Despite being publicly scrutinized for lack of movement on the first day of the frenzy, the Toronto Maple Leafs' Brian Burke is apart a small group of general managers' that can be said as the most successful this year. This season's crop of free agents were average at best, and by Burke shying away from handing out inflated contracts to less-than-spectacular players, he avoided entering cap hell while having a mediocre team on the ice.
Paying Ville Leino close to $5 million for 50 points is illogical. Giving Brad Richards a no-movement clause through nine years is impractical as well. Giving Maxime Talbot the same amount of term as Phil Kessel is moronic.
Other atrocities that are contracts include $5 million for 20 goals from Eric Cole, $5.5 million for James Wisniewski for six years and $4.5 million for Tomas Fleischmann and his health problems and inconsistency, for four years.
I'm most definitely not implying that paying Tim Connolly $5 million next year is genius-tic, but his salary goes down for 2012-13 and is only signed for two years. Two years—not five years. And to be honest, Tim Connolly is a fine fit for Phil Kessel and a great stopgap for the development of prospects like Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri, etc.
Okay, now let's get to what we can expect from Burke for the rest of the offseason.We can shut down the possibility of adding more defenseman. Other than perhaps AHL filler signings, it's highly unlikely that another NHL-capable defenseman is brought in—we already have too many as it is. The fleecing of Nashville for Cody Franson puts the nail on the coffin here, as he should round out a formidable top-six defenders.
He's addressed the need to spread out the scoring over the top nine. Pushing Tyler Bozak's 15 goals to the third line and adding Tim Connolly's 60 points (barring any injuries, let's cross our fingers) to the first line is a fine start. And in reality, if Connolly stays healthy, no reason why he can't top 70 playing with Phil Kessel, and vice-versa.
Adding Matthew Lombardi's two-way play to the third line also improves the scoring. Nazem Kadri playing a full season and scoring 40 points should be welcomed as well. Getting a full season out of Joffrey Lupul should be beneficial too.
Looking at the top nine, it's pretty close to being set. Unless Burke can go out and acquire a bona fide No.1 center, it's unlikely anything further will improve the unit to the point where it's worth making the trade or signing.
The only real thing left on the checklist for Burke and co. is a fourth line center. However, even that's debatable because if Lombardi is ready for camp, that likely means a fourth-line demotion for Tyler Bozak, especially with Kadri and prospect Matt Frattin fighting for spots as well. In simple terms, there's no room.
If Clarke MacArthur doesn't return, then Burke will have to look for a top-six replacement, as throwing Kadri or Frattin into the fire right away isn't logical for their development. Names like Teddy Purcell, Jason Arnott, Sergei Samsonov and Alexander Frolov are on the market now, but may not be come early August when MacArthur's likely arbitration date is due. And in my opinion, MacArthur is more attractive a top-six forward than any of the remaining free options.
It'll be interesting to see what Burke does, because he went down the route I touched on a couple articles earlier, where he sought depth after failing to land Richards. There is no doubt Toronto has offensive depth now, but it remains to be seen what's left, because there is still something left to desire for the Leafs forward corps.
But like I said, it's unlikely anything changes unless a certain name that starts with an "S" or "P" and ends with a "tamkos" or "arise" dons the Maple Leafs blue.
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