Brian Burke set out this off-season to make the Toronto Maple Leafs a team that won't be just be good for half a season, but will play hard for the entire season and hopefully contend for a playoff spot. He knew what he needed to do and he went out and did it.
Going into free agency, the Leafs' biggest need was a No. 1 center. While not landing the big fish in free agency, Brad Richards, Burke did well to acquire two centermen that could compete for that job and one that will provide depth to the position. He also shored up a defense that was already pretty deep.
We will have to wait until October to see what the new additions will actually bring to the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club. For now, we can only speculate on what could be a very exciting season for Leaf fans.
Cost: Boston's second-round draft pick in 2012
On the eve of the NHL Entry Draft, Burke made his first move of the off-season. Sending the second-rounder they acquired from Boston in the Tomas Kaberle deal, they acquired a player that will most likely replace Kaberle's production. John-Michael Liles is set to be in the Leafs' top four defensemen and will be able to quarterback the Leafs dismal power-play.
In 76 games last season, Liles tallied six goals and added 40 assists, a career high, for a total of 46 points. If he can up his goal total and maintain his assist totals, they Leafs will have a genuine steal.
In all likelyhood, Liles will be paired with Luke Schenn. This will allow Liles to take a risk every now and then because of Schenn's defense.
Cost: $9.5 million over two years
After failing to sign Brad Richards, the Leafs spent no time in taking care of plan B. Signing Tim Connolly might have come with risks, but in a year where there wasn't much choice when it came to centerman on the free agency market, they did the best they could. While some might say that Connolly is not a No. 1 center, that is where he will most likely will begin the season and if he can find chemistry with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, those doubters will be silenced.
In 68 games last season, Connolly scored 13 goals and added 29 assists for 42 points, which would have placed him fifth in Leafs scoring. That is down from the year before where he tallied 17 goals and 48 assists. If Connolly returns to that form, it's a safe bet he will have earned his money and Kessel will break the 40-goal mark.
Cost: Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney
What Leaf fans once thought was impossible actually happened. Someone actually took Brett Lebda off their hands. Not only that, but they actually got the better of the deal.
The Nashville Predators needed help in order to sign Shea Weber, only because of Nashville's self- imposed cap. They wanted to get the wild card that is Matthew Lomabardi's contract off of their payroll.
Enter Brian Burke.
Burke has never been afraid to take on another team's salary dump if it means also acquiring a valuable asset as well. Just look at the Francois Beauchemin deal. They take on Joffrey Lupul and get Jake Gardiner as well. They sent them Lebda and a prospect and in return we get Cody Franson and Lombardi.
Franson is the gem of this deal and could be a Maple Leaf for a very long time. I see him playing on the third pairing, but that's not to say that he's not a top four defenseman. The Leafs just have so much depth there that he falls to the third pairing.
Lombardi only played the first two games of Nashville's season because of a severe concussion, but if he recovers enough that he is ready for training camp, the Leafs will have a dog-fight on their hand for the third line center spot and could put Tyler Bozak on the trading block.
Cost: $650,000 over one year
To close out the new additions to the team, the Leaf signed Phillippe Dupuis. He will compete with incumbent Darryl Boyce and Mike Zigomanis to be the Leafs fourth-line center.
In 74 games last season with the Colorado Avalanche, Dupuis scored six goals and added 11 assists. As a rookie and as the fourth-line center, those totals and are not the worst you will see. I would expect him to win the job with the Leafs.
The Hockey News lists his assets as, "a solid defensive forward with face-off ability and shutdown tendencies. Can be used with the game on the line." If he can play that way for the Leafs, I see no problem with him getting a raise on a new contract after this season.
Over the summer, the Leafs have made several re-signings of key players. Here's a short look at them.
Carl Gunnarsson, Defense; Two-year contract worth $2,650,000
Good contract for a player who has yet to develop into the play-making defenseman he was made out to be. This gives him time.
James Reimer, Goalie; Three-year contract worth $5,400,000
With a cap hit of $1.8 million, the Leafs have now given themselves a security blanket in case Reimer falters. I don't believe he will and he will be a bargain for the next three years.
Clarke MacArthur, Left Wing; Two-year contract worth $6,500,000
Last years breakout player, Clarke MacArthur was the biggest question mark in terms of whether we would sign him before arbitration. The Leafs made a compromise and MacArthur gets a two million dollar raise.
Tyler Bozak, Center; Two-year contract worth $3,000,000
Now out of the spotlight of the first-line, Bozak will now be able to develop more on the third-line. That is if he doesn't lose the job to Matthew Lombardi.
Darryl Boyce, Mike Zigomanis, Joey Crabb, and Jay Rosehill also re-signed with the Leafs. All that's left for Brian Burke is to re-sign Luke Schenn.