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The Early Line On Draft Night

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Now that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings have done away with what was left of the hockey season, all eyes now turn to the NHL draft.

On Friday, draft day will be a week away.

Consider this the official countdown. Just 11 sleeps.

The event might as well have been held at the Eaton’s Centre for all the Toronto interest.

As you may have heard, this is Brian Burke’s first draft as the Maple Leafs’ GM. Burke walks into rooms the way Sherman walked into Atlanta. It will all bear some watching.

Burke has declared that he is hunting a draft choice that will allow him to claim uber-prospect John Tavares. The Leafs, it should be noted, don’t have a focal point, a standard bearer and no one on next year’s roster appears ready. Luke Schenn is an excellent prospect, but a defenceman with middling and still emerging offensive instincts will not cut it. The Leafs need a bang,

That of course would be Tavares.

Ordinarily, that would leave Burke to deal with the New York Islanders, holders of the number one pick. Years of losing have given the Islanders a credibility gap, so the odds of landing Tavares seem infinitesimal.

But wait, they might not want Tavares at all. At six-foot-six, Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman could morph into Zdeno Chara, the player the Islanders foolishly traded to Ottawa in 2001. Faced with fixing a catastrophic error, although one that doesn’t prevent former GM Mike Milbury from getting TV gigs, the Islanders might opt to pass on Tavares whose skating ability is suspect.

So that means Tampa takes him Tavares, right?

Well, not so fast.

That largely depends on their plans for Vincent Lecavalier. The Lightning already have a breakthrough offensive talent in 25-goal-scorer Steve Stamkos and a hard-nosed forward who goes to the net by the name of Ryan Malone.

If the Lighting move Lecavalier, they have room to pay for some help on the blue line.

Tomas Kaberle has two years left on his deal. He can play on the top pair. The Lightning are said to be curious about Ian White, who enjoyed a very good season with the Leafs.

But burdensome contracts to Andrej Meszaros  who made $4 million this year and has four years to go,  Radim Vrbata, two more years at $3 million each and Vinny Prospal, $10.5 million over the next three years have strapped the Lightning. Lecavalier is obviously a star but he will make $10 million for each of the next four seasons. That’s what the Lightning are facing.

That would leave the Colorado Avalanche landing the fleet Matt Duchene or even inheriting, although this is really a stretch, Tavares. Then the dominos need to fall for the Leafs to land Brandon’s Brayden Schenn or Swedish gunner Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson.

So there you have it, the early line on what promises to be memorable draft. Who knows, memorable may not even cover it.
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