Brian Burke has long been a proponent of the “why wait until the last minute” mindset when it comes to the NHL trade deadline, and this year has been no different.
Even as his Maple Leafs make a charge into play-off contention, the team’s GM had had a busy few weeks of working the phones and already has three significant deals under his belt to show for it. Whether or not the trades actually make Toronto any better will not be determined anytime soon.
Over the past 10 days, Burke has shipped out veteran defencemen Francois Beauchemin (Anaheim) and Tomas Kaberle (Boston) along with off-season pick-up Kris Versteeg (Philadelphia). The trade returns, including F Joffrey Lupul, a pair of young prospects in Joe Colborne and Jake Gardiner and a slew of draft picks, have signalled the organization’s continued emphasis on rebuilding around youth.
So what’s left for Burke to do? If anything has been learned two and a half years into his Toronto tenure, it’s to never assume he’s done wheeling and dealing.
For a guy who is quick to assert that he likes his club’s postseason prospects, Burke has yet to put his money where his mouth his. There remain clear team needs for a top line centre, some defensive depth following the loss of two 15-20 minute-a-night guys and at least one goaltender to off-set the MASH unit that has become of the Leafs’ backstop position.
The Kaberle deal had not yet been finalized before word of a possible picks-for-Brad Richards deal spread through Leafs Nation. The rumour could very well be just that, but it would be a bold step for Toronto and potentially a Burke masterstroke, provided the 29-year old pending UFA Richards would a) sign with Toronto over the long haul and b) maintain the high level of production that has him currently ranked eighth in league scoring.
Even if the Leafs miss on a Richards-level swing for the fences, or simply don’t go for one at all, there are players out there that could be good fits in the blue and white. Examples: Jason Arnott could fill a void down the middle without costing much beyond a substantial cap hit ($4.5 million) and then be off the books by season’s end, Joni Pitkanen is also an unrestricted free agent following the season and could replace some of Kaberle’s production as a puck-moving rearguard, while goaltender Mike Smith, currently toiling in the AHL, could well be had for cheap.
Meanwhile, if the youth movement continues at the expense of some of the team’s veterans, guys like Mike Komisarek, Clarke MacArthur and Jean-Sebastien Giguere could be the next out the door. If Burke can get someone to take on the remainder of Komisarek’s contract, it would be a masterstroke, while Giguere could only be traded if proven healthy and if other goaltending options come into play for the Leafs. MacArthur’s exit would have to bring back a nice haul in order for him to be dealt.
All in all, just because the Leafs have already made plenty of noise on the trade front doesn’t mean they’re done.
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Written by Ben Fisher