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Looking At All The Moves In Burke Era

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
There is a finite number of ways to build a winning hockey team. Perhaps you have heard this before.

1.    Draft and wait.
2.    Sign free agents, European, college, restricted and unrestricted.
3.    Trade players and cap space for players and cap space.

Leafs GM Brian Burke has drafted and waited, signed free agents from everywhere but the interplanetary league and installed a carousel for the in and outbound players.

Four current Maple Leafs were with the team when Burke took over in November of 2008.

They are Tomas Kaberle, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Luke Schenn.

Since then, the departed have grown into a blur, Pavel Kubina-Vesa Toskala-Matt Stajan and so many more.

High time to take a long look to discern the progress of what is known locally as Canada’s team.

Where the Leafs are is a compelling question. Eight points out of a playoff spot with a prohibitive schedule ahead of them, the Leafs have at least put themselves in position to compete by garnering nine of a possible 12 points since the all-star break.

They aren’t close but they seem close to being close.

When Burke took over, the Marlies boasted few genuine prospects and the Leafs were old and slow.

Burke has built his system from the ground up and some of the material he used was already on site. University of North Dakota sniper Matt Frattin, tied for fourth in NCAA scoring, was a John Ferguson choice. So were Viktor Stalberg, Carl Gunnarsson and breakthrough goalie James Reimer.

Today the Marlies have a handful of bona-fide prospects, (one more if you count widely-regarded coach Dallas Eakins). Nazem Kadri, German free-agent signee Marcel Mueller and another free agent roped in by Burke, Christian Hanson, have progressed to the top of the pile.  Defencemen Korbinian Holzer and Simon Gysbers are not ready yet improving nicely.

Owen Sound defenceman Jesse Blacker, Portland Winterhawks winger Brad Ross and Greg McKegg, a prolific scorer for the Erie Otters represent the Leafs’ best hope in major junior. Throw in Jake Gardiner, the talented offensive defenceman wrapping up his third season at the University of Wisconsin and you have material for the big team should Burke choose to make a deal at the trading deadline.

Here’s a look at Burke’s trades and significant free agent signings as he prepares for the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline.

A conditional draft choice for Brad May (Jan.7). May was done when he arrived here but provided a solid dressing room presence for the final four months of the season.  No risk, comparable reward.

Claimed Martin Gerber on waivers from Ottawa (Jan. 7). This one might have hurt the Leafs. Gerber went 6-5 and the Leafs rose in the standings up to 23rd.

Traded Nik Antropov to the New York Rangers for a second-round choice (Kenny Ryan), March 4. No loss for the Leafs since there was no way Burke was going to match the four-year, $16.2 million the Atlanta Thrashers ended up paying for the towering Kazak.

Traded Dominic Moore for Carolina’s second rounder (Jesse Blacker), March 4. Little noticed but this was one of Burke’s better deals. Moore was a waiver acquisition and Blacker could play with the Leafs. First example of Burke ‘hopscotching’ a player.

Christian Hanson signed as a free agent (March 31). Two years later, Hanson looks NHL ready. He probably won’t be an impact player but a six-foot-four 230-pound centre with pretty decent speed is a fine return for a college flier.

Tyler Bozak signed as a free agent (April 3). After a promising rookie year, Bozak has stumbled mightily in his sophomore campaign. It’s hard to imagine him as Phil Kessel’s centre for life but he has played only 92 NHL games. He has scored 16 times in that stretch and his work in the face-off circle and in his own zone have improved substantially.  At 24, Bozak has plenty of upside.

Mike Komisarek signed as a free agent (July 1). Brought in to provide an iron rod spine for the defence, Komisarek has struggled mightily.  He has not been the player the Leafs thought they were acquiring and his $22.5 million contract has three more years to run.

Colton Orr signed as a free agent (July 1). Burke views a tough guy as a necessary evil.

Traded Pavel Kubina and Tim Stapleton for Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart (July 1). Burke wasn’t trading Kubina, he was trading his $5 million salary.  The cap hit went down to $3.85 million this season and next. The $5 million commitment Burke peddled was needed to pay for Komisarek and Beauchemin.

Signed Francois Beauchemin as a free agent (July 6). The good news about acquiring Beauchemin is that it did not involve sending out any of the team’s scarce talent base.

Beauchemin became the minute-eater on defence was miscast as the lead dog.  He was finally flipped for Joffrey Lupul and Gardiner .

Jonas Gustavsson signed as a free agent (July 7).  His recent heart trouble has rendered discussion of his game irrelevant. Again, didn’t cost any material but his future is difficult to discern. You roll the dice…

Signed Rickard Wallin as a free agent (July 10). Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Traded Anton Stralman, Colin Stuart and a seventh round pick for Wayne Primeau and a second round pick Aug. 10). Primeau was a good guy with next to nothing left.  No impact.

Traded Justin Pogge to Anaheim for a conditional pick (Aug. 10). Ended the kid’s misery.

Traded Toronto’s first round pick, second overall to Boston for second overall Tyler Seguin, second round pick to Jared Knight) and a first rounder in the 2011 draft. (Sept. 28).

Perhaps you have heard of this one. Seguin’s recent struggles have prompted chortles from Burke supporters but Kessel hasn’t scored in a month. It may take another month unless Burke can find a complementary talent to feed him the puck. That, not what happens in Boston, is the key to the deal.

Trades Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Matt Stajan and Ian White for Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie (Jan. 31). Easily the best deal of Burke’s tenure. The Leafs got their best defence duo for who?

Jean-Sebastien Giguere acquired from Anaheim for Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala. Toskala is out of the NHL. Blake, 37, has another year of a $4 million cap hit next year with Anaheim.

Giguere’s $6 ,million hit expires at season’s end. He still might return a second-rounder if dealt at the deadline. Nice.

Traded Alexei Ponikarovsky for Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula (March 2). Similar to Antropov, Burke wasn’t going to pay what he considered too high a cost for a player who was not in his plans. Ponikarovsky ended up getting $3.4 in a one-year-deal from the Kings but the 30-year-old Ponikarovsky has just four goals. Decision to let him walk looks very sound in retrospect.

A fourth and seventh round pick to Phoenix and seventh in the 2010 draft for Lee Stempniak (March 3). He didn’t give up much and Burke got even less back.

Signed free agents Simon Gysbers, Brayden Irwin, Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens as free agents (March to April). All four have played well in spurts this season with the Marlies.

Traded Toronto’s fifth rounder for Mike Brown (June 26). Nothing wrong with the deal except for the fact that Brown couldn’t get healthy. Over his 27 games, Brown was a strong puck-pursuer, tough guy. Nice low-key acquisition.

Traded Viktor Stalberg, Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis to Chicago for Kristopher Versteeg and Bill Sweatt (June 30). An excellent example of a hop scotched player. Versteeg has outscored Stalberg 14-8 and outpointed him 35-16 this season. The acquisition of Joffrey Lupul has given the Leafs another player with 20-goal potential. Burke will likely be looking to garner a big winger for Versteeg, but he could also be a major component in an attempt to pry free a potential number one centre. Versteeg’s salary of $3.08 million is reasonable for a Stanley Cup winner who can score.

Signed free agents Colby Armstrong, Joey Crabb, Danny Richmond, Mike Zigomanis, Brett Lebda, Marcel  Mueller (July 1-14). Crabb has played for the Leafs. Zigomanis is a mainstay with the Marlies. Lebda has struggled with the Leafs. Armstrong has been good. Not bad shooting.

Signed free agent Clarke MacArthur (August 28). A winning move for Burke. He got a productive season out of MacArthur dirt cheap. That doesn’t mean Burke won’t try another hopscotch move to bring a more prominent player to Toronto.

Waved Jeff Finger, (October 12). In retrospect a very bad contract by Cliff Fletcher. Sending Finger to the minors was just the kind of loophole expected to be closed up during the next collective bargaining agreement.

Traded Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul and college defenceman Jake Gardiner (Feb 9). Lupul is a risk but Burke needed to make a move to get Aulie into the lineup. He will likely need another should Tomas Kaberle acquiesce to a trade.

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