Sitting back, or leaning forward?


With the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final upon us, it will soon be time for full-fledged Leafs speculation – if not already.

After hockey has clued up for another season and the draft rolls around, things really kick it up a notch in Leafs land.

From my own experience, at my previous blog, it seemed that June and July would easily ring up the most buzz (the Kaberle situation probably helped.) So before the rush, let’s try to discuss the bigger picture for Burke and the Leafs, without being too focused on one name.

What’ll it be? Patchwork, minor tinkering, or full on aggressiveness?

We’ll have to wait and see, because anyone who can pull off a trade for a 24 year old Dion Phaneuf in mid-season isn’t exactly predictable. All we can do is discuss the options in front of Burke, Nonis, and anyone else they need to have involved.

Of course the first base to cover is the elusive top line center. We’ve been talking about this for how long now? Three years – since Sundin’s departure.

The “full throttle” approach on this type of player will require one of two things; a lot of cap space, or assets in the form of young players and draft picks. The Leafs have a lot of the former, and not so much of the latter.  This isn’t to say the Leafs are bare of prospects – it simply isn’t true. But to trade one of Kadri, Colborne, or even Gardiner would put a decent dent in that pool.

The Leafs can either commit 7-8 million to a free agent (there’s only one option) or move out a top prospect, picks, and possibly an RFA (Gunnarsson.) It would be a significant deal that would change the landscape of the forward corps, and potentially the team’s plans for the future.

Flipside? Burke doesn’t go all out on a center. He makes a small upgrade and adds a Dubinsky or Weiss type of player who can tally 50 points, much like Grabovski. This leaves the team with Grabovski – (insert name) – Bozak down the middle, which is still better than just Grabovski and Bozak.

Chances are Burke considers Joffrey Lupul a top line winger. He isn’t going anywhere, unless on another purely salary-focused deal. Pushing Lupul down the depth chart gives you over 7 million on the third line with him and Colby Armstrong alone – so it’s really up in the air whether the Leafs want to upgrade in that area.

This is obviously dependent on MacArthur re-signing. Otherwise the winger situation changes. But he’ll sign, no sweat.

If the Leafs don’t want to spend any cash on the third line, with no elite center at the top of the heap, they could be in trouble.

While Burke has clung to the idea of top six – bottom six, he doesn’t seem to have the top six figured out. And if he wants to go the Weiss, Dubinsky type route, he’ll need some scoring through three lines, not two.

If the team can land a top center, then he may be able to get away with it. But another winger wouldn’t hurt, either way.

The other two holes in the lineup that everyone’s discussing are the backup goalie situation and a puck mover for the blue line at a decent price.

Goaltending has haunted the team for years, so it’s unlikely that Burke will want to go into next season with any question marks between the pipes. While Reimer seems to be the man, it’s hard to argue with the fact that there’s a chance (no matter how miniscule) that he could have been a flash in the pan to some extent.

He’ll be great again, I believe. But expect his numbers to show he’s at least human in his sophomore campaign. And then again, there’s a chance he could get injured.

Enter Gustavsson – the prime candidate for a bounce-back season. I mean, things couldn’t get much worse, could they?

Considering Wilson will likely push Reimer to 60 games or so (Cam Ward logged 74 this past season), the Monster only has to worry about 20-25. If he fails miserably, the Leafs could always hand a few games to another up and comer like Rynnas or Scrivens.

Training camp is really the place to sort this type of thing out, so maybe Burke will hold off on signing another tender until the very late stages of the offseason, and may not even bother. I’d personally like to see one of the guys in the organization make the jump, but we’ll see what happens.

And finally, Burke will try to add a defenceman who can handle the puck. This will almost certainly come by way of free agency, unless he entertains another potential deal for J.M. Liles (unlikely.)

This one is a little tricky. There’s affordable, like Ian White. And there’s not so affordable, like Wisniewski, Ehrhoff, Bieksa, or Pitkanen.

At first I thought the Leafs would play it safe on this one, and not get into anything serious – adding a guy for 3 million or so. But Burke really doesn’t like to mess around when it comes to defenceman, so I could see him surprising a lot of people (myself included) with a big name signing here. I’m not sure if it’s the smartest move, but this is one area where I think it’s particularly tough to predict what he’s looking into.

It’ll be interesting to see what pans out in the coming weeks, but you can be sure that Burke will pull a major deal. Actually, no, you can’t be sure. I really have no idea what he’s going to do.

But whether it’s all or nothing, I’m trying to prepare myself the best I can.

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