With all the hoopla surrounding the need for a 1st line centre in Toronto, a key idea is being missed.
It's true: Brian Burke needs to acquire a legitimate, 1st-line centre this offseason if he wants any shot at even making the playoffs this year.
However, I'd like to point out, that the Leafs are still missing a much-needed cog to any playoff teams chances: A puck-moving defenseman.
The Leafs play out of the zone isn't atrocious. It's mediocre. And that isn't good enough. The power play? The Leafs had 4 power play goals by defenseman last season, Phaneuf with three, Gunnarsson with one. That can improve via two things: One) Phaneuf needs to know where the hell he's shooting that puck, and two) the Leafs need to find a defenseman with better passing ability for the power play. After Kaberle's departure last season, the power play did look better, but it was a very "down low" power play, with the odd shot coming from the point. If the Leafs want to improve upon the 15.95% success rate that landed them the 22nd-best PP last season, they need to become more dynamic.
Carl Gunnarsson showed flashed of being a good PMD last season, but that just isn't good enough. Jesse Blacker and Jake Gardiner look to be those offensive defenseman the Blue and White need, but they're still in need of one or two seasons in development.
So what can Burke do?
Simply put, he can dip into the free agent pool. And this guy believes he will. But who should he pick up? Names like Andrei Markov, Kevin Bieksa, Joni Pitkanen, and Christian Ehrhoff seem to be the premiums out there. Unfortunately, they'll require a good amount of coin, and save for Markov, likely a term exceeding 3 years. In the Leafs situation, if they want Blacker and Gardiner to be up anytime soon, a 3 year deal on any of those free agents won't help.
I'm sure you can see where this is going, but two former Leafs would fit quite well with Brian Burke's needs. The only decision to be made, is whether or not he wants to pay 1M or if he wants to pay 3-4M. Ian White was traded by Burke to the Flames in a deal that included Phaneuf and Aulie; two defensemen that will be counted on to provide the Leafs with shutting down the opposition this year. He was traded the next season to Carolina, who flipped him to San Jose. It seems the smallish defenseman really only fit in with the Leafs, and, at a good price, a 27-year old would have the opportunity to quarterback a Leafs power play in need of improvement.
His other option? Just won the Stanley Cup, and lead that team in points by a defenseman in the play offs. His name? Thomas Kaberle. It's no secret Thomas loves Toronto, and Toronto loves Thomas. After finally getting his Cup, Thomas could provide the leadership and motivation that many the media had questioned he was capable of in his tenure in the Big Smoke. He's only amassed less than 40 assists once since the lockout; the 08-09 season shortened thanks to Cam Janssen. At the right price, Thomas could step right back into the role he had before he was with the Leafs. Only difference now, is the power play has a down-low threat in Lupul and Kessel (and probably Center X). Paired with Gunnarsson or Phaneuf on the PP, and, on paper, you're looking at a lethal 1st power play.
The focus will truly be on that #1 pivot, but outside of Richards, Burke really has no options in the FA market. That's why this guy thinks BB's biggest move July 1st won't be a centre; it'll be Thomas Kaberle or Ian White.