As I sit here enjoying a cool, crisp, glacier fresh beer after a 9-3 Maple Leafs victory, the February 28 Trade Deadline enters my mind as I ponder how Brian Burke will fast-track Toronto to the playoffs.
He has once again cemented his stance to acquire players that will help the team immediately, rather than the future. His reluctance to stockpile draft picks might be concerning, but just how far are the Leafs from post-season berth? Well, any critic can point to numerous issues that have plagued the team’s chances, most notably the special teams, but the most pressing need has to be a first-line center to feed Phil Kessel the puck (not to mention add some size to the top-six unit).
Will Burke wait until the off-season to throw money at an unrestricted free agent, or will he attempt to remedy the Leafs’ woes via the trade route on February 28? If it’s the latter, it’s crucial Burke doesn’t trade any of Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur or Kris Versteeg for another second-line forward. If so, the same old song and dance will continue and the Leafs will spin their tires as one the NHL’s worst teams. Burke has an abundance of second-line forwards at his disposal and the only way to move forward at this point is to acquire a first-line center. Whether that’s available on February 28 is another question entirely and overpaying for a pending UFA, like Brad Richards, could prove costly.
With that in mind, just how many options are available for Burke? The current group of forwards has proven to be inconsistent, as expected from a core of secondary scorers. And it’s unlikely he’s willing to part with more draft picks, so the current roster will have to be dissected to upgrade one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses.
So which players might be on the hit-list come Febraury 28? Well, besides nearly the entire team, here’s my guess on the players that could lure a nice return:
Francois Beauchemin, 30, $3.8 million cap-hit: With only a year remaining on his contract, the veteran defenseman could be a valuable commidity for a team looking to add some depth for a playoff run. He isn’t worth a first-round draft pick, but Burke isn’t interested regardless so if Beauchemin is indeed on the way out, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s packaged with a forward.
Tomas Kaberle, 32, 4.25 million cap-hit: The story that just never dies. Like every other year, Kaberle and his ghastly no-trade clause will once again be in question. Will Kaberle decide he wants a shot at the Stanley Cup, or play out his contract like Mats Sundin? It’s anyone’s guess, but Kaberle could net a nice return if he decides to waive. If not, re-signing the rearguard is crucial.
Tyler Bozak, 24, $.875 thousand cap-hit: The playmaker is having a sophomore slump and is struggling to live up to the hype of last season’s impressive stint with the Leafs. His play has improved of late and he certainly has the potential to become a decent center in the NHL. Of all players, I have a feeling Bozak is likely on the way out.
Mikhail Grabovski, 26, $2.9 million cap-hit: Personally, I think the Leafs should retain Grabovski, as he is an excellent secondary scorer and is capable of both scoring goals and creating plays quite adequately. However, his recent hot-streak has GMs knocking on Burke’s door and it would be foolish for Burke not to listen. If a lopsided deal is offered, Grabovski could be dealt.
Clarke MacArthur, 25, $1.1 million cap-hit: The pending restricted free agent is due for a hefty raise this summer, displaying great chemistry with Grabovski. In fact, it may be in the Leafs’ best interest to keep the duo intact considering how effective they have been together. However, if a deal sweeps Burke off his feet, I fully expect him to pull the trigger. As he had said, there’s basically no untouchables on this team. Considering how the Leafs acquired MacArthur, maximizing his value could prove beneficial.
Kris Versteeg, 24, $3.083 million cap-hit: Now on pace for 60 points, Versteeg is delivering as advertised. However, he is another valuable commodity that Burke could package for a nice return. As I said, the Leafs currently possess too many second-line forwards, and they must sacrifice at least one (in a package deal) to upgrade the top line. It’s only a gut feeling, but Versteeg could be the odd-man out considering the attention he has been garnering from other general managers.
So, the options are there, but what exactly is available for Burke to upgrade the Leafs? Besides the obvious in Richards, Burke’s targets might be revealed as the trade deadline approaches.
Until then, Leafs fans can only hope its players don’t turn cold and decrease in trade value.
One thing is for certain… change is on the horizon.