Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Maybe Brian Burke doesn't plan to blow up the LeafsI

When Brian Burke joined the Maple Leafs, I like everyone else, was positive he would nuke the lineup. He only reinforced that notion when early on he indicated he would trade anyone but Luke Schenn. But after the trade deadline passed with only minor moves, I began to wonder if he was going another direction.

With all the changes in the last 12 months the team doesn't seem any weaker than a year ago but it is a lot younger and cheaper. During that time Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe, Andrew Raycroft, Nik Antropov, Dominic Moore, Alexander Steen, Carlo Colaiacovo, Kyle Wellwood, Hal Gill, Chad Kilger, Wade Belak, John Pohl, Andy Wozniewski, and Staffan Kronwall have moved on but they don't seem any worse. A lot of young players have had an opportunity to show their stuff and there is more promise than initially believed. John Mitchell, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grobowski, Jiri Tlusty all have upsides.

Burke has 16 players signed next year with lots of cap space ($12-$15 million) to play with. He is loaded with serviceable 2nd and 3rd liners (Stajan, Grabovski, Hagman, Ponikarovsky, Kulemin Stempniak, Blake) but lacks front line players. I'm now thinking that he might use that money during the free agent season to sign players capable of playing on a top line. Perhaps players like Andy Mcdonald, the Sedin twins, Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and Marian Hossa. He would also need to add some muscle. Prices may be lower this summer as a result of the weak economy (which has had little impact on the Leafs).

Burke is not that patient of a man. I don't see him stripping the team of talent so that it sinks low enough to grab high draft picks for a few seasons. That approach is typically adopted by smaller market teams like Pittsburgh and Phoenix. Toronto doesn't need to take that route.