July 3, 2011
Burke's overhaul almost done?
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - For all the moves the Maple Leafs have made, going back before the NHL draft, there is still great uncertainty about them making the playoffs.
But what’s important to note is that the Brian Burke broom is no longer solely aimed at those brought here by previous general managers. Players and staff that came here under his watch are starting to disappear, too, or at least, look over their shoulders.
Such is Leafs management’s determination to stop this club-record six-year spring hiatus, or to exhaust manpower and monetary resources in an attempt to show it has tried. Burke will be into his fourth calendar year at the helm come Dec. 1, by which time a new owner and/or CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. could be in place. So there won’t be much sympathy for him if the Leafs are once again trying to pass four or five teams to stay in post-season range in the second half of the schedule.
As Tim Connolly, John-Michael Liles, Cody Franson, Matthew Lombardi and coaches Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin arrived, something in the current closet had to move aside. That’s why you won’t hear talk of jamming square peg Tyler Bozak into a round hole at first line centre. Expensive toys such as Mike Komisarek will be looking at a drastically decreased blue line roles, while fellow defenceman Brett Lebda is gone completely.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, one of Burke’s most faithful servants, offered to stay in a lesser net role and was politely told no. There was little effort put into retaining the once-hyped Christian Hanson and for all the good work Tim Brent put into his lone year as a Leaf, the club judged it could do better. Role forwards Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb could be next.
The first signs that Burke would crunch toes came in mid-June when he ordered coach Ron Wilson to shed two assistant coaches because of a “stale” dressing room. After Keith Acton and Tim Hunter were let go, Burke repeated that his old friend Wilson would not get an extension unless there is tangible improvement in the autumn.
Then came some draft-related moves, including the Liles trade and some nice work on the floor of the Xcel Energy Centre to net the Leafs Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy in the first round.
If Sunday’s four-player swap with Nashville means the Leafs are done dealing for the immediate future, they should feel better about themselves, or at least the optics for their fans. James Reimer is signed for three years at a tolerable $5.8 million US and if he just stays at last year’s winning pace, it’s going to make every other change look better. Acton and Hunter are good men, but as Burke said, too many vital areas were slipping for someone not to pay a price.
Liles will be the power-play presence lacking since Tomas Kaberle was traded and with triple the number of Kaberle’s career power-play goals, you won’t need 19,000 people yelling at this guy to shoot.
Connolly has his detractors, regarding his cursed health records and perceived lack of speed and drive. But he also has 21 more playoff points than any Toronto player since the lockout. At 6-foot-1, and 191 pounds, he’s no Mats Sundin, but that’s heavier than Bozak and taller than second-line centre, Mikhail Grabovski.
In that respect, the Leafs’ defence is finally fulfilling the Burke vision of a high-rise skyline stretching across the rink. Boston’s defence still sets the standard with Zdeno Chara and company and Buffalo paid big money to get Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr to line up with Tyler Myers. But throw Franson out there regularly and the Leafs could have one solid big man on all three pairings, joining Keith Aulie and Luke Schenn, with Komisarek in reserve.
Pending what happens with Toronto’s restricted free agents, the Clarke MacArthur salary arbitration and training camp performances of promising youngsters such as centre Joel Colborne, there could be four to six changes from the lineup that ended Game 82 with a 4-1 loss to Montreal.
When the teams meet again at the ACC on Oct. 6 to open the season, the Leafs will be standing a lot taller.