OK, here we go... Two big issues face the Leafs this off-season :
(1) What to do with Tomas Kaberle ?
(2) How does Burke land a quality power forward?
Other things to consider:
(1) a weak pool of UFA forwards this summer,
(2) a trade market for Kaberle that may be reduced due to his quiet end of the season, and the possibility of other quality defencemen being on the market
(3) Cap issues could result from offering Gustavsson, Kulemin and any new players a fair contract.
(4) The Leafs have a solid stable of NHL caliber d-men, but may find the middle tier a little difficult to move in a trade, and wasteful to send to the AHL.
One possible solution? Convert Dion Phaneuf into a winger.
OK, you are almost ready to dismiss this as a joke, but hear me out.
One of the very best Leaf wingers and leaders ever, Wendel Clark, started of as a Defenceman in junior, who also played some time at forward. Tough, with a great shot and a powerful skater, he adjusted fast and well to being a full-time forward.
When the Leafs picked him, there was still speculation on just where he might play in the NHL. The Leafs rightly pushed him as a forward.
He could crash the net or burst the twine with a shot, and having him on your line gave any player a little more room. The man was a Captain for the Leafs and an inspiration to fans and team-mates alike.
Roll back to the 1960's and one of Toronto's most celebrated players of the decade was Red Kelly. Red started off as a quality defender and converted to a high scoring forward later in his career. A James Norris trophy winner in the 1950's he extended his career perhaps by moving up to the forward position, and became a hero and an offensive force there as well. He almost retired after a trade to the Rangers, but Punch Imlach made a deal for his rights and switched him to full-time forward. With Toronto, he won 4 Stanley Cups over 8 seasons. Need I say more?
Watching the final game of the season between Toronto and Montreal, and seeing Phaneuf driving to the net off the wing in OT, it was easy to visualize him making the adjustment to power forward.
Phaneuf has time to toy with the idea, go into camp and practice as a forward, and develop a feeling about whether it would work. Burke has set himself up as saying that he intends to keep Kaberle if there isn't an offer that would meet his minimum asking price, a price that may have been very fair in January, but looks a little ambitious now with the weak showing of the last month or so. Kaberle may play his best hockey in Toronto again, if all works out - and he may be motivated to take what Burke offers in an extension if he really wants to prove that he'd prefer to stay. Everybody wins.
If it works out, it makes extending Kaberle very easy for Burke, possibly with a discount. If it doesn't work, perhaps the Leafs look at moving Komisarek or Beauchemin instead of Kaberle? Luke Schenn is developing well and could be the sort of player that Phaneuf offers on the blueline if he continues. Certainly Schenn could do the job of a Komisarek or Beauchemin, or Finger next season?
This sort of move for Phaneuf might also take some of the pressure off some young guys who might otherwise be asked to fill the role of first line power forward...Stalberg is great, but he isn't quite ready enough to go 80+ games at top speed. (His early injury woes are a concern).
This move would also put an on-ice motivator right into the thick of things when some of the skill guys think about coasting on the back-check. ( Remember Gary Roberts?)
It is an idea that I wish had been tried late in this past season - BUT the rewards could be so high, that Wilson and Burke might have to take a serious look at this before the job begins to add or subtract players in the off-season.
What do you think?
Could it work?