July 14, 2009.
Toronto – It has been less that a year since Brian Burke took the reigns as the Toronto Maple Leafs President and General Manager but already the team has a new look and some much needed optimism in a city that was starved for it. Having to clean up the mess left behind by the previous GMs John Ferguson Jr. and Cliff Fletcher Burke still has some work ahead him but the wheels are already in motion.
Stating all along that he wanted this team to be more “truculent and tougher” Burkes first move when taking over was to bring in an old friend in winger Brad May from Anaheim. More for his locker room presence than anything May was very long in the tooth and ended up costing Toronto nothing in terms of any type of return; May was instrumental in helping rookie Luke Schenn in his development even moving in with the young star during the season. Not expected to return this season May was a great pickup for nothing.
At the end of the regular season Burke worked his magic and signed a couple of overage college players in Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak. While Hanson isn’t expected to be more than a third line player Bozak has the potential to be a top six forward and will get every opportunity to ply his trade with a ton of ice time this season.
The trade deadline brought high expectations with names such as Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Vesa Toskala, Dominic Moore and Jason Blake being thrown around Antropov and Moore ended up being the only roster players moved for some valuable second round draft picks. Burke showed his genius with an inventive deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning literally buying a fourth round draft pick in exchange for some garbage contracts causing a stir among fellow GMs around the league Burke showed off his Harvard law degree with this move.
Vowing to try to trade up in the entry draft to land coveted prospect John Tavares or even within the top five draft choices to get a shot at Luke’s brother Brayden Schenn Burke could not find a dance partner and wound up where they started selecting with their own pick in the number seven spot taking Nazem Kadri. The Kadri pick combined with all the trade talk that seemed to fall through Leaf fans, not exactly known for their patience, were starting to vent expecting Swedish stud Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson or defenseman Jared Cowen to be selected. Topping off the day in Leaf nation was the talk of a potential blockbuster deal that would send longtime Maple Leaf blueliner Tomas Kaberle to the rival Bruins in exchange for potential 40-goal sniper Phil Kessel and a draft pick. Miscommunication between the two clubs nixed the trade that many NHL experts expected to be a “sure thing.” Toronto fans were not pleased with many jumping off the bandwagon.
If draft day was a letdown the off season was anything but; free agent signings Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and the gem of the UFA season, netminder Jonas Gustavsson, “the best goalie outside the NHL” has been said numerous times were all signed. Pavel Kubina was dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers for another heavy hitting defenseman Grant Exelby and potential third line agitator Colin Stuart. With the logjam of Leaf blueliners now at ten something has to give. Rumors are swirling of Kaberle being traded to either St. Louis, who are in dire need of a veteran puck moving defenseman, or to the Bruins for Kessel in a reworked draft day deal that went sour. Kessel would fill the Leafs biggest need right now, a slick top line goal scorer.
Burke may not be finished signing free agents; Blair Betts has been been linked to Toronto and seems to fit Burke statements of adding a penalty killing forward.
Retooling rather than rebuilding Burke fully expects this team to make the playoffs from now on under his watchful eye. Judging by his first year on the job the Leafs bandwagon might not have enough room to seat everybody with each move he makes more and more people are buying into what Burke is selling. For the first time in a long time there is optimism in Leaf Nation.