Five things Burke should think twice about
Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
|Leafs president and GM Brian Burke has his work cut out for him this summer. (REUTERS)
The calls for what Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke should or should not do with the Leafs roster once the regular season ends have started, so we figured we would get our two cents’ worth in. Burke undoubtedly will shape a lineup that better suits the defensive stylings of coach Randy Carlyle, and moves will have to be made that address Carlyle’s desire for a pugnacious team. However, here are five things that Burke might want to think twice about during the off-season as he tries to put yet another stamp on the Leafs:
1. Trade Phil Kessel
The talk has started that Kessel has to go because he won’t be a fit in Carlyle’s defensive schemes. It’s a little quick to come to that conclusion considering Carlyle has been behind the Toronto bench for exactly seven games. If it’s a challenge for Carlyle to make Kessel find a defensive side to his game, so be it. Top-10 scorers aren’t out there simply for the taking, and Kessel has been consistent. The 24-year-old had 51 points in 49 games prior to the all-star game and has 22 points in 22 games since.
Kessel has two years remaining on a contract with a $5.4-million US cap hit and there should be no rush to decide in a few months whether he can go forward under Carlyle. Kessel has 34 goals and should establish a career-high of 37 before the season is done. He has scored at least 30 goals in four consecutive seasons, a statistic that only elite snipers can claim.
No, the off-ice Kessel doesn’t mesh well with the spotlight put on the team by the Toronto media, but that should not be a determining factor in whether he stays or goes. Burke couldn’t recoup in a trade what he gave up for Kessel. That Kessel is not a physical player should surprise few, because no one expected him to bang bodies around. And really, does anyone picture Burke acknowledging he was wrong on Kessel by trading him to another team?
2. Using Jake Gardiner in a package to get Rick Nash
Gardiner has been a lot of flash in his rookie season, and there’s plenty of work to be done with him on the defensive aspects. But with his on-ice smarts and poise, he has accomplished more than the majority of defencemen do in their initial year in the NHL.
Carlyle probably realizes he has a special young talent he can work with, and one that should adjust to becoming a well-rounded defenceman. Nash is a player that Burke undoubtedly will be hard after in the summer (though you have to wonder if Nash changes his mind about leaving Columbus if the front office is cleaned out), and if he makes the deal, Leafs fans should keep their fingers crossed that Gardiner is not part of it. There’s no other blueliner in the Toronto organization, whether it’s Luke Schenn, Korbinian Holzer or Jesse Blacker, who has the potential that Gardiner does. Would Nash singlehandedly solve the Leafs’ problems? No. Neither does Gardiner. But he could be a big part of the core that helps turn the franchise around.
3. Keep the status quo in goal
Jonas Gustavsson is on schedule to be an unrestricted free agent on July and it’s time to let him go. The Leafs shouldn’t be concerned that Gustavsson will be signed by another club and wind up as a bona fide starter. Numbers-wise, Gustavsson has had his best season in the NHL since the Leafs beat out other suitors and signed him during the summer of 2009, but they’re still nothing to get excited about. Burke has said more than once that Gustavsson helped save the season, but those words are hollow now that the playoffs are going to be missed again. Neither Gustavsson nor James Reimer, who has not been the same goalie since suffering a concussion in October in Montreal, have demonstrated they can be a solid No. 1 netminder during the course of an 82-game season. There’s more upside with Reimer, who is signed for the next two years. And people tend to forget that Gustavsson is not young — he will be 28 in October.
The test for Burke will be acquiring a veteran goalie with presence, as there is not going to be much available in free agency.
4. Convincing himself he has more than he really does
The Leafs can say all they want about having good depth on the blue line, but when you’re in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and have just 11 games to play, what does that say about your talent? It’s not as deep as the Leafs think it is.
Perhaps more can be drawn out of the group defensively under Carlyle than what Wilson was able to accomplish, but we don’t know that yet. Burke has acknowledged the club needs to get more help up the middle, and it’s going to be an area to watch in the off-season. Tyler Bozak is not a No. 1 centre, and the Leafs have to stop pretending that he is. But with a cap hit of $1.5 million next season, at least Bozak is affordable.
5. Overspend on July 1
It’s easy to say you’re not going to do it but then just as difficult to stop from doing it. There can’t be anymore mistakes of the kind that saw more than $9 million thrown at Tim Connolly, who hasn’t been the kind of leader that the Leafs thought he would be when he was signed to a two-year pact last July.
But the over-spending trap likely will claim a few more victims among the NHL’s GMs, as there just is not a lot of available high-end talent in the free-agency class. Unless Burke could somehow land left winger Zach Parise and/or defenceman Ryan Suter through free agency, he’s going to have to pull some magic out of his trade hat.