Somehow I wasn’t shocked to see reports that Phil Kessel (who scored the winner against the Islanders Tuesday night) was supposedly “in play” as we near the trade deadline on February 28, though I am a bit surprised that, with all the trade rumours floating about, this story hasn't gained more traction.
Now, some media folks and fans have been crediting Burke lately with a) being a genius and b) being willing to admit when he made a “mistake”. (For the record, I have never heard him admit a “mistake” in his time as GM with the Leafs. He said things with Versteeg, for example, “didn’t work out”, but he didn’t say that he, Burke, made a mistake.)
In any event, I understand but don’t agree with either perspective. If we want to throw the term “genius” around in hockey management terms, maybe Lamoriello has been a genius for turning the once-woeful 1980s Devils into a perennial contender since. And we could maybe attribute the accolade to Ken Holland for doing the same in
, though Jimmy Devellano set the table for him, having in turn learned his trade from Bill Torrey on the Island. Detroit
But is Burke a “genius” because he got a 21 year-old prospect and a late-round number one for Kaberle? I don’t think so. (Was Chiarelli a genius for acquiring an elite puck-moving defensemen without giving up a roster player? Or for peddling Kessel for what turned out to be
and another potential lottery pick?) Seguin
One the second point, of being willing to admit he made a mistake, yes, Burke has moved two of his own “guys”, players that he brought to town, (Versteeg and Beauchemin), but that doesn't mean he admitted those earlier moves in acquiring them were mistakes. Regardless, moving two of his own guys can’t compare with the purge of the entire roster he inherited two and a half years ago. In fact, every single player from the beginning of the 2008-’09 season, when
took over as coach, is now gone. Wilson
(One aside: as recently as Monday afternoon Burke was talking publicly about bringing in a new defenseman by the time the Leafs took the ice against the Islanders Tuesday night. That didn't sound as though he was following a well-detailed plan.)
So with this as a backdrop, could Kessel be in play? I suppose. If Burke gave up on Versteeg after less about 50 games in a Leaf uniform, it’s not inconceivable that Kessel, after almost two full seasons in blue and white, would be on the "willing-to-move" list. It’s been evident for some time that he and Wilson, like Kessel and Claude Julien before him, have different thoughts on how he should play. (Kessel continues to play a lot of 'solo' hockey, though fans won't argue with the end result on Tuesday night.)
The obvious observation is that the acquisition of Kessel was the early ‘flag in the ground’ of the Burke make-over. While not necessarily the defining move, it was Burke’s first huge step, certainly bigger than his much-trumpeted free-agent signings in the summer of ’09 (Komisarek, etc.)
Of course the Phaneuf deal, plus the recent Vertseeg/Beauchemin moves and the dispatching of a long-time Leaf (Kaberle), have continued to re-shape Burke’s roster.
But if he was to move Kessel, it would be a reversal of immense proportion. How often has he said he would do the deal again? Now, a GM has the right to change their mind as the landscape (and the team’s realities) change, of course, but it would be hard for me to believe this is something Burke is really contemplating.
That said, did you look at the team’s roster on Tuesday night—specifically the forwards? Four Leaf players, in total, have more than 30 points this season. I just have to wonder, once the Leafland euphoria of acquiring two late 2011 first-round draft choices and two more former first-rounders eases somewhat, will people realize there still aren’t many “top-six” forwards on this team? It’s a sobering analysis, this long into Burke's tenure here.
MacArthur, for example, has had a career year. His career pattern until this year did not place him as a top-six guy. Will he build on this, or is this an aberration? Interestingly, Burke sent a loud message to MacArthur's agent this week, essentially saying he's happy to keep the player, but only at the right price. Otherwise, he could be dispatched as was the useful and over-achieving Dominic Moore a couple of years ago.
True top-six forwards on the Leafs? The all-around Kulemin—yes. Kessel—yes. Grabovski for sure, based on the way he has played this season.. But after that?
As good as some “experts” are saying young Colborne will be, along with prospects such as D’Amigo, Kadri and others—and the draft choices, yes—will we still be talking about a lack of top-six talent twelve months from now?