Coming off last nights stunning collapse at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in need of some consistency in the stretch run of this 2011-12 NHL season. The Leafs saw their 4-1 third period lead quickly slip away before loosing 5-4 in a shootout. Although they left a crucial point out on the ice, the point they did gain was enough to move the Leafs into 8th spot in the Eastern Conference with a 25-19-6 record. The team is 4 points back of the 6th place Ottawa Senators with 3 games in hand however they are a mere 1 point clear of the 9th place Florida Panthers who have 2 games in hand on the Buds. With 32 games remaining on their schedule, the Leafs will be looking to rack up as many points as possible which makes every game from here on out extremely meaningful. In order for the Leafs to end their 7 year playoff drought, the team must make a few changes to their current roster.
General Manager Brian Burke will be looking to acquire a big top-line forward, preferably a center, prior to the February 27th trade deadline. Burke, known for making his deals weeks before the deadline, will be looking to make a move sooner rather than later. The majority of the Leafs moves during Burke's tenure as GM have occurred weeks in advance of the deadline including the blockbuster trade that landed them defenseman and current captain Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames on January 31 2010. The Leafs will be looking to add a player that could increase production of the first line after seeing that centers Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly have not been able to put the full potential of All-Star wingers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on display. Bozak has recorded 8 goals and 19 helpers for 27 points while Connolly has tallied 7 goals and 17 assists for only 24 points. This is not exactly the production that the Leafs front office is hoping for out of their top centers.
It has been widely speculated that Burke will be a large player in acquiring Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks, who are sitting 13th in the Western Conference with a 19-23-7 record, will most likely be sellers at the deadline. The chances of the Leafs landing the 26 year old Regina, SK native are fairly high due to the strong ties that Burke has with the Ducks organization and his history of doing business with them. The Leafs and Ducks have made several key deals with each other including the trade that sent Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner to Toronto in exchange for Francois Beauchemin. The asking price for Getzlaf will be high since the Ducks are in a rebuilding mode. A possible deal could feature several prospects and draft picks going to the Ducks for Getzlaf. Although the Leafs are in need of a top tier center, Burke would not be opposed to dealing for Ducks winger Bobby Ryan. At the age of 24, Ryan would provide an instant spark to the Leafs offensively while being locked up through the 2014-15 season at a very manageable $5.1 million cap hit. It will be tough to find another player who is as young, talented and has a more convenient contract. What makes Ryan even more appealing is that the asking price is a lot lower than that of Getzlaf's.
If the Leafs are not able to acquire Ryan Getzlaf, other centers that are available include Buffalo Sabres' Derek Roy and Columbus Blue Jackets' Jeff Carter. The latter option is a long shot seeing as very few teams are willing to take on Carter's 11 year $58 million contract. If Burke is unsuccessful in obtaining the center he is pursuing, he will then turn his attention to acquiring some secondary scoring on the wings. Earlier this month, speculation began to heat about the Leafs possibly working on a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers for young forward James van Riemsdyk. Luke Schenn was rumored to be headed to the Flyers until Van Reimsdyk was diagnosed with a concussion, ending talks between the two clubs. Recent reports have surfaced stating that the Leafs have interest in Blue Jackets winger Rick Nash. Nash indeed wants out of Columbus however the asking price for the face of the franchise is higher than any other player currently on the trade market.
As for the players that Burke is possibly shopping, names such as Mikhail Grabovski, Nazem Kadri and Luke Schenn could be on the move and are appealing to most NHL teams. Any of those players would be a good fit for a rebuilding team like the Ducks and Blue Jackets, and with the exception of Kadri, could provide a boost for a Stanley Cup contending team. Nikolai Kulemin may also be of interest to several teams. The winger has suffered a huge drop off from last year’s 30-goal total, only scoring 5 goals in 49 games however the 25 year old has a long career ahead of him.
Brian Burke has stated that he would make a trade before the deadline, however he is in no hurry to move any of his players. The deal he makes must be right for the Toronto Maple Leafs and imporve a team that is trying to make a successful playoff push while also improving the future of this franchise.
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