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Leafs Add Size, Toughness On July 1st

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Komisarek Press Release | Leafs Acquire Exelby, Stuart | Video: Dave Nonis

He has landed some beasts. Now can Brian Burke get the monster?

The Maple Leafs' GM is in Sweden where he continues to pursue Swedish goalie Jonas (The Monster) Gustavsson while remaking the Leafs into a nasty, hard-hitting unit.

The 24-year-old Gustavsson, considered the best goalie not playing in the NHL, will announce which team he will chose over the next two days. Published reports have Gustavsson considering offers from four teams with the Leafs and Dallas Stars enjoying the inside track.

The Leafs have beefed up their blue line by signing hard-hitting defenceman Mike Komisarek off the roster of the Montreal Canadiens.

The six-foot-four, 240-pound Komisarek gives Burke what he wanted most, a shutdown defenceman still in his prime to add to a blue line corps that includes promising sophomore Luke Schenn. Komisarek has never scored more than four goals but he is an enthusiastic, punishing defender.

Reports indicate the Komisarek deal is for five years at $4.5 million a season.

The Leafs also swung one of the rare trades of the day.

Toronto traded veteran Czech defenceman Pavel Kubina to the Atlanta Thrashers. The deal returned 27-year-old hard-rock defenseman Garnet Exelby.

The Leafs shipped the rights to minor-leaguer Tim Stapleton to Atlanta in the deal. In return, the Leafs got the rights to Colin Stuart, a speedy left winger who scored five goals with the Thrashers in 32 games. Not surprisingly, he brings a hard-working, physical presence and should help stabilize the third line.

The free agency sweepstakes did not begin auspiciously for the Leafs, although they did address their longstanding need for someone capable of beating someone else up.

WingerColton Orr signed a four-year-deal with the Leafs at a reported $1 million a year. A look at Orr’s stats underscores his game. A New York Ranger last season, the Winnipeg native scored one goal but had the NHL’s third highest penalty minute total at 193. The six-foot-three, 220-pound Orr swings right.

Tuesday, defenceman Jay Bouwmeester signed a five-year-deal with the Calgary Flames, taking the number one rearguard off the market. This probably did little to pain Burke who had never indicated any profound interest in Bouwmeester.

Then came word just a few minutes after Wednesday’s noon opening bell that Daniel and Henrik Sedin had decided to remain in Vancouver. Burke, who drafted the two for the Canucks, was said to be in Europe to propose a contract in person but they opted for a five-year deal that will pay them just over $6 million a year.

Meanwhile, Mattias Ohlund, a player who, like the Sedins, was familiar to Burke from his days in Vancouver, accepted a puzzling offer from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The club, beset by rumors of ownership squabbles and cash shortfalls, gave Ohlund, an economical defensive rearguard, a staggering seven year, $24.5 million deal that will keep him under contract past his 40th birthday.

Marion Hossa, a player of no apparent interest for the Leafs signed a 12-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. That put free agent Martin Havlat, the Hawks leading scorer last year, in play but Havlat, a flashy skill player with a history of injuries, isn’t in the Burke mold.

At the end of the day, the Leafs are no more skilled but they will be infinitely harder to play.  The Leafs must now decide whether or not to move defenceman Tomas Kaberle whose departure would leave the Leafs without a power play quarterback and offensive linchpin.

The Leafs and Boston Bruins thought they had a deal that would bring high-scoring winger Phil Kessel for Kaberle but confusion over whether the deal would include the Leafs first-rounder so it wouldn’t startle anyone if the Leafs and Bruins resumed talks.

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