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Nonis now GM, Leafs look to end playoff drought

by Dave Lozo /

For a team that now holds the unwanted label of having the longest playoff drought in the NHL, there wasn't a major move made by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the offseason.

At least, not until Wednesday.

After three-and-a-half seasons as general manager, Brian Burke was relieved of his duties and replaced by senior vice president of hockey operations Dave Nonis. Burke will stay on as a senior adviser to MLSE president and COO Tom Anselmi, but Nonis assumes the title of Toronto's senior vice president and general manager.

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"At the end of the day it was looking for a different voice, a different leadership approach," Anselmi said.

Despite the change in the GM's role, the Maple Leafs enter the 2012-13 season with a roster built by Burke, but that doesn't mean Nonis won't shake things up before Toronto's first game.

After missing the postseason for the seventh time in a row, the Leafs acquired forward James van Riemsdyk in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers in June. The move bolstered an offense that scored the 10th-most goals in the NHL but depleted the defense corps of a team that allowed the second-most goals.

That's why the Leafs reportedly are interested in acquiring goaltender Roberto Luongo from the Vancouver Canucks. Luongo has become expendable with backup Cory Schneider signing a three-year, $12 million contract this summer after taking the starting job during the postseason. Last season, the Leafs' goaltending duo of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson (who left for the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent) combined for a .902 save percentage in 76 games.

Luongo, 33, would bring 339 career victories, an Olympic gold medal and 61 games of playoff experience to Toronto. Of course, the Leafs likely would need to ship players with NHL experience to Vancouver to make a deal happen, which would alter a roster that's been left mostly intact.

It wouldn't be an unprecedented move for Nonis to acquire Luongo after replacing Burke. In 2004, Nonis succeeded Burke as GM of the Vancouver Canucks and acquired Luongo from the Florida Panthers in a franchise-altering deal. At Wednesday's press conference, Nonis would not discuss the possibility of bringing Luongo to Toronto.

If the Leafs don't make the deal, Burke showed confidence in Reimer by signing him to a three-year, $5.4 million contract in June. He's also comfortable with using 25-year-old Ben Scrivens as the backup.

"We are prepared to go forward on that basis," Burke said last summer. "If we can upgrade at the goaltending position, and at a reasonable price, we'll do it. But we are prepared (to go with Reimer and Scrivens). I believe in James Reimer. He's young, he's athletic, I believe in this kid. If we have to start like that, we will."

Burke did address one concern during the offseason by acquiring van Riemsdyk, who likely will get a shot at playing center with the Leafs after serving as a wing with the Flyers.

The 23-year-old is coming off a season in which he posted 11 goals and 13 assists in 41 games. He missed half the campaign with various injuries that included a concussion, a groin ailment, and a foot issue that required surgery. But he'll get a fresh start in Toronto that could involve centering the top line with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.

"I have played it a little bit in the past, and any time you can be a little more versatile as a player, it is definitely a good thing," van Riemsdyk told reporters. "I'm excited about that."

But van Riemsdyk, who hasn't played center consistently since his college days at New Hampshire, knows getting adjusted to the middle will be a challenge.

"When you are used to something it is second nature, so when you are out there not thinking and just playing, that is when you are at your best," van Riemsdyk said. "[It's just] a matter of getting some reps in there and I'm sure I will be fine."

James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk
Left Wing - TOR
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 24
SOG: 121 | +/-: -1
The rest of Burke's offseason moves can be classified as minor. Besides Gustavsson and Schenn, also departed are forwards Joey Crabb, Colby Armstrong and Philippe Dupuis. Crabb, who had 11 goals in 67 games and was tied for second on the Leafs in game-winning goals with four, signed a free-agent contract with the Washington Capitals.

The Leafs were surprisingly quiet during free agency. Their only notable signing was center Jay McClement, who left the Colorado Avalanche to sign a two-year, $3 million deal in Toronto.

McClement doesn't possess flashy numbers -- the 29-year-old had 10 goals in 80 games last season and hasn't had more than 12 in his career -- but he has attributes the Leafs need. He was third in the NHL last season among forwards in penalty-killing ice time and will provide leadership while playing bottom-six minutes; he was an alternate captain in Colorado for four years. He won 51.3 percent of his faceoffs last season.

"We like the fact that he's an established third-line guy with skill," Burke told reporters. "He's good on faceoffs and can kill penalties. Last minute of the game when we're protecting the lead, he's going to see the ice. Quiet guy, leads by example. He's not a vocal leader. He was a good addition."

Burke also added center Keith Aucoin at the end of July. The 33-year-old forward has been an All-Star at the AHL level six times and will be on a two-way contract with Toronto.


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