Brian Burke Continues To Rebuild the Toronto Maple Leafs in His Own Image

Nathan ColeCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09: Kris Versteeg #32 of the Chicago Blackhawks hoists the Stanley Cup after the Blackhawks defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in overtime to win the Stanley Cup in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It has been repeated emphatically and often by Brian Burke that he believes in building a team in a certain way; a group of talented, scoring top six forwards and a bottom six of gritty, hard-hitting checkers. 

Burke also believes in the importance of getting your goaltender situation figured out, then building up your blue-line. 

Since he has already taken care of those two factors in the first season and a half, he is ready to work on the forward group until he gets it right.

His recent acquisition of Kris Versteeg from the Chicago Blackhawks is definitely a step in the right direction.  Versteeg will fit nicely into a top six role, and since he is so versatile, he can play any of the forward positions.  With his strong stick handling, scoring touch, and feistiness despite his smaller size, he will likely win the fans over before long. 

He produced 20-goal seasons the past two years on a team where he was overshadowed by scoring talents like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa. The 24 year old could easily surpass his points total given the minutes he will likely receive on the Leafs. 

Burke traded Viktor Stalberg, Philippe Paradis, and Chris DiDomenico for Versteeg and a talented young center named Bill Sweatt. 

It was unfortunate to see the speedy Stalberg go, as he could yet develop into a very strong NHL player.  But putting up only 14 points in 40 games last year, he could not be depended upon to contribute like the proven Versteeg. 

Paradis was a player the Leafs received last year from the Hurricanes for Jiri Tlusty and DiDomenico just recently returned to action in the QMJHL after a long rehab on an injury.

The signing of Colby Armstrong fulfills Burke's desire for a hard-checking forward to slot into one of the bottom six positions.  He can provide the big hits to excite the crowd or with 37 goals the past two seasons with the Thrashers he can provide an important secondary scoring presence. Or, in the case of injuries or prolonged slumps, he can be moved up into the top two lines to work in the corners, be a strong fore-checker, and make room for forwards like Kessel and Bozak. 

Re-signing Nikolai Kulemin and John Mitchell are other important moves by Brian Burke, as they also have important roles to play on this hockey team. 

Kulemin was one of the most improved Leafs last year, possibly even their best forward at times.  His talent at holding onto the puck (at 225 lbs. he is hard to move) and his powerful slap-shot will help him improve on his 36 point performance last year.  It is important to remember as well that Kulemin is still only 23, and with the great strides he made last year, he could be an important part of the Leafs' organization for years to come.

Mitchell is an interesting case. He has shown glimpses of great potential, especially whenever he was used in the shootout, but has failed to maximize his talents into points. 

Mitchell put up great numbers in the OHL, but hasn't been able to convert his game to fit the NHL style quite yet.  Burke let Mitchell go to free agency instead of risking more money with arbitration, but made it clear to the young center that he was interested in retaining his services.  His signing to a one year deal will allow him to work on the shutdown line, contribute secondary scoring, and gives him a chance to earn a bigger payday. 

With Wayne Primeau going to free agency, Mitchell could center the heavyweight line of Colton Orr and the new acquisition, Mike Brown. 

It will take time to see whether these new players fit into the Leafs and if the team is much improved with the additions. 

But with Brian Burke as the General Manager of the team, it is unlikely that this is the end of the changes that the Maple Leafs are facing.


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