Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Rumors: Should Brian Burke Stand Pat At The Deadline?

February 6th, 2012 14 Comments

For those of you familiar with the Toronto Blue Jays organization you’ll remember a time when Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick was referred to as “stand pat” for his long standing refusal to make a move at the deadline, or at least refusing to make a deal of any consequence.

To all the haters, Gillick always contested that he would make a splash on the trade market when the right opportunity came around and not before, which is exactly what Gillick did when he shipped Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres in return for future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar and home run hitting World Series Hero Joe Carter.

The New York Times called the deal “one of the most stunning trades in years”, and deservedly so. Of course McGriff and Fernandez failed to live up to expectations for the Padres, while Carter and Alomar helped turn the also-ran Blue Jays into back-to-back World Series Champs!

Such is the case with big name trades—sometimes they work, sometimes they fail. The key is to make these types of impact deals at the right time so as to maximize your teams ability to take advantage of the skill-set and talent that an impact player/s can bring to the fold.

While nobody is suggesting that the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the same position the Blue Jays were in December of 1990 when Gillick made the Alomar deal there is every indication that the Leafs are at a crossroads and in need of direction.

Year over year, the Maple Leafs are a much improved team, not just in the standings where they currently occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but also fundamentally where offense is up (sixth best in the NHL) while the defense, admittedly still a work in progress, is improving slowly but surely.

With just two and a half weeks before the February 27th NHL trade deadline, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has a number of tough decisions to make.

First, Burke must decide if his current squad is playoff worthy. If Burke thinks his team is playoff bound, Burke must decide if the current collection of players can make a push once the playoffs start or if his squad is destined to becoming an early casualty to a higher seed.

Burke has said from the get-go that he is not a fan of just making the playoffs. What Burke wants is for his team to not only make the playoffs, but to make a long run once they get there. Of course, every NHL GM wants that for his team, but you get the feeling Burke really means it—success or bust, and that does not include a first round knockout.

For Burke, there is no value in being a first round casualty. In fact, you get the impression Burke would call this season a failure should his team make the playoffs and be ousted in the first round.

While a solid argument can be made for Burke to go out and trade for a depth forward, a bruising defenseman and/or a legitimate top-centre, an equally good argument can be made for Burke to stand pat, as Gillick did before him.

While the Maple Leafs can and should make the playoffs there are doubts as to whether or not the Buds could beat the top seeded Eastern Conference teams, which should include the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers.

As good as the Maple Leafs have been this season, there are still questions between the pipes, at centre and in the physical play department that may be in need of addressing before the Blue and White can be considered a genuine playoff threat.

With all the questions surrounding Burke’s roster and the price tag for additional pieces climbing as the trade deadline inches closer, the best move Burke might make may be the ones he passes on in favor of giving his current roster and prospects a chance to prove themselves, both in the short and long term.

The addition of a Travis Moen or Sammy Pahlsson might look like a great idea, but does anyone out there really feel they are a huge upgrade over Toronto’s current group of defensive forwards which includes the likes of Mike Brown, Joey Crabb, Colby Armstrong and David Steckel?

Sure, as depth players, it doesn’t get much better than Moen and Pahlsson, but unless Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson can find those players some minutes, their contributions are likely to be minimal.

It says here if Burke can bring in one of Moen or Pahlsson for a mid-round pick he should go for it, but if the bidding gets as high as a second rounder, he already has good role players in the fold and should pass. Simply put, that kind of deal is not what Burke needs at this point and time, not at that price.

Up front Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel have combined for an impressive 56 goals and 138 points (heading into Monday nights’ tilt against the Edmonton Oilers). While Bozak is hardly a “Gucci” name, nobody can deny the trio of Bozak, Kessel and Lupul have excellent chemistry.

Which brings about the question—would going out and signing a legitimate top-six forward hurt that chemistry? Are the Maple Leafs better off leaving their top line alone?

Let’s face it, for Burke to land a legitimate top-six forward the price tag will be hefty with the likes of Mikhail Grabovski, Nazem Kadri, Luke Schenn or another prospect or top pick going the other way.

Riddle me this—why all the talk of trading Grabovski when he has 18 goals and nearly 40 points on the season? Does anyone believe Burke can bring in a player with better numbers if he chose to trade arguably the Maple Leafs most consistent forward of the past five seasons?

Sure, Grabovski is a UFA this summer, but let Burke deal with that over the summer. Why throw Grabovski—a player that has worked his butt off to get the Maple Leafs into a playoff position— away now with the Maple Leafs on the cusp of making the playoffs?

To me, there is no sense in trading Grabovski. This is a player the organization knows well, a player that works hard and has the respect of his teammates. Why trade the likes of Grabovski for a player that will likely bring a bloated contract while having to try to fit in with the current squad? Not to mention the damage that could potentially be inflicted by trading a player like Grabovski.

On the back end Burke would love to add a defenseman that could bring a measure of snarl to his lineup. Once again, don’t expect a player of that caliber (a top four defenseman) to be had for next to nothing, we are talking about Burke having to trade the likes of Schenn and a prospect to land that player— big contract or no big contract coming the other way.

From my seat, it would appear as if the Maple Leafs will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs. Even if the Leafs do make it in, it’s hard to imagine them beating the likes of Boston, Philadelphia or New York in a seven game series, so why the rush to add that big name player? Why all the hoopla over Burke needing to extensively re-tool his team?

It says here a small tweak like bringing in a depth forward would be the smart move.

Sure, we’d all love to see the likes of Jeff Carter in the Blue and White, but when you consider Carter’s contract (ten years and a cap hit of over $5 million per season) and the price Burke would have to give up to land Carter that deal is simply not worth making.

Burke is not shy about making deals and Toronto fans are chomping at the bit for the Maple Leafs to add another big name player, but with Lupul and Kessel to sign to new deals in the next couple of summers and the team playing as well as it has this season, maybe, just maybe, Burke would be better off doing what Pat Gillick did before him—stand pat?

With budding stars like Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Keith Aulie, Stuart Percy, Matt Frattin and Greg McKegg all a few seasons  away from making a major impact at the NHL level Burke is better off taking things slow. Not to mention rookie defenseman Jake Gardiner who you could argue is already making a big impact with the Maple Leafs.

Rather than trying to force the playoff issue on the Maple Leafs, why not exercise a little patience? So what if the Maple Leafs get hammered in the first round—they could use that as a growing experience, or maybe they surprise us all and earn a series victory or two…We have waited this long for a Stanley Cup contending team, what’s another year?

Until next time,



  1. Hudson says:

    This was a really great read, Mark. I think you have covered all the angles. I think that we will make the playoffs, but be hard pressed to make it out of round one – regardless if we add one impact player. I agree, this team most likely needs more time. But we’re sure looking good right now.

    I think that Burke will sit. I really do, especially if we continue this hot run. I just don’t think what we’d give up would bring enough in to change anything in terms of getting to the show, or what happens when we’re in it. Grabo CANNOT be traded. He is dominating.

    Once again, I am all for trading Kadri, however. I have seen enough of him. He shows up for his first game or two post-recall, and then is utterly invisible til he makes those mistakes. He is dead to me. Once again, a bag of pucks and a couple pylons sounds great. Horrible draft pick by Burke. I have liked almost every other move so far.

    Totally off-topic: I think we should commission an artistic hi-jacking of Reimer’s helmet. I just got a good look at the back of it last night. I already try to ignore him looking into the rafters at the buzzer to talk to his imaginary friend, but putting Jesus and Matt 14:31 on the back of your helmet is just pure fromage (forget the bit about complete rubbishness). I still can’t believe in the age of reason that this is still widely regarded as a laudable thing for someone to do. Please, King James, spare us…

  2. Mark Ritter says:

    Hey Hud-

    Yes, the Maple Leafs are likely playoff bound, but it will be no easy task. I too believe the Leafs are in a need of a couple of pieces before we can really take them seriously, and that’s why I’d be ok with Burke standing pat as opposed to trying to do too much. Let’s see what we have before we remodel. After the playoffs Burke should know what this team is missing and he can go out and get it in the summer via FA or trade.

    As for Reimer’s helmet, I must confess I haven’t seen the back of it. Those goalies are a quirkey bunch. As long as he wins I could give a flying fadoo what’s on the mask!


  3. nhl fan says:

    Good article.I think if the opportunity to get a top end goalie presents itself they should do it. As for Hudson, does he choose to ignore the turnovers Grabo causes. He has set up the game winning or tieing goals four times this season alone.Oh for the opposite team.

  4. Mark Ritter says:

    NHL Fan-

    The question about Toronto’s goaltending is a sticky one. Sometimes it looks good, sometimes it’s a question mark, for now, Burke will stay put with Reims and Gus.

    Grabovski, “is what he is”. That said, when you consider the overall numbers, he is very good for what he costs vs. what he contributes.

    Grabo currently sits third in team scoring, 51st overall in the scoring race, 39th in goals scored, owns a plus/minus rating of +8 (96th overall) and second on the team to only Luke Schenn and Jake Gardiner who each own a plus ten rating, has a shot percentage of 17.3% (42nd overall), a measly 14 PIM’s (so he doesn’t cost the team PK’s), 4 PP goals (67th), has 30 givawys- but off-sets that with 32 takeaways (+2) and is on pace for 62 points which should keep him in the top 50 in scoring.

    If you ask me Grabo is good value…

  5. Hudson says:

    Well said. The only numbers that lie are the ones nhl fan posted, heh. You have to back out and look bigger picture. You can’t just look at one stat and hang your hat on that. Well done Mark.

    I also think going for a ‘top end’ goalie makes zero sense right now. We have to build this team, not tear it down. Imagine what we’d have to give up. And I don’t fancy big money goaltenders, the likes of what we have seen. I like the potential in our duo right now. I’d rather land a couple power forwards.

    BTW, I would trade Connolly over Grabo in a heartbeat. The difference in production, close-to-point production, and effort is astonishing. The glass man can’t compare. Connolly & Kadri for a nice power forward. Add a 2nd pick for a sweet one.

    C’mon Burkie! Surprise us!

  6. nhl fan says:

    I agree Grabo is playing well right now. But just remember two years ago Burke couldn’t give him away. No way will Burke invest 4 or 5 years in him, maybe 3 years. I think you are looking at the Antropov situation all over. Hudson there are probably 10 scoring power forwards in the n.h.l and you want two of them. What you think that would be cheaper than an upgrade in goal.

  7. Mark Ritter says:

    NHL fan- Grabbo is a much better player than Antropov, but I hear you, Grabbo does have his faults. The thing is, when you consider his output he is actually a bargain right now. When you consider the lack of forwards available in the UFA market it would seem as if Grabbo is in the drivers seat this summer. Will Burkie give him 5 years? I doubt it, so we may not see Grabbo back with the club. I do, however, hope Burke can work things out with Grabbo, but with Colborne and Kadri coming on strong, Burke may chose to part ways and invest in other areas and players, mainly Lupul and Kessel- amongst others.

    As far as goalies go- who is available that is head and shoulders above Gus and Reimer? Personally, I just don’t see a huge upgarde available- thoughts? Who is out there that Burkie could land?

  8. nhl fan says:

    Mark, I was thinking someone like Josh Harding or Jonathan Bernier. It would be a difficult deal to make but could be done possibly.

  9. Hudson says:

    NHL Fan, I was hoping for one, not two. I, and in jest btw, meant trade Con and Kad +2nd pick for one guy. Because I dislike both those players, not that it makes any sense. And no, I don’t think even that is possible right now. But I sure always get surprised by Burke.

    Grabo is just our best center right now. It’s undisputed. And it’s the position we are most in need at. So I don’t see the sense in trading him. But the UFA thing might force Burke’s hand. We shall see..

  10. Mark Ritter says:

    NHL fan-

    Bernier is an interesting name. He has been linked to a possible trade involving Rick Nash out of Columbus. Of course, there would be more to the trade than that, but I think if the Kings are going to make a deal involving Bernier it will have to be for a top-tier forward, which the Leafs do not really have- not that they are willing to trade for a goalie anyways. As questionable as Reims and Gus are, I believe Burke views his goaltending duo as adequate with a measure of upside. Burke has said he would like to deal from a position of depth (defense)to help shore up his forwards. I just dont see him dealing for Harding or Bernier. don’t get me wrong, Bernier would be a nice asset, and maybe if Burke cannot re-sign Gus he calls LA in the summer, but not now, not with hsi two goalies playing so well of late…

  11. Mark Ritter says:

    NHL fan-

    Bernier is an interesting name. He has been linked to a possible trade involving Rick Nash out of Columbus. Of course, there would be more to the trade than that, but I think if the Kings are going to make a deal involving Bernier it will have to be for a top-tier forward, which the Leafs do not really have to spare- not that they are willing to trade for a goalie anyways. As questionable as Reims and Gus are, I believe Burke views his goaltending duo as adequate with a measure of upside. Burke has said he would like to deal from a position of depth (defense)to help shore up his forwards. I just dont see him dealing for Harding or Bernier. Don’t get me wrong, Bernier would be a nice asset for the Leafs to have, and maybe if Burke cannot re-sign Gus he calls LA in the summer in an attempt to land him, but not now, not with his two goalies playing so well of late…

  12. Mark Ritter says:

    Hud, agreed! Grabbo is our best centre at this point and time. Bozak is good, but I think his game gets elevated by having Kes and Lupes on his line. Yep, Grabbo is our best, which is not all that comforting, but he’s all we got, so why trade him when you are on the cusp of a playoff birth? If Burke could swindle the likes of Nash (who is a winger) out of Columbus I would be comfortable moving him to centre and shipping out Grabbo, but unless Burke is getting a player capable of 70+ points in return for a package of players that may include Grabbo, I wouldn’t do it, period!

  13. Hudson says:

    Mark, pretty much all I am doing is repeating you, lol. I agreed with you first.

    I really do think we make the playoffs. With the team as we are, I think it’s likely we lose in the first round. And possible we win. That ain’t bad. And a good new player doesn’t nudge us up beyond possible. You are right, this team needs time. Burke pulled magic to get us to this point. Now water the seedlings, with a dash of miracle grow now and then.

    I am so looking forward to Philly tonight. That was not our Leafs vs Peg. Next two games are two wins. I feel it.

  14. lester says:

    i hope burke don’t listen to all he reads the leafs mighttttt
    make the play offs only if other teams loose and toronto wins or ties od game…..i’am not going to write a full page of bull just
    facts. if burke can get the right two players in trade the leafs
    are stanley cup contenders think not

    A TEAM

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