Brian Burke sure has his fair share of work to do this coming off-season. Now currently owning the longest drought without a cup AND the only team that hasn't made the playoffs since the Lockout, fans are starting to get upset. Ownership doesn't have a problem, just as long as they keep selling tickets, and I think that gives Burke some leeway when it comes to this season. However, being quoted as "not believing in a 4 year rebuild" and it being the 4th year since he was hired, he will be watched. If this team doesn't succeed yet again, I may think it should be time to hire someone else. SO, here's what I think will help make this team "contenders".
1) Acquiring a "Top" Goaltender. This has been said many times, but just how easy this will be is the question. I currently see four routes the Leafs could take with the goaltenders:
a) TRADE - The only goalies available for trade (or has been mentioned) are Luongo / Thomas, and with Thomas taking the year off it seems like he won't be wanting to play for Toronto, even barring a trade from Boston. Luongo isn't the answer, at least I believe he isn't; in 5 years (maybe less), the trade, whatever we would give, would seem as an overpay because of his 10 year contract. If it was short (much shorter) maybe, but it's a deal killer here. It also goes against what Burke philosophy , the "long-term contracts" ordeal. And I agree with him on this one. Maybe Bernier becomes available, if so, expect to hear a lot of rumors surrounding his name and the Leafs.
b) UFA's - Looking at the UFA goaltenders available, Harding, Biron and Niittymaki are the ones that stand out the most (Brodeur is another standout, but his age and the fact that if he doesn't retire, he will sign with NJ keeps him out of the option). All three however, haven't really been "tested", with them being mostly backups (Niitymaki and Biron did start for Philly, but that was during the 06-07 season / 08/09 season ) for the last while. Harding did show he could play at an elite level, but he still has those question marks, and with other teams looking to fill their goaltending void during FA, all three are likely to get contracts Burke wouldn't be willing to match.
c) RFA's - This option seems the most unlikely, as Burke "doesn't" like RFA signings to other teams (Like the Penner incident). This may just because of the bad blood him and Lowe have because of Penner. It would cost them A LOT (draft picks wise), and would limit the future greatly. With Rask, Schneider and Price available though, it is intriguing. Price I would have to think greatly about. Having him as their #1 goalie would instantly (in my opinion) make them a playoff team. The price for Price (if he gets over 5M per year): A 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round draft pick. This is a big price tag, but in the end I think it would be worth it. If the leafs finished below 20th place, I would be very upset with this team and regret cheering for them for a majority of my life (which I already do a bit). I could see Price's contract being upwards to 7M (much like what Rinne got), which would be similar to the Kessel deal:Two 1st’s, a 2nd and a 3rd round draft pick. If they signed Price to a 6.2M per year or more contract, that would be almost HALF A DECADE's worth of 1st round picks we would have traded for two players ( four 1st's, two seconds and a third). A big decision.
d) STICKING TO THEIR CURRENT GOALIES - This option could actually be the best one. Reimer had a terrible year, but did suffer for most of it from concussion symptoms / neck problems. he could show that his rookie run was no fluke and that he could be their goalie of the future. For their backup, I would think Gustavsson is done, so Scrivens would be given a chance to show his stuff. Rightfully so, if he played well enough and Reimer struggles, he could become the #1.
2) Acquiring a Top Centerman. This is a must, with the Connelly experiment failing quite bad. Grabovski is a good centerman, but seems much more like a second-line centerman rather than first. The names that come to mind (and also, have been rumored) are Jordan and Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf would be exactly what the Leafs want: A power forward type of player who would immediately make Kessel look better. A line of Lupul-Getzlaf-Kessel would be DANGEROUS. Eric Staal would also be a good option, but in my opinion, would cost more than Getzlaf. Both would cost a lot, but Murray and Burke have a trading history (one-sided maybe).
3) Signing Justin Schultz. I don't see this as a necessity, but it would certainly help. Schultz could step right into the Leafs top 6, and in doing so could make Gunnarsson or Franson available to upgrading the roster in trades. Many teams will be wanting Schultz but Toronto has one little bargaining chip: him and Gardiner played together at Wisconsin. This may be a very small factor in his decision, but every bit helps.
4) Dumping contracts. This again isn't a necessity, but it will help greatly. No offense to Lombardi or Connelly, but both most of the time were dead weights. With two good centerman in Grabovski and Bozak, and Kadri and Colbourne fighting for positions, the Leafs will be okay for the bottom two center spots. Another contract which should be ridden of is Komisarek's. Everyone would agree his deal hasn't been a good experience and while he did seem better last year, he wasn't 4.5M better. Saying is harder than doing though, but just let Burke do his stuff and maybe we'll see them gone next year.
5) Resigning RFA's and UFA's that they should keep. Kulemin, Zigomanis (maybe start him this year too), Frattin, Franson, Fulzer, Scrivens, Rynnas, Mueller should all be resigned no questions. Crabb, Fraser, Hamilton and Lashoff could be resigned, depending on the moves the Leafs make. All the others should be let go, as they don't seem to be in the Leafs future.