TORONTO -- He will hang up the “Gone Fishing” sign and head for a remote part of B.C. next week with some of his hockey pals, but if you know Brian Burke, you can bet he is never completely closed for business.
It’s been an active and productive week for the Maple Leafs general manager and by anyone’s measure, no team has done more to re-tool its roster.
By virtue of their stoutly bolstered defence, the Leafs are already a markedly different team in both style and substance. Add the acquisition of free agent goaltender, Jonas Gustavsson this week and the Leafs shouldn’t be anywhere near the liability they were in their own end this past season.
But when Burke said emphatically the other day that “we’re not done,” we’ll make a liberal guess that the GM recognizes, as well as you and the next guy, that he could use a player or three to put the puck in the net.
The team is still without a top-six forward, unless you are on the executive of the Jason Blake fan club and youth and prospects isn’t enough of an answer just yet.
So what is still in play?
Now that Burke and his assistant, Dave Nonis, have brought in so many big bodies, they need to develop a plan on what to do with a glut on defence that includes nine legit NHL starters.
Among that group, there is a sharp starting four in Luke Schenn, Tomas Kaberle and two burly free agent signees, Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin. Garnet Exelby, who came over in the Pavel Kubina, is likely to claim another spot but what to do with Jeff Finger, Mike Van Ryn, Ian White and Jonas Frogren?
The obvious answer is to find a deal that would, as Burke puts it “parlay a defenceman into a forward.”
After coming close to dealing Kaberle to Boston for Phil Kessel on draft day, Burke will listen to any offer, no matter how sharply the fish are biting out west.
There is no rush to make that deal, as Kaberle’s no-trade clause re-activates on Aug. 15. But predictably, the rumour mill is heating up with potential Kaberle suitors including St. Louis and Buffalo.
“If I had to handicap this, I’d say he will be a Leaf at the start of the year,” Burke said. “That can change with one phone call.”
There’s already been a call, Burke says, for another Leafs defencemen, suggesting that there is currency to acquire at least one reasonable forward.
If no serious scorers are acquired before training camp, Burke and coach Ron Wilson are spinning another company line which takes a leap of faith to swallow whole, but also makes some sense.
The theory is that with a team with more bite, the smaller skill players the team hopes it is developing should have more room to roam.
“Brian’s philosophy is to create an atmosphere where the skill guys are going to feel comfortable out there,” Wilson said this week. “No. 1 in my mind is someone like Mikhail Grabovski, who won’t have to be pulling himself off the boards anymore.”
Add John Mitchell, who came on late last season and Jiri Tlusty, who honed his scoring skills in the minors to that list as well as a young prospect or two who may earn their way on the roster come training camp.
Burke is also waiting to hear from another Swedish recruit, Rickard Wallin, who has been offered a contract. The captain of Farjestads, the same team in the Swedish Elite League that brought Gustavsson, is more of a two-way forward, however, and likely wouldn’t be a huge impact player.
Bottom line, so far, is that Burke has taken steps to put his team in a lot of 2-1 games next season.
What he does next will go a long way in determining how many of those go the Leafs’ way.