Toronto Maple Leafs: Brian Burke's Dilemma and a More Patient Look at Our Future
When Brian Burke took on the role of GM in Toronto, I wonder if he knew he would be asked to turn this club around in five years, securing our future playoff success long term, with only two years in which to do it . Doesn't make much sense, does it? Well, I bet he did know that. I also bet he doesn't care what the critics are saying.
Overall, he has already made a positive impact in Toronto, despite being guilty of overestimating our talent early on. The second half of last season can vouch for that. The fact remains that our cupboards are being stacked with good young prospects, and he has wasted no time in getting rid of any players that do not meet his standards. The future truly does look brighter than it has in many years. The man knows what he is doing, folks. People are a risk in general, and although every decision he makes may not pan out exactly as planned, or fit into his equation, he certainly has the ability to recognize that without wasting too much time. ( e.g. Kris Versteeg)
So what happens now that we have all this cap space to use? Assuming we can entice Brad Richards to want to sign here, would he be worth the risk? Let's look at some of the players mentioned in rumour and decide whether it sounds so good after all, or if they're even a possibility at all.
Brad Richards—Reaching for the Dallas Stars
Brad Richards is the real deal. A bona fide first line centerman putting up significant numbers year after year. There has been a lot of talk about Richards being injury-prone and having had concussion-like symptoms. This is not true or fair to say. He has played 10 seasons in the league only missing time with a broken wrist in 2008-2009 and a few games with a minor concussion this past year, limiting him to 72 games. The only legitimate risk with Richards is giving a 31-year-old a long-term contract worth mega bucks.
Brad is not a fan of big media attention which he will have a lot of in Toronto, and I believe he would have to be convinced that Toronto is the place for him. Burke is very good at negotiating, yet giving Richards the contract he seeks is a major play, and all other players and prospects on our team have to be considered first .We might get to the point where we can not sign a key player's extension because a 38-year-old Richards is being paid $8 million. A front-loaded contract may be the way around this worry.
I am confident that Burke will make a play for Richards. Signing a UFA is much better than trading for the centerman we need. It will all come down to where Brad wants to live and play, and Toronto doesn't seem to be his ideal location. Cross your fingers.
Paul Stastny—Colorado Avalanche Warning
At 25 years of age, Stastny would be a perfect fit beside Phil Kessel with his gifted playmaking abilities. But in order to acquire Stastny, we would have to give up another piece of our future. Prospects and picks and current roster players. Remember to look at things from both teams' perspectives. What would make the Colorado Avalanche go for such a deal?
Perhaps the Avalanche would possibly consider starting from scratch and building on young stars like Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly. Using their second and 11th first-round picks to gain some very solid prospects while bombing again next year and landing yet another very high draft choice plus whatever they can get from the trade, they could shed his $6.6 million contract and rebuild from there.
It still seems very unlikely to me that the Av's go this route. Stastny is young, and I would bank on them letting go of other salaries first before moving their star assistant captain, if money was the issue. They are, however, a team that does not have the luxury of using the full salary cap. They used just $42.7 million last year.
This is a backup idea at best, if Richards doesn't pan out. Don't hold your breath for Stastny, although it is a possibility.
Zach Parise—Deal with the New Jersey Devil
Does Brian Burke like Zach Parise? Sure does. Does he have a history with him? Yep...selected Zach to play as the first line center for Team U.S.A. in the 2010 Winter Olympics. A team coached by none other than Ron Wilson himself. He's 26 years old and a superstar. I think any team in the league would love to have Parise.
Would the New Jersey Devils sign Ilya Kovalchuk and then lose Zach Parise to play along side him? No. The Devils may have some salary cap issues at the moment, but you can bet your bottom dollar Lou Lamoriello finds a way to resign him.
He played the center position in his impressive days spent at the University of North Dakota but has since adjusted to the LW position. Scoring a remarkable 45 goals and 94 points in 2008-2009, Parise wouldn't come cheap, and although he would look amazing in Blue and White and is my personal favorite of the rumoured, it won't happen.
Jeff Carter—Handing out Philadelphia Flyers
Another Jeff Carter rumour! The issue in Philadelphia is goaltending. Despite making the Stanley Cup final last year with the same three average goalies, I believe the Flyers have learned that they can no longer ignore this weakness in the team after being blown out by the Boston Bruins in a 4-0 sweep where the goal count was 20-7 in favour of the Bruins.
If the Philadephia Flyers choose to sign an elite goaltender this offseason, they will certainly need to shed some salary in order to do so. Would they be willing to part with Carter? I think there are other ways around this problem. Letting go of defenseman Matt Carle, along with the likes of Ville Leino (before he is owed a hefty raise) and Nikolai Zherdev, could be the way to go for them. This would help them to maintain most of their elite scoring prowess. Ian Laperriere is also unlikely to return, stating that he feels his career is now over.
Jeff Carter is also a shooter. Even though he is an obvious asset to any team and will be a hot commodity in the open market, I do not feel that Carter is the perfect fit at all. Chemistry could be horrible between Carter and Kessel if they played together. A left-handed shot is what we need. Carter shoots right. So where would he fit in? He would most definitely come at a premium price as well.
I don't see this happening, for many reasons.
Stephen Weiss—Pouncing on a Florida Panther
Is Weiss really a first line centerman? Can you really see Weiss as the player who leads Toronto to a Stanley Cup as a key player in the lineup?
I sure don't.
Burke won't either.
Steven Stamkos—Struck by Tampa Bay Lightning
OK, that's just down right hilarious!
Not a chance.
So What Happens If We Can't Get Our Man?
So what happens if we can't get a Brad Richards or a Paul Stastny this summer? Are we doomed to dwell in the ninth or 10th spot once again this year? Not necessarily. We did look strong in the second half of last season, and many of our young players will only get better next year. The longer we have to develop our prospects, the longer we have to see their potential without prematurely trading away a player who blossoms into a stud overnight. It's happened before.
In the modern day NHL you will see, more and more often, teams moving $5 or $6 million salaries in order to sign two or three role players on the team and to remain under the salary cap. I am confident that when the right man is available, we will get our centerman. It is no secret that Brian Burke would like to move up in the draft, which he feels is deeper this year than it has been in many years. If this becomes an option, we could likely go after Ryan Strome, Matt Peumpel or Mark McNeill, adding yet another great prospect to our camp.
What if we were to sign a player like Ville Leino? A late bloomer who will not demand half the salary of a Brad Richards. We could entice him to play in Toronto , offering him first line centerman minutes, something he will never receive in Philadelphia.
This would leave us with a lot of cap room and an upgrade on our playmaking abilities. He also shoots left. Building a contender in the league takes time and patience, and we do not want to make the playoffs for just one year. We want to make the playoffs for many, many years to come. The more of our prospects we trade away for a star centerman now, the greater risk we put ourselves in a few years down the road.
Patience, Leaf Nation!
I believe Brian Burke would like to make a leap forward in our progress, but if we are safer by taking one little step forward at a time in order to build a winner, I am OK with that. We seem to be building a monopoly of defenseman prospects, and there are several teams who need defensemen. The more prospects we gain, the greater our trading power becomes. I encourage my fellow Leaf fans to enjoy the process. We are well on our way, and Burke should be given the five years we have agreed upon when he first came to Toronto to get the job done.
Patience, my friends; we are a very young team. It is very likely that we do land someone who improves our club immensely this summer, but Brian Burke himself may not know exactly what he will do...yet. Time will tell. But one thing we can know for sure is that it's coming! We are one or two star players away from being a true contender. We can't afford to take a risk now when we are so close to our "tipping point." Watch for Brian Burke to do, in his typical fashion, something nobody saw coming. That's a safer expectation than many.
Remember, after not making the playoffs since 2004, the majority of Maple Leaf fans have grown to be bi-polar regarding our beloved team, and if you're not by now, you're probably just crazy!