Thirteen days. It's all General Manager Brian Burke has left. Thirteen days to fix a team struggling offensively and battered by inconsistancy. On February 28th the Trading Deadline for the 2011 NHL season will come into effect thus ending any remaining attempts at redirecting this team into the post-season. With so much weighing on the Leaf's finish to this season, Burke's under pressure to make something happen.
What the Leaf's need:
First and foremost on Burke's shopping list should be a number one centerman; someone to play alongside Kessel - who has struggled through a streaky season.
During his time playing in Boston, Kessel saw ample time playing the wing with Marc Savard. Savard - a talented puck mover - was a perfect compliment to Kessel's aggressive shooting style. In 2008-2009, the duo scored 148 points along with 23 playoff markers that following post season. However with no legitimate forward to play with in Toronto Kessel he has struggled.
The number one guy on most of Leaf Nation's wish list is Dallas Stars forward Brad Richards - a Stanley Cup winner in 2006 season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He scored 91 points that season - which he replicated last season. Richards has never been a big goal-scorer at the NHL level - never passing the 30 goal mark - but has seen consistant 70+ point seasons. It's his passing ability that makes him such a big target for the Leafs.
Other notable free agents include: Tim Connolly and Tomas Fleischman.
The Leafs first round pick is in Boston for the second consecutive year with the possibility of it being another top ten. Burke has repeatedly told the press of his intent on winning now and not rebuilding through the draft, however the team lacks top quality prospects (with a few exceptions) and should strive to restock the cupboard as best as possible.
What Burke has done thus far:
On February 9th, Burke sent thirty year-old defenseman Francois Beauchemin to his former team, the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for winger Joffrey Lupul, college prospect - and former first round draft pick - Jake Gardiner and a conditional 4th round pick in 2013.
The trade was favoured by Leaf fans as Beauchemin had struggled in Toronto scoring only 38 points in two seasons. The trade loosened up a ton of ice-time for young defensman Keith Aulie (who was aquired last year in the deal that brought over Dion Phaneuf) and has played well above expectations.
On Monday Leafs traded forward Kris Versteeg (a late off-season addition) to the Philadelphia Flyers for their 1st and 3rd round picks in 2011. The first round pick is expected to be a late one with the Flyers most likely to see extended playoff action. Versteeg will have a shot at a second Cup in as many years playing now with the team he defeated in last seasons finals.
What is left:
The biggest question for Leaf Nation this deadline will be Tomas Kaberle. The last few seasons he has been the center of most Leaf trade talk. The community has a black and white opinion on him, either you hate him or you love him.
Kaberle has spent his entire career in Toronto racking up a total of 482 (28 playoff) points in 820 (77) games. He has participated in the NHL All-star game four times (2002, 2007, 2008 and 2009) - winning the All-Star Game Accuracy Competition in 2008.
On numerous occasions Kaberle has let Leaf Nation know of his intentions on finishing his career in Toronto, but rumour has it that he has given Burke a list of teams he'd be willing to waive his No-Trade-Clause for. One team on that list is rumoured to be the Boston Bruins. Expecting to be real contenders this year the team needs something to stimulate a mediocre powerplay that sits at 16th in the NHL. Are Kaberle's days in Toronto numbered? As a fan I dearly hope not.
Along with that, the recent injury to Marc Savard has Boston shopping for a replacement centerman. Mikhail Grabovski is having a career season and leads the team in scoring. Could he be another player Boston is interested in? The Leaf's could get a good return shopping Grabovski and Kaberle together, however one that would most likely eliminate any chance of making the playoffs.
These next two weeks are going to be interesting ones here in Leaf Land. Here's hoping for the best.