So, Brian Burke plans on changing the Toronto Maple Leafs. And he's started already.
Never in the nineteen years of my existence have I been so proud of a Leafs General Manager. No more signings to avoid the inevitable rebuild, no more trading away prospects and draft picks for mediocre/washed-up players, and most importantly, no more of those lame jokes about how old the Leafs' roster is.
The Leafs -- besides Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson; yeehaaaw -- are not Burke's team. The roster is a combination of John Ferguson Jr., Cliff Fletcher and, oh yeah, MLSE. That's going to change. No more answering to the higher ups. Burke knows what needs to be done, and he's not afraid of hurting some feelings to get it done. Contracts? No-trade clauses? Ha, that ain’t nuthin’ for Burke… or so he says.
"If the guys can't cut it here, we'll send them down," Burke said. "We can buy people out, we can trade people. I don't feel obligated or bound at all by what's under contract for next year. There are going to be some changes for next year." (Toronto Star)
So besides the fact that Burke is clearly a badass, does anyone else think this is the quote of the year? Yes, the YEAR! Think about it, the Leafs, who are in dire need of change, have Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Oreskovic as Restricted Free Agents this summer -- there are more, but fringe NHL'ers aren’t exactly a top priority. That means the Leafs, if Burke were to play it conservative this summer, would have essentially the same club going into the 2009/10 season.
I'm sorry, but as much as I like the new found potential of the Leafs, there is still a heap of work to be done before they can realistically compete for the Stanley Cup. In other words, they're on the right track, and that's the first step, but the train is heading for a brick wall strapped with dynamite unless Burke continues to stockpile draft picks and prospects .
Burke is going to make the Leafs his team, and that, unfortunately for some of the Leafs' players, will mean a swift kick in the ass. But who's on the way out? Who's staying? Well, only Burke knows, but that doesn't mean we can't speculate.
Here's the players I believe are getting the boot:
If it's not him, it will be Pavel Kubina. But, if Burke is looking the best value from his defensemen, Kaberle is probably the logical choice here. He's been a loyal servant for over a decade now, but because of the Leafs' current situation, his future with the club is not exactly promising.
I think he could become a solid second-liner for the Leafs in the future, but hey, I’m not Burke. Call it a gut feeling, but taking a glance at the Leafs' top-six, then considering Burke's quote above, that leads me to believe Stempniak will be the odd-man out in Toronto – after all, he was not Burke's acquisition. He would likely be in a package deal, however, as he will not garner the same return the Blues got for him.
Ponikarovsky is enjoying a career season. Life is good when a 3rd liner is getting top-six minutes, ain't it? Not for long. Don’t get me wrong, I think Ponikarovsky is a decent player, but considering he's a soft forward with a 6 foot 4, 220 pound frame, he doesn’t exactly fit in Burke's regime. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ponikarovsky is shipped out to make room for a player within the organization -- like Jiri Tlusty.
I don't believe there will be much more movement than that. It's possible, but Burke will have a challenge in removing just the three players from his roster. Buying out contracts is an option, but I'm not sure paying multiple salaries throughout the course of the next few seasons is logical -- especially considering the Cap could be lowering in 2010.
I was hesitant on adding Matt Stajan to the list, so I'll just point out that I think he could very well be on his way out. He's having a career season, but his inconsistency and soft play may not sit well with Burke. He would generate some interest around the league, I'm sure, so I wouldn't be surprised if he is moved. I know it's early to say, but Bozak could be replacing his roster spot.
And will Burke make a splash in this year's free agent market? Besides Cammarelli, I don't see the point in signing a bunch of free agents. Not only has it proven unsuccessful for the Leafs, but adding players will only take away ice-time from youngsters such as Tlusty, Bozak, Hanson and the rest of the crew. Burke is importing youth to the Leafs' roster, but he must allow them to develop and establish their respective roles in the NHL as well. Patience breeds excellence.
So, what do you think? Who will be shipped out? Who will be joining the Leafs?