Summer of Options for Brian Burke; What Will He Do?

TORONTO– You can argue what changes need to be made when discussing the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs but nonetheless GM Brian Burke still needs players to fill a roster for the upcoming season.

By going 18-9-6 after the All Star break, the Leafs finished with the 4th best record in the Eastern Conference and showed there are many positives for Leafs fans moving forward. However, only 14 player’s total from the end of the season roster are signed for next season.

Don’t expect Burke to be making any moves yet either.

Image Courtesy of Rick Madonik

“Because our staff is so heavily invested in the world championships we will address these issues after the world championships and not before,” Burke stated in his end of the year press conference. “Most of our key guys are locked up,” he added.

It’s true. Much of the team’s core is signed, with the likes of three-time 30 goal scorer Phil Kessel, Captain Dion Phaneuf and agitator Colby

Armstrong. (And yes Mike Komisarek too)

Unfortunately other key pieces not signed yet are break-out goalie James Reimer, shut down defenseman Luke Schenn and quality second liner Clarke MacArthur; who are all restricted free agents (RFA)

Realistically, Reimer and Schenn will sign back, but their pay raises are still unknown. MacArthur will demand more than the $1.1 million dollars he made this season as a 20 goal scorer so it’s still unclear what his decision will be. Perhaps his raise can be made up from pay cut streaky centre man Tyler Bozak will have to take if he is in Burke’s plans for the future.

In total, Burke will have to decide what he wants to do with the six RFA’s on his roster, as well as the six unrestricted free agents (UFA) he has too.

His free agent list includes:

RFA

2010/11 Salary

G James Reimer

$596,667

D Luke Schenn

$2,975,000

D Carl Gunnarsson

$800,000

D Matt Lashoff

$550,000

FW Clarke MacArthur

$1,100,000

FW Tyler Bozak

$3,725,000

UFA

2010/11 Salary

G J.S. Giguere

$6,000,000

FW Jay Rosehill

$512,000

FW Joey Crabb

$525,000

FW Darryl Boyce

$527,500

FW Time Brent

$575,000

FW Freddy Sjostrom

$750,000

It’s fair to say that most of the upcoming UFA’s on the roster are replaceable based on the fact they are majority third and fourth liners but there are no doubts  the Toronto Marlies call-ups did the job when needed.

With all 12 potential free agents currently off the books, Burke has only $38,190,000 tied up against next year’s salary cap; giving him well over $21,000,000 to work with.

“July 1st free agency, as always, we intend to be active on July 1st.  We have a ton of cap room and we’re looking to be active come July 1st,Burke stated confidently.

But even before July 1st free agency opens up, the 2011 NHL Draft will take place in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 24th and 25th.

Up until late February the draft looked bleak for Toronto. Fortunately  because of trades made prior to the deadline, Burke now has optimism,  making it believable the draft could determine next year’s roster. Eleven picks in total, including two in the first round are available come June but that could easily change.

“My strategy going into the draft is we have two first picks and a second. We are willing to entertain options to move up with two of those picks, but we are going to pick twice,” said Burke before adding, “If we can trade one of the firsts and our second or the other of the firsts and a second and move up to pick higher in the first round we’ll do that, but we like the depth in this draft and we plan to keep two picks. That’s the plan right now.”

Image Courtesy of Graig Abel

Burke has many options to fill his roster but it’s strategic finding the right men for the right job; which is easier said than done. The best chance to aleviate the desperation of having a top line centre is to sign upcoming UFA Brad Richards. Outside of Richards, the UFA names trail off heavily. There is potential in both young centres Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri, but ask yourself if either of them will truly give the Leafs a better top line then what Richards would give at 32 years old. The main attribute that could separate Richards from the blue and white is the price it will cost to sign him at his age, but depending on the length of the contract is possible.

Special teams are another issue facing next year’s team. Considering they have been in the bottom of the league for the last three seasons, it’s difficult to pin point who or what will help them. A full season of Reimer playing goal surely will increase the penalty-kill success, but he can’t score on the power-play. Perhaps if offensive minded defenseman Jake Gardiner is able to continue his development through the off-season, training camp would have a surprise to quarterback the power-play; but that’s optimism at its finest.

The World Championships will wrap up May 15th, opening up the official off-season for Burke. There are many reasons to believe that transactions will be made. Some could go unnoticed but none will go without opinion or criticism.

Anything and everything he does will be tested at training camp in the fall, but for Burke’s sake and the city of Toronto’s patience, this time next year he cannot be quoted as saying what he had to say following this past season.

“When you miss the playoffs your season is a failure and that’s the case here. The goal has to be to be a play-off team and when you’re not successful at that, in my opinion your seasons a failure.”

Full Leafs Rosters with Salaries at www.capgeek.com

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