With the news that veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin has been traded to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Joffrey Lupul, prospect Jake Gardiner and a conditional third round draft choice in 2013 hitting the airwaves on Wednesday, it appears as if Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke is willing to make amends for the moves that have not paid dividends.
Beauchemin played 136 games in the Blue and White. He never really endeared himself to the Leaf Nation and, while he was tough playing in Toronto, many fans feel he fell short of expectations.
Trading Beauchemin is a sign that, despite Burke’s strong loyalty to his players—both past and present—that he is willing to make changes as long as he deems they better his club.
Truth be told, there have been plenty of signs that Burke is flexible, just consider the past two years he’s been on the job.
Burke spent the better part of the past two off-seasons trying to speed up the re-tooling process. Some of his moves were successful, while others, such as the Beauchemin signing, never really panned out.
Unlike many general managers out there, Burke has not sat on his laurels waiting for results. Fact is, Burke has been one of the busiest GM’s in the NHL since he arrived in Toronto, making a number of free agent and college signings and a number of trades, including a seven player deal that netted him current Maple Leafs captain, Dion Phaneuf.
While many of Burke’s deals have been criticized by the media and fans (myself included), his penchant for always looking for an angle to strengthen his club is well documented, as is his desire to make Toronto a winning franchise again—you remember the 1960’s and late 70’s, right?
When Burke arrived in Toronto he inherited a roster that was void of any stars and, in the minds of many, was void of much talent whatsoever.
While the debate rages on as to whether or not Burke has overpaid for his current roster, one can be reasonably confident that there is a lot more talent in Toronto—both with the big club and in the minors with the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, Toronto Marlies.
Burke has said from day one that he wanted to create a competitive environment where his entire roster would compete for jobs. Just over two years after signing on as the Maple Leafs GM the Bud's system is deep (especially in goal) featuring a number of prospects that, with a little blood sweat and tears, should find themselves with the big club in a year or two.
Are there any blue-chip prospects? Maybe, maybe not. What Burke has assembled is a good group of young players who can develop and will push the veterans to be better.
Want proof? Look at what has happened to Jonas Gustavsson.
At the beginning of the season every Leaf fan from coast-to-coast was willing to give “The Monster” (funny how nobody is calling him that anymore!) the starters role between the pipes. Fast forward a few months later and Gustavsson is down in the AHL with the Marlies as a result of the strong play from a little-known rookie named James Reimer.
Adding a player of Jake Gardiner’s calibre will only serve to bolster the competition between a number of very good defensive prospects, including Keith Aulie (who was called up Thursday night in the absence of Beauchemin), Korbinian Holzer, Simon Gysbers and Jesse Blacker.
Up front the Maple Leafs feature a number of good prospects led by Nazem Kadri, Jerry D’Amigo, Marcel Mueller, Luca Caputi, Brad Ross and Brayden Irwin.
While we can debate the skill level of each and every one of these prospects, the fact remains that, for the first time in a long time, the Maple Leafs have some hope on the farm, which is a huge step forward for a franchise that has done a horrific job of developing players over the better part of four decades.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it will be a while until Burke can say he has finished building the Maple Leafs into a contender.
Nobody will agree with every move Burke has made. Lord knows he is still getting his “arse” chewed out over the Phil Kessel deal, but you cannot undo the past, so Burke has no choice but to go forward with what he has.
So, what does he have?
Burke has a solid nucleus of players which includes the likes of Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Colby Armstrong, Kris Versteeg, Luke Schenn (who is a RFA this summer), Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.
Is this group the magnificent seven? Hardly, but when you consider a group of complimentary players that includes the newly acquired Joffrey Lupul, Mike Komisarek (who has fallen short of expectations), Tyler Bozak (who had been unfairly thrust into the first line centres role before being knocked down to the second and third lines) and goaltender James Reimer, you’ve got a decent enough core that, with a few key additions, should have Burke in the position to have his team competing for the playoffs as early as next season.
The one missing piece that Burke must address is a playmaking centre. Brad Richards has been rumored to be the apple of Brian Burke’s eye for months now, but with Richards’ future still up in the air, Burke will have to wait and see if the talented playmaker becomes available.
Outside of Signing Richards via free agency Burke will have to add a true number one centre via trade—something that may prove impossible to do.
That said, rest assured, Burke is doing everything he can to improve the Blue and White. If it can be done, Burke will find a way—he is a gambler and he has already proven to be proactive.
In the face of error, Burke will try to do right, and from my seat, that’s all you can ask the big guy to do, right?
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Until next time,