Let’s face it: when your team finishes where the Leafs have for the past few seasons, you look for any signs of hope. But mostly, since you can’t celebrate championships or even a great playoff run, you enjoy the little things, like waiting for an unexpected free agent signing, seeing if they can pull off any interesting trades or a great draft.
In other words, you keep believing that better times lie just ahead.
I read a comment from the Leafs’ Director of Amateur scouting the other day, which reinforced for me the notion that Burke will do everything he can not to have his scouts sitting idly by come draft day. Burke has said many times he doesn’t want these guys, who work hard all year long, to be sitting around with nothing to do for two rounds.
I don’t believe it’s about trying to “make up” for the lost opportunity to get either Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall, because Burke loves Kessel. That trade will, rightly so, be debated for years to come, as we’ll all assess how each of the players- and teams- involved do. But for Burke, that’s old news.
It’s more that he knows that you need good youngsters in the pipeline, and the best way to make that happen is still the draft. He’s done a good job of signing U.S. college free agents like Bozak along with Europeans like Gustavsson, and that certainly helps. But you need to stockpile draft choices, so if he can move someone and get back a pick – even a second-rounder- without disturbing his “plan”, he will do it.
The biggest pieces he has to move right now are the much-discussed Tomas Kaberle (that will happen) and young Luke Schenn. Either player could net some interesting returns.
My reference to Schenn is based purely on my own thought that he was not a Burke draftee, and while he showed progress in the second half of his sophomore season, I wonder if the Leafs believe he has a much higher ceiling.
I realize that to deal a young defenseman with such apparent promise would seem to be totally against Burke’s often-repeated mantra of building from the back end- in goal and on defense. And since they are already planning to move Kaberle, they likely wouldn’t be keen on moving a 21 year-old former number one draft choice that they still control from a contractual standpoint. They don’t have a lot of high-end depth on the back end and losing two defenders without capable replacements at the ready would leave them short-handed.
Yet Gunnarsson’s surprise development gives them a bit of flexibility, since they still have veteran leadership on defense from Komisarek and Beachemin, both of whom should be way more comfortable and relaxed in blue and white and therefore much better this coming season. Throw in the new “captain” (Phaneuf) and you have a core of four guys- two young, two very experienced veterans, to build around. (The Leafs still have Exelby, Van Ryn and Finger, if needed.)
Burke does surprising things, and usually goes big. So I’m sensing he makes a deal on the draft floor to get into the first round- and into the top 10.