Leafs GM ready to get back at it

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:00 AM ET

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke was content to leave the Fourth of July for fireworks not involving changes to his roster.

He had other honourable priorities on Sunday, like marching in the Toronto Pride Parade to honour the memory out his late son, Brendan.

But beginning Monday, Burke and his staff will begin a crucial stretch in terms of trading Tomas Kaberle for a productive forward.

At last count, Burke had received five concrete offers involving the Czech defenceman. It isn’t an auction, the GM is fond of saying, meaning Kaberle is not going to the highest bidder if the offer isn’t rich enough.

Fair to say, however, that if the Leafs can acquire a first-line forward — obvious preference being a centre — the draft/free agency period will have been graded a quantifiable success.

Consider the upgrades thus far:

In Mike Brown, who came over in a draft-day trade with Anaheim, Burke has added “secondary toughness” which, in the case of the former Anaheim Duck, can be defined as a guy who is willing to scrap and able to play fourth-line minutes on the wing.

In Colby Armstrong, the Leafs have another feisty winger, in this case one who will be solid on the third line.

And in former Blackhawk, Kris Versteeg, Burke has a top-sixer, who figures to be on Ron Wilson’s second line at worst.

So, if Kaberle is dealt and brings another candidate for the top two lines, Burke will have completed a significant overhaul of one quarter of the dozen forwards who would be expected to dress on opening night. Add rookie Nazem Kadri into the mix and the percentage is even higher.

Who is left?

Of the remaining unrestricted free agents, there are six coming off a season in which they scored 20 or more.

All have concerns, the likely reason they were still around four days after the free-agent period began.

— Ilya Kovalchuk: Scored 41 goals last season, but is believed to be pricing himself out of the early action.

— Teemu Selanne: Scored 27 for the Ducks last season but is almost old enough to have fathered half of the Leafs forward group.

— Lee Stempniak: Been there, done that. Scored 28 last year, most of those on a torrid run with Phoenix after the trade deadline. Stempniak was blanked in the playoffs, however, and Coyotes GM Don Maloney has said he hopes the Buffalo native will accept a “low” offer.

— Maxim Afinogenov: A 24-goal man with Atlanta last year, he’s 30 so wouldn’t get a long deal.

— Alexei Ponikarovsky — Was always in the top six in Toronto but couldn’t find a regular slot in Pittsburgh.

— Bill Guerin — A lot easier for a 39-year-old to score 21 with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin around.

Goin’ home again

When defenceman Pavel Kubina signed with Tampa last week, the former Leaf returned to the NHL team for which he has had his most success thus far.

“I still have my house there and Czech will always be my home, but Tampa is my second home,” Kubina told the Tampa Tribune. “To be back with Vinny (Lecavalier) and Marty (St. Louis) again, and the young players they have there, it’s where I want to be.”

Kubina signed a two-year deal worth $7.7 million US, but that salary will feel like more. Kubina represented himself in negotiations, opting to return to the team he helped lead to a Cup victory in 2004.

No Kings Ransom

It looks like the Kings are out of the Kovalchuk sweeps. General manager Dean Lombardi told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that the marquee free agent has decided to pass on Hollywood.

“We took our best shot to meet his needs and the team’s,” Lombardi said.

Horsin’ Around

It was a busy week for all NHL player agents but Don Meehan found some time to relax on Sunday. Meehan’s Moment of Majesty, a filly he co-owns with former Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph was at Woodbine for the Queen’s Plate.

The 3-year-old thoroughbred finished eighth in a race won by Big Red Mike.


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