As with any team in a rebuilding mode, taking baby steps is required.
The Leafs under the tutelage of Brian Burke have done an excellent job of re-tooling an empty prospect cuboard and a team largely devoid of any real toughness.
Beginning with deadline deals for Antropov and Moore, Burke parlayed 2 pending UFAs which he did not intend to retain into two 2nd round draft picks. The Tampa trade worked out in that it paid our looming debt for signing Frogren.
As the season wound toward a close winning the Bozak and Hanson lotteries was another win for Burkie in developing a stronger prospect base.
An excellent 09' draft with a high end skill prospect like Nazem Kadri and a fast, tough remaining draft class was also a success in developing some organizational depth and toughness.
The Kubina trade was an excellent salary dump (no player makes $5 million or more on the Leafs now) and Leaf fans will enjoy Exelby's ferocious open ice hitting ability.
Colin Stuart was later parlayed with a 7th rounder and Stralman for Primeau and a 2nd rounder, again building up our draft pick reserves. A decent trade...Primeau for Stuart and a seventh and Stralman for a 2nd.
The free agent acquisitions of Beauchemin, Komisarek, and Gustavsson have all been heralded and are very real tangible improvement to the Leafs back end and in goal.
Now, here we are in the Kaberle for a top 6 forward meltdown.
But really, is that the smartest move???
Burke's agenda for the first 6 months of his tenure was:
Restock the prospect and draft picks cupboard...CHECK!
Improve Organizational Toughness...CHECK!
Develop a stronger Defense core..CHECK!
Get a Backup goalie that pressures Toskala...CHECK!
Create competition for jobs at all positions...CHECK!
He's done a pretty impressive job thus far. Kaberle with 2 years at $4.25M is still our best player and an offensive presence on the PP and 5 on 5.
Perhaps now let's just continue a little more of the above and address this top 6 question next year, with a year under all the prospects belt (Stefanovich, DiDomenico, Stalberg, Mitchell, Hanson, Bozak, Tlutsy, Kadri, etc.). Maybe we find out that there's some top 6's within the organization ready in 2010?
Next year with contracts and buyouts coming off the books and all the other above questions answered we can parlay a top 6 forward free agent or two and start competing seriously for playoff spots and beyond.
It is a process and turning 2 or 3 of these excess Dmen into draft picks would be just as valuable at this stage as adding a top 6 forward.
Kaberle is still tradeable at the deadline or next summer (I know it might be limited based on his NTC and the Leafs performance)...but we'll see. He might not be a bad guy to keep.
This team as it stands is a 7-10 team in the East. After some more refurbishing over another season with Burke, next year we might be a 5-7 team...and so on...
The line-up below illustrates that obviously there are excess players at both forward and defense. Guys like Stajan,Ponikarovsky,Stempniak, Mayers, Pogge, VanRyn, and Frogren could all be packaged different places to meet different teams needs and return for them is likely picks/prospects. Give up on Finger we’re stuck with him and White is beloved and has value so the right deal would need to come up. Let’s see what Burke does and let’s see what the players do now in this new environment.