As much as Leaf fans have been on edge since the NHL Expansion of 1967, Leafs President and General Manager, Brian Burke, has to be sitting on the edge of his seat this offseason.
When Burke took office in Toronto a few months into the 2008 season, he made it clear that he was not interested in a re-build plan of any sort. Despite his belief in immediate success, Burke has made a number of positive moves for future intentions. Much of this is overlooked by Leafs Nation.
During Burke’s tenure in Toronto, he has been able to sign a number of youngsters out of college as well as obtain through trade. From forwards Matt Frattin and Tyler Bozak, to defensive upstarts Luke Schenn, Jake Gardiner, and Carl Gunarsson, these are all highly sought after assets that he has brought in for future success. And let’s not forget the acquisitions of leading scorer, Phil Kessel, and surprise of the league, Joffrey Lupul. In fact, the Lupul trade just may go down as the trade of the decade. In it, the Leafs acquired Lupul and Gardiner and gave up an older, ailing defenseman in Francois Beauchemin. Not only did the trade benefit the Leafs on the ice, but it also unloaded Beauchemin’s 4+ million dollar contract that burdened the Leafs with his declining play. Enough of Burke’s past, the fact is that this plan has yet to produce a winning product.
So what now for Brian Burke? Many analysts highlight this summer as the turning point of Burke’s stint in Toronto for the simple fact that if he fails to get a quality team together that gets into the postseason, that this could possibly be the last of Burke in Toronto. It is for this reason that I believe this summer to be the most exciting offseason for Leafs Nation in quite sometime.
Before we get to the Free Agency, let’s analyze the 2012 NHL Entry Draft this Friday and the possibilities it brings for Toronto. The Leafs currently hold the 5th overall pick. Speculation last week suggested that Burke was shopping Luke Schenn to the Oilers in order to obtain the 1st overall pick from Edmonton. This rumour seemed to have some sense to the fury, as the Oilers have veteran goaltender, Nikolai Khabibulan, under contract for another year and would seem to provide the Leafs with the experience in net that they’ve expressed interest in. On the other side, the Oiler management stated that they were in the market for a young franchise defenseman.. Luke Schenn. However, Burke quickly shot down the rumour expressed by Hockey Night in Canada Insider, Elliotte Friedman. Good thing for Leaf fans, there is still a lot to gain on Friday..
The Leafs can do a lot with the 5th overall pick, and it doesn’t necessarily mean a trade. Projected prospects to be available by the time the Leafs are on the clock. Filip Forsberg is the top European League player in the draft. Scouts have reported that he is a great two-way player who excels at both ends of the ice. The only real concern being that he’s never played in North America, unlike the highly touted Russians that are also projected in the top 5 of the draft.
Alex Galchenyuk, is projected to land at #5, as reported by TSN Insider Bob McKenzie. Galchenyuk was a line-mate of projected #1 prospect, Nail Yakupov, for the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League. Galchenyuk grew up in America and has played North American hockey his entire life, ass opposed to Forsberg in Europe. The style of hockey oversees is difficult to guage versus the style of hockey played here. Especially in Toronto, we saw the the best goaltender in the world outside of the NHL, Jonas Gustavsson, put on a Leaf uniform and buckle under the lights. For this reason alone, the Leaf scouts may be led to pick Alex Galchenyuk either way.
With names like Rick Nash and Jordan Staal beginning to generate some thunder in trade talks this week, it will aid the mediocre upcoming Free Agency. Don’t cross Zach Parise off the Leafs agenda either. Unrealistic? Maybe. But he was the heart and soul of the New Jersey Devils all year and is an Unrestricted Free Agent this summer. He is also a native of America, which only adds to the enticing of a Brian Burke offer. Burke has a knack for American born players, and you can bet that he will do his best to obtain the franchise player in at least sending an offer to the representatives of Zach Parise.
By no mean does all of this mean that Burke will turn this team on its head, but as stated, the Leafs have the 5th overall pick and that alone is enough to garner a lot of attention this week. Not only are the top five picks very deep, but a top 5 pick holds great value in trade talks. The draft is this Friday, so expect a ton of rumours this week around the league, and don’t expect Brian Burke and company to be silent. Burke stated at the end of the season that he looks to improve the team through trade, as the salary issues would force him to, so expect Burke to make his long awaited splash in the trade market at any point this week.