins, who may or may not be willing to add some salary if Sidney Crosby is back in the lineup for a playoff run.
The fact is, Armstrong’s versatility lends itself to many NHL teams. Certainly, any team looking to add an element of depth and toughness for the playoffs would be happy to land Army, even with two years remaining on his contract, which, at $3 million per season, is still decent value for a player of Armstrong’s ilk.
It’s another tough call for Burke, one he will have to make in the next 12 days.
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