Long Awaited Playoff Hopes - Deadline Going Address Leafs Needs?
With less than 48 hours to go, and the hope of the last and final playoff spot looming, Leafs GM Brian Burke has some incredibly tough choices to make. With a SO loss to the Penguins being handed out tonight, the Leafs are able to come away with a point and keep pace with the Buffalo Sabres as they lost to the Red Wings. They currently sit 5 points out of the 8th spot, with 20 games to play. They have a long long road ahead of them, but the incredible play out of this young club has a lot of people wondering... do they have a chance to squeak into that last spot? Maybe.
Earlier in the month, it looked as though Burke was throwing in the towel yet again, and continuing the rebuild. He traded defenceman Francois Beauchemin to the Ducks for forward Joffrey Lupul, and defensive prospect Jake Gardiner. He then dealt Kris Versteeg to the Flyers for a 2011 1st round pick, and 3rd round pick. Then, the most talked about player over the last few years at the deadline was moved. Thomas Kaberle, shipped to the Boston Bruins for their 2011 first round pick, 2012 conditional 2nd round pick, and highly-touted prospect Joe Colborne. The piling of the draft picks, stocking of the cupboards, and shipment of key players, looked like the signs of another failed year. But Burke denied this, said the team wasn't giving up. The general feeling was that with these key pieces gone we would see the Leafs fall down the standings again, and the salt of the Kessel trade would be further rubbed into the wound.
Despite all this, it seems as though the Leafs have defined irony. They continue to climb the standings, continue to win games, and continue to grow as a young group. Although no one is looking for the Cup this year, I think the general expectation among Leaf fans is atleast a good run at the playoffs, and we're looking to Burke right now to fulfill these expectations.
Burke has repeated again and again, that he has not given up. He has also stated that he is not willing to part with future, for now. When Beauchemin was moved, Komisarek saw increased minutes, and youngster Keith Aulie was given an incredible opportunity to play with the big club. Then came the Kaberle trade, and the Leafs were suddenly left without a power-play quarterback. That left a major whole in the back-end, and a pressing need that Burke has been persistently trying to fill since the day the trade was made. That more or less, brings us to today.
It's really no secret that the Leafs have been after a puck moving defenceman to quarter-back their powerplay. No less of a secret than the rumor about them targeting Avs' defenceman, John-Micheal Liles.
Although I would love to see Liles in blue and white, I really don't see the worth. We just got rid of Kaberle's contract, and absorbing the next year of Liles would kind of defeat the purpose. There's no doubt he has offensive upsides... but his defensive ability lacks a bit, and the reported price it would cost to land him, isn't worth it.
Another pressing need for the Leafs is a top-line centerman to play with Phil Kessel. In the past few days, Brad Richards, a highly regarded possibility by Burke, has openly said he doesn't want to play in Toronto. I doubt Burke will be stupid enough to trade away so much to get a rental, having already stated he won't do that.
Both of the Leafs' needs, addressed now, at the draft, or during the off-season, are the two hardest players to find available in the league. It was stated that the Leafs had offered on 5 different defenceman that they felt they wanted, but Liles seems to be the only "rumored" one, and the feeling is it won't be him. The price for the other "available" defenceman around the league that fit the criteria also seems to be too for Burke. The same goes for the centerman.
With the whole weight of the world on Brian Burke's shoulders, the question remains... Will these needs be addressed within these next 41 hours? Or will Leaf fans continue to wait for playoff hopes. By 3 PM Monday afternoon, we should be able to answer this.
UPDATE: (2:55pm, Sunday, February 27th) ; Chris Campoli a potential fit for Toronto? Been reading around, and from more than one place there seems to be the general consensus that if the right deal were to come around, he may be moved. He is said to be playing his best hockey so far, and his RFA status this summer could be attractive to T.O. He is a puck moving D, but is he a power-play quarterback? Who knows. Maybe he'll be wearing blue and white.
UPDATE: (7:15pm, Sunday, February 28th) ; JM Liles rumors everywhere... it's said that at the cost of a mid-round draft pick, Burke would pull the trigger. Maybe Philly's and Toronto's 3rd rounders? Or Toronto's 2nd? All that's certain is Liles would be an upgrade to the Leafs power-play should they land him.
* Doug Maclean and Nick Kypreos stated during the first intermission of the Toronto @ Atlanta game, that Nashville had offered JP Dumont and Ryan Ellis in an attempt to land breakout winger Clarke MacArthur. Can't see this happening... although Nashville is in the midst of a full defensive roster situation, I doubt they'd offer two former 1st round picks, one of whom is only 19 for a player who could only be doing so well in his current situation. Would hate to see him go... but if that's the return, i'd love to watch him leave.
** TSN's Darren Dreger is reporting to validity to this rumour.