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