Brian Burke’s philosophy for building teams has always been predicated on building from the goalie out. He won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks with a team built with a Conn Smythe Trophy winning goalie and two Hall of Fame defenders. Not to mention a skilled top six which included the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne.
This philosophy is quite apparent when taking a look at the Leafs roster.
Granted at the moment, the Leafs really don’t have a legitimate top six group of forwards, the potential is there for them to develop into those players. Players like Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin, and the recently added Kris Versteeg seem to already have top six roles with the Leafs next year, if all goes according to plan with Kadri making the big club. They all have the potential to fill these roles in the coming seasons.
The Leafs right now boast 5 legitimate goalies that could play in the NHL either today or a couple of years from now. The Leafs feature a goalie tandem of Jean Sebastian Giguere, whose seven milllion dollar contract comes off the books at the end of the year and Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson, who will be the number one goalie by the year's end, if not sooner.
In the minors the Leafs will have goalies James Reimer, Jussi Rynnas, and former Hobie Baker nominee Ben Scrivens battling for playing time with the farm club. All of these goalies have the potential to at least be a back up goalie in the NHL.
On the back end, the Leafs have spent about 60% of their salary cap on defenders. Team Captain Dion Phaneuf makes the most money of the team and he is joined by Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson, Brett Lebda and temporarily, Jeff Finger and Tomas Kaberle. I fully expect Kaberle to be shipped out for a top six forward and prospect in the coming weeks and Finger to either be bought out or sent to the minors.
The crop of forwards is where the team needed the most help. Other than Phil Kessel, who led the team in goals last year, the Leafs had nobody who could post 20 goals last season. Brian Burke addressed the teams weaknesses and has begun to reshape the Leafs squad.
This article will grade the Leafs' moves thus far.
Trading Chris Didimenico, Phillippe Paradis and Viktor Stalberg for Kris Versteeg and Billy Sweatt
This move will no doubt add to the Leafs already growing crop of second line forwards. The jury is still out on Versteeg and whether he can cut it on the first line. All in all, giving up two fringe prospects and a good prospect for Versteeg and an underrated prospect like Sweatt, who can skate like the wind, is an obvious win for Toronto.
Grade A-. It would’ve been nice to add a player who had a slightly cheaper contract than the 3 million that Versteeg is earning.
Signing RW Colby Armstrong to a three-year, 9 million dollar contract.
This move has Brian Burke’s paw prints all over it. Armstrong’s ability to play with reckless abandon and hit everything in sight is a welcomed addition to any roster, but especially the Leafs'. Armstrong’s ability to play both ends of the ice really adds a new dimension to the Leafs roster.
Grade B+. I Still think three million is a bit too much, but it’s free agency, where the name of the game is to overpay.
Trading Jimmy Hayes for Brad Ross (43rd selection 2010 NHL Draft)
Ross, who has drawn comparisons to Darcy Tucker, is yet another Burke type of player. He was the biggest agitator in the WHL with the Portland Winter Hawks, collecting over 200 penalty minutes and nearly 70 points this year.
Grade A. Hayes was traded to Chicago so he could rejoin brother Kevin in the Blackhawks system. Hayes, a more quiet type of player, seemed to be the easy choice to trade for Burke. Ross is exactly a player the Leafs could use on the roster right now.
Trading a 5th round selection in the NHL Draft 2010 for F Mike Brown.
Brown is easily one of the better penalty killers in the NHL. He plays a mean type of game and is always out there giving it his all. Giving up only a fifth round pick to acquire another guy they need seems like yet another Brian Burke steal. It would be nice if he had more of an offensive game, but he’ll be a fourth line role player, and you get what you pay for.
Signing Brett Lebda to a two year deal worth 2.9 million.
Lebda provides the Leafs with a steady influence with championship experience on the backend. He’s played next to the likes of Rafalski, Lidstrom and Kronwall. Lebda, who will be getting paid on average 1.45 million, makes approximately three times less than the salary of Jeff Finger.
This move makes a lot of sense. With or without Kaberle, the Leafs now have six legitimate NHL defenders, not including Finger. Kaberle can now be shipped out for forward help and Finger can be sent to the AHL now to free up about 7-8 million in cap space.
Grade B+. Not a giant fan of the 1.45 million dollar price tag for a player with only 68 points in 326 games in his career.
Resigned F Nikolai Kulemin to a two-year 4.7 million dollar contract (Cap Hit 2.35 million per year) and John Mitchell
The Leafs may have overpayed here, but keeping Kulemin at 2.35 million after what was a breakout year is not a huge pill to swallow. In my mind, the best is yet to come. Kulemin was Toronto’s best two way forward last year and should definitely be able to fill that role again next year.
Mitchell is a decent bottom six player, but for me, I think he takes a spot from a player with more potential, Luca Caputi. Training Camp is a long way off, so assuming Mitchell takes his spot and Caputi goes to the AHL is just speculation on my part.
Remaining Moves Burke Should Think About…
Burke should think about trading Tomas Kaberle for a top six forward and prospect. He should think about trading Mikhail Grabovski for a prospect or 2011 draft pick, and he should send Jeff Finger to the minors.
Taking into account the lack of movement on the Kaberle front, still having Jeff Finger and Mikhail Grabovski on the payroll and the fact they have not added a first line center or first line winger thus far, I have decided to give the Toronto Maple leafs…
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