Brian Burke, Leafs Likely to Stand Pat...For Now

Eric WarrenCorrespondent IIDecember 21, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 06:  General manager Brian Burke of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates lifting the Stanley Cup after defeating the Ottawa Senators in Game Five of the 2007 Stanley Cup finals on June 6, 2007 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. The Ducks defeated the Senators 6-2 to win the Stanley Cup Finals 4 games to 1.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

There have been a fair amount of strange happenings in Brian Burke's first full season as Toronto Maple Leafs GM.

Between a horrific start, tampering charges , the much anticipated arrival of Phil Kessel , and two minor heart operations for highly-touted goaltender Jonas Gustavsson , it's been an up-and-down year for Toronto.

The Leafs are 7-4 so far in the month of December with five games left before the new year. With the team playing well on a fairly regular basis, I think it is highly unlikely that Burke will want to make any major deals until the off season, although, depending on their position approaching the playoffs, we may see a few "tweaks."

With no fewer than 23 players in the organization eligible for free agency (12 UFA's and 11 RFA's ) this summer, Burke has got a lot to think about.

The current "cap hit" of the team's twelve unrestricted free agents is some where in the neighborhood of $20.3 million. While Burke will obviously not want to bring back some of these players, the remaining ones will likely get raises to stay.

The likelihood of any trades happening before he decides who is staying and who is going is not high, and with the team performing like it is, I can't see him being in any hurry.

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There are already rumors that Burke and the Leafs are actively trying to shop underachieving center man Matt Stajan.

With Tomas Kaberle eligible at the end of next season, I expect to see Ian White locked into a long-term deal before the trade deadline. I think, based on the "building" philosophy, Phil Oreskavic and Carl Gunnarsson are likely to receive long term deals as well.

If there are any goaltending questions still left in Toronto, they will not be answered by Vesa Toskala. Despite his vastly improved play as of late, except against Buffalo, he is simply too big of a gamble for his price tag.

There will be one of the biggest crops of free agent goalies I can remember this year. Including the likes of Evgeni Nabakov . Though the Leafs wouldn't be interested Nabakov, there are several others including an old "fan favorite" (chuckle), Andrew Raycroft, who could be an adequate back up to Gustavsson at a much lower price.

If the Leafs decide they can make some kind of splash within the five-year contract they gave Kessel, then they are also likely to be shopping for a number one center. Ilya Kovelchuk is reportedly after somewhere in the neighborhood of $11 million a season. Hello, is this Patrick Marleau ?

Several Toronto Maple Leafs players are on their ways to career years, including UFA Alex Ponikarovski . At 29-years old, this may be not only a career year, but also a career-making year for him. If Pony manages to put up a career year in points, it would likely mean a new multi-year deal.

Tomas Kaberle is probably still the most attractive asset the Leafs have. Although his point production has tailed off a little as of late, and he's not quite at the game pace he was a week ago (snicker), he would still be a welcome addition to a team like the Detroit Red Wings, or Lord help us all, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

(By the way, if the Penguins team did become a dynasty-type team, what would they be called? A nickname I mean, what could you possibly call them? I don't think you could give them a new nickname.)

Mike Van Ryn is another interesting case. Van Ryn came to the Leafs in 2008 and has only played 27 games for the team. Does Brian Burke try to re-sign him or let him go to free agency? He is a good defenseman, and at age 30, still has several good years ahead of him.

I don't envy the task ahead for Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs. This team, now far removed from the horrendous start they had to the season, has shown that they can play with just about anyone on any given night.

They are not a cup contender, although they probably have what it takes to get to the playoffs. They aren't really that far off. Players like Jason Blake, another one of my favorite players for which I've taken a lot of heat, will never take them there.

Phil Kessel needs help. I'd hate to see him receive the same kind of support Sundin did, but I don't think that this city has seen the likes of Brian Burke at the helm, so it's a safe bet that this team will be a contender in the near future.

It is an exciting, if not exhausting, time to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and I can't wait to see what's around the corner!


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