With the announcement of Brian Burke as Leafs GM, the trades are inevitable.
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After all, this is not Burke's team, it's Cliff Fletcher's.
That's not a bad thing. In fact, Fletcher's acquisitions have instilled hope to a fanbase in dire of need of it - and I speak for all of Leaf Nation when I say it feels damn good to be building for the future.
That said, Burke's intentions are not necessarily the same as Cliff's. While he won't trade away all the assets brought in, he may attempt to change the core of the club, making the Leafs his team.
So Leafs player beware, you're now auditioning to keep your job in Toronto.
Here's a list of players I think Burke will try to move at some point this season:
Nikolai Antropov (contract year/2.050M cap hit):
The 6'6 Kazakhstan native is off to another solid season, garnering 9 goals and 19 points in 25 games. While Antropov has had issues with the injury bug in the past, he stayed relatively healthy last season, playing 72 games, and has yet to miss a contest this year. Antropov is also on pace for a second straight 50-60 point season. Combine that with his solid defensive game, and Antropov is a valuable commodity to any NHL club. Unlike Leafs players in the past, he is a solid contributor who doesn't own a NTC, so expect him to be moved in the coming weeks. Oh, and did I mention Burke dislikes European players?
Niklas Hagman (4yrs/3M cap hit):
Hagman has been a model of consistency, responsible defensive play, and an aggressive offensive attack. The speedy Finnish forward has 8 goals and 19 points so far this season, which puts him on pace to shatter his career-high 41 points last year. Considering this, Burke may look to trade the 29-year old, whose services are highly regarded around the league. While trading him may break the chemistry of the Hagman-Grabovski-Kulemin line, the assets coming in return could help the Leafs long-term.
Tomas Kaberle (3yrs/4.25M cap hit):
This will be a tricky one, but with Wilson making Kaberle ride the pine during the 1st period against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thusrday, convincing him to move may not be an impossible task. While the services of #15 are crucial to the Leafs' PP, and their entire offensive game, his return could bring in some valuable, young assets for the Leafs. However, Burke may want to wait until the Trade Deadline before unloading the offensive defenseman. With Kaberle's recent struggles, his value is not as high as it could be, and taking into account the Leafs' situation, they have to aim for the best possible return to further their quest for a deep and talented prospect pool.
Vesa Toskala (2yrs/4M cap hit):
The Finnish goaltender is on thin ice. Toskala has been struggling since the season's debut, and many Leafs fans are beginning to wonder if this will be ongoing affair. With the departure of Mats Sundin, many were expecting Toskala to carry the load and stand as the unprecedented leader of the club. That hasn't happened, and perhaps the added pressure is responsible for the inconsistency of the 31 year-old goaltender. Whatever the case, it would be in the Leafs' best interest to let Toskala play through his struggles. If he regains his form by the Trade Deadline, trading him would be a logical option.
Pavel Kubina (2yrs/5M cap hit):
Kubina, -9, has seen better days. Still, his value is relatively high and he's an asset to any club seeking a defenseman who can play both sides of the ice. While he refused a deal that would have sent him to the Sharks last season, it must be noted that he initially accepted the transaction. Considering the Leafs' struggles won't be disappearing anytime soon, the 31 year-old may look to pursue his career elsewhere.
Alexei Ponikarovsky (contract year/ 2.105M cap hit):
If you were to ask me, I'd say this is a guarantee. Ponikarovsky's highest point totals were in the 2006-07 season with 21 goals and 45 points. This season, he's garnered 8 goals and 18 points, which puts him on pace for 25 goals and 56 points. His value has never been higher, so trading him now could benefit the Leafs. It should be noted, however, that Ponikarovsky has been demoted to the third line, being replaced by Lee Stempniak. If his point totals begin to diminish, so will his value. If Burke is looking to unload Ponikarovsky, he should find some takers right away.
One thing is for certain, it's an exciting time to be a Leafs fan, not a Leafs player.
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