Holding onto 8th place by one single point over Washington as I sit down and type words onto the screen, the Leafs look to a playoff berth for the first time since the NHL Lockout. However, the stretch drive doesn’t look easy for the Buds as games start to tighten up and the lack of abilities along the boards begin to shine through.
Brian Burke has always been busy since his arrival and Toronto, and with a young bubble team, fans expect much of the same.
It’s pretty easy to see what the Blue & White are after – size, size and more size. Amongst their Top Nine forwards are the likes of Phil Kessel, Clarke MacArthur and Mikahil Grabovski. Not exactly a group of forwards to strike fear in their opponents.
Beyond that, the goaltending has been a roller coaster of emotions for fans in Southern Ontario, as the duo of Gustavsson and Reimer continue to platoon for starts. Both boast league average numbers in the save percentage department, with Jonas Gustavsson being an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the season.
The defense has seen it’s issues defensively, but are a very deep and young group who push the attack well and can hang their hat on the fact they are one of the Top 5 in points produced thus far in the season. This can be atributed to the resurgence of Captain Dion Phaneuf, the acquisition of John-Michael Liles (who re-signed earlier in the season), the emergence of rookie Jake Gardiner and the continued development of young towering rearguard, Cody Franson.
With the depth Toronto has on the back end, comes the ability to move bodies off of it for upgrades up front. The names of Franson, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson, Keith Aulie and Korbinian Holzer seem to be the front runners in the rumour mill as Brian Burke attempts to parlay a young defender into a Top Six forward with some beef.
So who are these forwards who might be possible?
James Van Riemsdyk
Young, big and skilled, JVR has been in the rumor mill with Toronto for a while. It’s no secret that Brian Burke covets the American forward, and their have been multiple reports about discussions revolving around him and Leafs defender, Luke Schenn. Both are young, with some untapped potential, and bring a need to the respective clubs who would acquire them, however their would likely be some pieces needed to be added on either side.
Surprised to see him available, but reports suggest that he’s willing to move and has named roughly five teams he’d be willing to go to with Toronto believed to be one of them. Why? He’s a hometown boy. He brings size to the wing and is a legitimate Franchise Player for the Leafs to build around. The asking price is quite possibly very high including, young roster players, top prospects and first round draft choices. But Burke gets what he wants. The question remains: is he willing to pay the price?
Reports suggest Carter is on his way out immediately. He’s owed a long contract with a roughly 5.5 Million Dollar cap hit and brings size, two-way ability and scoring down the middle for a team in need. Toronto has had a hole up top since Mats Sundin’s departure, and Carter would fill that hole as another hometown boy. Is Burke willing to take on that long contract for a troubled player? It’s been suggested that the price for Carter is much lower than you’d expect. Might be a case of buying low.
Pancake Penner is a lost cause in LA, or so they say. After failing to get anything going since the move to the Kings, LA is more than willing to move him for different help, likely in the scoring department. Would a Clarke MacArthur interest them? Probably. With Penner on an expiring contract it’s a small risk. Burke would likely try to peddle one of his contracts past this season for Dustin, in an attempt to shed some dollars for next year.
At this point it’s a wait-and-see mentality in Toronto, but if I’ve learned anything watching Brian Burke… it’s to expect the unexpected.