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Ulmer: The Rabbit Dilemma

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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Both Leafs general manager Brian Burke and Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo have something in common past the letterhead on their cheques. Both will be charged with making a soufflé out of a donut.

It’s a simple truth that spans the sports: no centre, little chance of a playoff spot.

The Leafs and Raptors face the same dilemma. I tell my kids about it all the time. It’s called the Rabbit Dilemma.

Here’s how it goes. Look at a small animal. Then ask yourselves some questions: does it have a cute little nose, is it round, does it have big ears and whiskers? If all these things are true, buddy it’s a rabbit. You may want it to be a coyote or a ferret or a dog but calling it something else cannot transform a rabbit into something different..

The Rabbit Dilemma perfectly describes the Leafs who this season used Tyler Bozak at centre. Bozak scored 15 goals and acquitted himself well enough. His game ripened as the season went on thanks to better performances in the face-off-circle and on the penalty kill. Bozak will be a more productive player when put where he belongs, on the Leafs’ second or third line.

Mikhail Grabovski thrived as the number two guy so the Leafs will leave him where he is. Tim Brent is great in the bottom of the deck, Nazem Kadri has been shifted to the wing and Joe Colborne probably needs more time in the minors.

The job of filling the hole at the top of the line-up could be solved by signing gifted free agent Brad Richards. Problem is Richards may sign with the reconstituted Dallas Stars when the club has processed its bankruptcy. The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, two attractive destinations who have less cap space than the Leafs, are said to be in the running as well.

If they can’t sign Richards, the conjecture starts with talk of trades for Jeff Carter, Mike Richards or Paul Stastny. But instead of losing cap space and no roster players, the Leafs would need to take on money and hand over material in a trade. The Leafs have two late first round draft choices. If no deal is consummated at the June 24th and 25th NHL draft, the dominoes should begin to fall with the July 1 free agent deadline.

Burke has spoken of the need for a “true number once centre.” With his most potent offensive player, Phil Kessel, in need of a playmaker he has stopped pretending that Bozak is a number one guy.

Rabbits are still in the picture. It falls to Burke or Colangelo to pull one out of a hat.
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