Once you get to know Brian Burke, he really starts to grow on you.
“If you skin a guy you become radioactive to General Managers, especially the young ones.” - Brian Burke
Let’s start with a disclaimer, shall we. The Toronto Maple Leafs have not undertaken a playoff game since May 4, 2004. There is nothing in these parts to brag about and even less to be smug about.
That said, an impartial gander at the Leafs reveals a young team that could indeed boast many of the elements necessary for success: goaltending, a stud defenceman, a great second line, a dynamic sniper.
With two first-round draft choices, a suddenly prosperous farm system and tons of cap room, Burke will attack the NHL draft looking to trade for a big-time centreman.
Names on that list have included Joe Thornton, who has struggled to lead the San Jose Sharks deep into the playoffs, Paul Stastny, eclipsed as the Colorado Avalanche number one pivot by Matt Duchene or perennial conversation starter Stephen Weiss of the Florida Panthers. These are just names, everybody has one.
Free agent Brad Richards is the only trout in a pond that will likely be fished by four or five teams, including some who can claim cushy winter weather and a media corps that comes to practice in the same car which brings us back to the trade route and one major question…
Is Brian Burke glowing?
For evidence, look no further than the Anaheim Ducks who are carrying two players Burke sent west. Jason Blake hasn’t scored and sits minus two in the Ducks playoff series against Nashville. Believe it or not, the 37-year-old Blake has another year left on the deal he signed with John Ferguson. He will make $3.7 million next year. Vesa Toskala, who came to the Ducks in the deal for J.S Giguere did not play in the NHL this season. On the bright side he did not cost anybody anything.
Francois Beauchemin, who struggled mightily in Toronto, is plus two and playing 23:38 minutes a night in the post season. He has a year left on the $3.8 million contract gifted on him by Burke. He is an honest hockey player.
Good on him.
There is, however the matter of what came back in the latest deal Toronto-Anaheim deal. Winger Joffrey Lupul
quickly played his way onto the first line where he clicked with talented gunner Phil Kessel
. Still recovering from a back injury and infection, Lupul’s Leaf numbers pro-rate to a 26-goal, 52-point season and those projections do not factor in the front-line centre Burke so covets.
There is also the matter of defenceman Jake Gardiner
, who registered three assists in 10 Marlie games. The University of Wisconsin product was a plus-four and he ran the team’s power play from the day he walked in the door.
Gardiner would rival Kessel as the fastest skater on the Leafs. His future seems golden.
Meanwhile, longtime Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle may not even be re-signed by the Bruins after a dreadful playoff.
“Has he been a disappointment? He hasn’t played up to the level that we expected,” Boston GM Peter Chiarelli told the media, Wednesday. “There have been parts of his game where he hasn’t played in the playoffs for a while and some of those [bad] habits have stuck with him.”
Towering centre Joe Colborne
, another element of the Kaberle deal, played well with the Marlies scoring eight goals and recording 16 points in just 20 games. At six-foot-five, Colborne’s wide-body provides the Leafs with the size up front that they desperately need. The Leafs also landed Boston’s first rounder, the 24th.
So the Leafs skin the Bruins on the Kaberle deal. In the Kessel trade, Burke landed a sought-after, if still maturing Kessel for talented rookie Tyler Seguin (11 goals in 74 games with the Bruins), this year’s ninth and a second-rounder last year. Put the two together and it looks like a saw to me.
Things look a little one-sided elsewhere. Kris Versteeg didn’t miss a beat when traded to Philadelphia but he has zero goals and just six shots against Buffalo’s formidable Ryan Miller.
The Leafs got a first choice for him (28th overall) and relief from a $3 million contract.
Look outside the playoffs and you find the Calgary Flames, cheerful contributors of the Leafs best defence pairing of Dion Phaneuf
and Keith Aulie. The only players left from that January 2010 deal are Matt Stajan, who will earn $10.5 million over the next three years despite scoring just six goals this season and Niklas Hagman, who scored 11 goals in 71 games for the Flames.
This is not all sunny news for Burke. Burke’s recent trading record would make the most hardened hockey man flinch when he approaches with his right hand stuck out.
Every hockey man will shake his hand. The newer ones will check for their watches.