The Toronto Maple Leafs are entering a crucial four-week period in their quest to improve their roster enough to not only push them into playoff contention, but make them a contender for years to come.
Many people think the Leafs are still several years away from competing for the Stanley Cup, yet I feel that with some bold moves on Brian Burke's part, they can be contenders THIS SEASON.
The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been exciting, but in my eyes neither the Vancouver Canucks nor the Boston Bruins are all that impressive. I see a real opportunity for the Leafs to jump into the top echelon of teams with the right acquisitions.
When you talk about NHL general managers who make bold moves, Brian Burke's name is always at the forefront.
We all know what he did in order to secure the Sedins, we know about how he brought Chris Pronger to Anaheim to help propel the Ducks to a Stanley Cup victory, and of course, who can forget the infamous Phil Kessel trade?
That being said, here are five moves that I feel Brian Burke could make this offseason that would turn the Leafs into immediate contenders next season.
This one has been beaten like a dead horse, but nonetheless, the Leafs greatest need is a true number one centre, and that is Brian Burke's first priority once the entry draft gets underway on June 24.
Burke may or may not know at that time if he's got a true shot at Brad Richards, whom he views as his "Plan A", so he will have to decide if he's going to wait until July 1 to try and sign Richards or if he should make a trade to acquire a No. 1 centre such as Paul Stasny or Jeff Carter if he believes that Richards has no intention of signing with the Buds.
Either way, acquiring one of these three players would give the Leafs the first-line centre they need to play with Phil Kessel.
The Leafs need another defenceman after trading away Kaberle and Beauchemin last year and they should have ample cap space to sign a good one.
One key area of improvement that is necessary in order for the Leafs to become a contender is the power play. Christian Ehrhoff, James Wisniewski, Joni Pitkanen, Ian White, Andrei Markov or Kevin Bieksa would all provide a solid to excellent presence on the power play and the Leafs should be able to land one of these defencemen once July 1 rolls around.
Guys like Ehrhoff, Wisniewski, Markov and Bieksa will all command $4 million plus, so Burke may decide to go the slightly less expensive route of White or Pitkanen. That being said, White and Pitkanen will not come all that cheap since they are due for raises as well.
Regardless, it is crucial for the Leafs to add depth and a powerplay presence to their promising defence corps.
This one is simple. The Leafs penalty killing has been abysmal the past few seasons and I think it's not only necessary to bring in one of Pascal Dupuis or Brooks Laich, but it's highly probable that Burke signs one of them.
They are both good skating, hard working, excellent penalty killing wingers who can also slide into a centre role.
Either guy would fit in fantastically on the third line with Colby Armstong. Meanwhile, they are both able to slide up to the second line when needed.
This one to me is a no-brainer and should be a major priority for Burke when July 1 rolls around.
This could be the same player that I mentioned in the previous slide, or, the Leafs could trade away a package of some or all of Bozak, Gunnarson and Gustavsson to free up some more cap room to add an additional player on the third line such as Joel Ward or John Madden.
Alternatively, they could make a pitch for an RFA such as Brandon Dubinsky, which would likely cost them one or two of Bozak, Gunnarson and the Monster plus an additional draft pick and/or prospect.
Any of these scenarios would be a nice upgrade to the roster and would fill a major need.
Having an adequate backup goaltender to back up James Reimer this year is not a luxury for the Leafs. IT'S AN ABSOLUTE NECESSITY. J.S. Giguere's chronic groin problem is just too risky in my opinion, and The Monster has looked more like a cookie monster than anything else.
Thus, the reality is that the Leafs need to look outside the organization for a solid backup who could play 30-35 games and take the reins as the No. 1 in a pinch.
Names like Dwayne Roloson, Brian Boucher, Johan Hedberg, Mike Smith, Jose Theodore and Ray Emery are all names to consider. This would go a long way in solidifying the Leafs goaltending situation and potentially help them avoid long losing streaks that they have been prone to in recent seasons.
The one thing to note here is that some of the names I've mentioned may prove to be too pricey for the Leafs based on the other moves they make (Roloson for example is likely due for a nice contract after his run in the playoffs).
However, I feel that any of these goalies would be an upgrade over the Leafs' current situation.