The Summer of Burke

As the National Hockey League Entry Draft draws closer, many in Leafs Nation have begun to speculate if general manager Brian Burke will pursue an external asset in the form of a number-one center.

The need for such an asset has been abundantly clear since Mats Sundin fled for a certain team that shall not be named. Many have auditioned for the role, and some even found limited success, but no player has been able to sustain any sort of consistency to solidify a legitimate first-line that meets the NHL standards to succeed. Since Burke took the helm as Leafs' GM, he has imported many assets to instil faith in a franchise in dire need of it. And while Leafs fans remain patient to declare their team a legitimate contender, it's fair to assess the Leafs as a respectable club on the verge of a better tomorrow. But in Burke's limited time as GM, he has yet to remedy the team's most glaring need... a number-one center.

If the speculation heading into the Leafs' 2011 off-season proves accurate, then this summer could be a significant moment for Burke, the Leafs, and its fans. If Burke is to finally add a number-one center to the Leafs roster, then the likelihood of targeting unrestricred free agent Brad Richards is obviously high. But with the recent trade rumors surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers and Jeff Carter, perhaps there is another option for Burke to consider.

Ever since Tomas Kaberle denied a trade that would have sent him to the Flyers in exchange for Carter (and other assets), the 26-year-old center has been linked to the Leafs various times since. The idea of absorbing an 11-year contract doesn't seem to bother many fans, and maybe it shouldn't considering it is likely to lower his trade value, but there are other things to consider besides his contract. My personal opinion, after mulling over the possibility for a few days, is that the Leafs should stay away. I don't doubt that Carter would be an impactful player for the Leafs, and he'd probably contribute many 30-40 goal seasons in his tenure, but---as often the case with trade rumors---the allure of blockbuster deals can sometimes create misconceptions. For one, Carter is similar to Phil Kessel in that he is a one-dimensional player. Although his defensive acumen is superior, he still ranked seventh among Flyer forwards in shorthanded ice-time, and has been criticized for an unwillingness to backcheck or enter the dirty areas. And while his goal-scoring ability would add some firepower upfront, it wouldn't add any new dimensions offensively, as he's a shoot-first type of player (led the Flyers with 335 shots; 89 more than the second-ranked Daniel Briere). I should mention again that I'm not insinuating Carter is overrated, as I think he's a talented player, but if the Leafs are going to relinquish a considerable amount of assets (speculation is that Columbus is offering Jakub Voracek and the 8th overall pick) then the return must remedy the largest of needs. If Carter was an unrestricted free agent, I'd be on board for an attempt to sign him, but it just doesn't make sense for Burke to offer an already limited amount of prospects and draft picks for a player of Carter's type.

And it is due to the fact that the Leafs should be importing as much prospects and draft picks as possible that Brad Richards is a logical target. If The Fourth Period's report is accurate, then Burke is already attempting to make a significant statement for next season. Not only is Richards an elite centerman, he's accompanied with a Stanley Cup ring and is still in the prime of his career at 31 years old. Unlike Carter, he is not a goal-scorer (although he hit a career-high of 28 goals last season) and is known for his playmaking abilities. Not only would he add a new dimension to the Leafs' offense, he'd be a considerable upgrade to any centerman the Leafs have paired with Kessel--- who could realistically attain 40 goals with a centerman of Richards' caliber---thus far.

Considering Richards is likely to test the free agent waters before commiting to any team prior to July 1, the Leafs will have to pay in the viscinity of $7.5 million dollars---likely a long-term deal---to acquire the coveted centerman. Whether that's a logical deal for the Leafs is up for debate, but there's no questioning the impact he'd deliver upfront.

The only other route, if the Leafs are to acquire a center, is to target restricted free agents, or players via trade. Both options would no doubt be costly in terms of prospects and draft picks if Burke is to acquire a quality player.

So the question is, unless the Leafs draft its own number-one centerman, would you rather absorb a significant amount of salary towards the cap, or relinquish future assets to acquire an elite center for the present?

Follow me on Twitter @RonGuillet


Adam Pardes's picture

Great work, Ron. I also really enjoyed your Gustavsson piece, you're on a roll this week!

Ron Guillet's picture

Thanks Adam I appreciate the kind words! I just hope it actually is a busy summer lol

Patrick Storto's picture

Surprisingly enough, one thing the Leafs management has done well is manage the salary cap. I think the Leafs are in a good position to offer a large contract to a guy like Richards who is a proven winner and plays a position and style that is hard to come by. With that said, there's going to be a lot of interest in Brad Richards. He seems like the obvious play for the Leafs, but I've come to expect that Burke doesn't work that way. So it should be interesting.

Great stuff.