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As rumours flourish, let’s get realistic: do the Leafs chase any of Nash, Luongo, Getzlaf or the number one overall pick?

Any time your team misses the playoffs 8 seasons in a row—and most recently as a result of one of the more memorable collapses in memory—it’s perhaps fair to say that roster upgrades might be helpful.

We’ve touched here on the usual suspect areas in recent weeks, once the 2011-’12 Leafs regular-season officially faded into the April sunset—a fade that actually started a few months earlier.  We’ve identified (not that we needed a magnifying glass)  the need for more stability in goal, a big stud on defense, another elite forward and a lot more grit across the line-up.

Hey, other than those (gaping?) holes, the Leafs are on the path to improvement, we can all acknowledge.

But as rumours begin to swirl again (why not, the draft is only a week away), we’re getting down to crunch time.  Not that anything big has to happen right away.  But my sense is the Leaf brass has been discussing—and debating—for some time just how “close” they are to two different levels of play:  a) being a playoff team in the weak Eastern Conference (weak at the low end of the division, certainly, with only four really elite teams in my view…) and b) being a team that can actually be a serious contender for the Stanley Cup.

To achieve the former requires some adjustments, for sure.  But given the status of the Conference, one would think that it would not take that much to earn a spot in the playoffs next spring.  Better and more consistent goaltending, coupled with an improved overall defensive mindset, would likely be enough to do the trick.

So if the Leafs are looking only at the playoffs as a measure of acceptable achievement, that should be easily do-able. (Well, after the last decade, I shouldn’t use the term “easily” quite so liberally…)

Now, if Burke and colleagues are truly after bigger game, and more quickly at that, then that will indeed require more than superficial bandaging.  It will necessitate acquiring or signing more players with the skill and toughness to match up with the best in the game. (It’s not unlike what we’re seeing in soccer’s Euro Cup right now:  there’s really good—and there are plenty of teams in that boat—and then there is the best in the world.  The Leafs surely are aiming, ultimately, to be the best…)

Here’s the thing:  finding those elite players, those difference-makers, is generally not an easy task.  Game-changers like Crosby, Lindros, Ovechkin, Thornton and Yzerman aren’t available in the draft every year and even if they are, when have the Leafs had a shot at players like that in recent times?  And interestingly, even those remarkable players were or have been criticized early and often (Crosby less so) in their careers, never quite measuring up to expectations, it seemed.

Finding people with the other traits we need - including leadership, work ethic and character -  is not easy, either.  Gary Roberts may be the last guy that the Leafs acquired who truly fit that mold.

This brings me to the question that Leaf fans are pondering, as they put themselves in the shoes of the Leaf inner sanctum and try to determine what moves the organization won’t only contemplate, but may actually act on in the days ahead.

To stimulate the conversation, let me frame it this way:  let’s assume (and I may be wrong in assuming this) that the Leafs will only conclude one major transaction in the next three weeks.  That timeline encompasses the upcoming entry draft, the trade scenarios under evaluation and of course the first week of post-July 1 free agency.  I’ll even grant that there could be another (semi?) “major” trade apart from any draft-day action (i.e. moving up or down from the #5 slot in the first round, which would entail moving out or bringing up key roster players…). 

So here it is: what do you, realistically, believe the Leafs will accomplish?  What will they actually do?

Are we indeed looking at a move to acquire Luongo?  What about Nash, as speculation around him naturally explodes with the draft around the corner.  (I’m  a Nash ‘liker’…I don’t necessarily love, but I like the guy.  Now, if the debate is about Kessel going the other way, I’ll let you make that determination, but I sure would look at Nash for a reasonable return.  I’m not of the school of thought that there’s no point having Nash and Kessel on the same team.  In fact, there would be a very good point.  Both are rare talents, though Nash has not, admittedly, been statistically imposing…)

Names like Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlef are surely still out there.  If they were in play before the deadline, I have to believe the Ducks—mired in mediocrity now like Leafs—are going to shake up that roster somewhat.

We also keep hearing Jordan Staal’s name, and that may be, if there was only one guy the Leafs could grab, the name I’d (personally) be most interested in.  Again, the "return" makes or breaks any deal, but he is young, a winner, a player who can do so many things for your team (including kill penalties…please…). 

But none of these players come inexpensively.  Even Luongo, with the albatross-like contract, is not, in my view, going anywhere in return for simply a bad contract and a fourth-round draft choice.  Gillis has to live in Vancouver year-round.  He’s not making that kind of a deal.

So again, put on your “reality” shoes—not your fantasy shoes today.  What’s going to happen?  Is it a big trade? Moving up in the draft to get Yakupov?  Is it sticking with what we have but then making some stellar, under-the-radar, lower-profile signings on July 1 (or even later in the summer) that will make the roster better?

Will we be talking a week from now about a blockbuster move that will live in Maple Leaf lore for years to come?

The questions are many, but we’ll have to wait and see what the actual answers are in the days ahead.  For now, what say you?


35 comments:

  1. I think the Leafs will sign Justin Schultz...

    There's your "found wallet."

    After that I expect Franson and others to be dealt.

    Perhaps a move up to get Galchenyuk or Grigorenk

    No goalies...they will roll the dice on Scrivens and Riemer because Scrivens is not waiver exempt.

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  2. Long suffering Leafs fanJune 16, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    Mike I believe that Pal Burkie is kicking the tires on said players,but I "believe" if he does pull the trigger it will be at his price, and not what the asking price is set. That being said, in my humble opinion, I think Pal Burkie is more interested in Jordan Staal-Zach Parise, and a quality backup goalie.

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  3. Staal is a name I have my eye on, too, Long Suffering. I wonder if Parise is headed to Detroit, LA or Minnesota- or some destination we haven't thought of yet?

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  4. Schultz is a very intriguing name, DP. And Scrivens and Reimer as a tandem would be a gutsy move, after last season!

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  5. A good post as usual Michael. Like many I wonder what Burke and company will be able to accomplish in the coming three weeks. As for the draft, there is certainly opportunity to move up, but the question is at what price. Burke has a good history of pulling off such moves, and I'd like to think this year he'll get something done. Other than that I can't see them landing a big fish (via trade or FA) without over-paying. I personally don't think Luongo would be a good fit in TO. If Vancouver does want to move him, I don't see how they have a very strong bartering position, and may have to settle for something less than what they would hoped.

    One thing that bothers me a lot is that the Leafs often find themselves lacking a top-flight player(s) and the rest of the league sees Toronto as desperate to make that kind of acquisition, and thus demand an over-high return. In many ways that is why Burke is limited in what he can (or is willing to) do.

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  6. You have to believe there will be activity in the weeks ahead, TML__fan. Just too many needs for the Leafs not to look to improve the roster.

    We've discussed the Luongo "possibility" in this space in recent days as well. Some Leaf fans really want him; I'm in the camp that would prefer he not be the guy the Leafs look to bring in. I'm wary after seeing him melt down in the playoffs the past few seasons with a really good Vancouver team. He may get the Leafs to the playoffs, yes, but that's not a very high bar.

    Thanks for chiming in on this one, TML__fan.

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  7. I love the Stall idea. Can't lose there. Nash for Kessel....do it if you have to, to get it done. Just bring Nash here. Let's even dangle Phaneuf for the first pick overall and free up some more salary cap space. Luongo, only if Komo goes the other way. Throw in Connely for good measure. lol Travis Moen would be a nice fit as well. Get through this year and look to the next year when there are some of our UFA's gone. Thank god. Komo, Connely, Lombardi and, as much as I like the guy, Armstong are off the payroll.
    Go leafs......Go Burkie. Make us proud.

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  8. Rick Nash will be a "God Like" personality here in TO. As much as I like Kessel....he just doesn't fit here. I don't think he knew what he was in for, when he signed here. Stall....Getzlaf...yes. Not Ryan. Burkie...enough of the Americans already. I'm not predjudust, but it seems Burkie wants to mingle with his USA team hopefulls. Sorry, but Canadians, here, are better choices. Nash for Prime minister and Stall for "whatever" position possible. Make it work.

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  9. Thanks Anon- I've made note of your Nash love! (Stall would be a tremendous addition, but I'd be shocked if they got both...)

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  10. Luongo is the only player that can be acquired well the selling price is low and admittedly Jordan Stall could be at a reasonable price, but as for Nash/Getzlaf we simply dont have the depth to trade assets. (Note I'm a fan who belives we have no true blue-chippers at the moment that are not already on the roster, Kadri/Colbourne have not impressed me.)

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  11. You're point on "blue-chippers" is one I will be touching on in the next VLM post- thanks Anon...

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    1. Burke put himself in a position to be so near the cap that it really limits his ability to acquire Nash getzlaf and loango without giving up komi connoly Lombardi and Armstrong. It will be difficult to trade any of the latter. Meanwhile there will be too many roster spots open the following year if primier ufas are not available. Why not just let the guys we have play for one more year and hope they pull off a lupol and rediscover their scoring touch. I'm betting Connolly can do so. A minor trade can be made if it is there. But don't move up or down in the draft and get a center if available or just the best defenceman. Goaltending; stay away from luongo and see if we can sign Harding for 1 or 2 years otherwise roll with the 2 we have and make a mid season trade for a goalie if necessary. This year expectations are low for this team but remember how well we did for most of the early part of the year and hope that was no coincidence.

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  12. I may add to my post that there will be injuries over the course of a season and the guys on the marliers like kadri frattin blacker can fill in and get their chance to play and make their mark. Right now more than ever is the time to be patient. More so out of necessity that choice. A new coach a new season and under performers from last year may do well. I'm hoping this. As 3 years ago we had our record since the phaneuf trade,2 years ago our record with reimer gave us hope for in the coming season. However last year we finished on such a down and it may just turn around for us.

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  13. One of the best things about being a Leaf fan, is that the club has nowhere to go but up. So it's always exciting towards draft day, and July 1st. My biggest fear is that although our prospects don't look to be overpowering to this point... (Kadri, Colbourne, Schenn.... etc.), you just have to feel that if we trade these guys away, you know what's going to happen. Superstars with another club. Burke has stated he believes in this group, and has declined to "sell the farm" to make one big splash. With the upcoming CBA making things cloudy, I would be surprised to see major moves. If we could somehow sneak Jordan Stall our of Pitt, and sign Justin Schultz (the number of Leaf defensive prospects must have several other teams envious.....no?)and pickup a vet goalie to help Reimer or Scrivens, would sure make me happy!

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  14. Excellent topic. I think, if Burke does his job, he has to at least look into his options considering any of the players mentioned. Yes, even Luongo, even though I wouldn't touch his contract with a 10' pole.

    I don't really know what PIT would be looking for Staal, but he would add a great two-way presence with size to what is arguably our weakest position, center. Unless the Pens are desperate to trade, though, I fear he would require a pretty hefty return. If we'd have to give up Kessel and/or Gardiner in a package, I'd steer clear at this point.

    Nash, I'd be delighted to have. I like Kessel and his moments of magic, but I'd do Kessel for Nash in a heartbeat. I wouldn't, however, go much beyond that. Nash is a player who wants to move town, so if someone is willing to overpay, let 'em. Why I'd like Nash better than Kessel, is simply because Nash is likely to disappear in heavy traffic. To me, he seems to have more in the intangibles department. From what I've seen, Kessel can be intimidated, but intimidating Nash is a much taller order. He's big, too, which is a plus.

    1st overall? Not too certain that's where we should be looking into. The class of 2012 seems to me better in depth than in absolute bluechippers, and our pick as it is should land us a good prospect. Yakupov? Sure, I'd give up something like 1st+Schenn for him right now, but I recognize the risks. Schenn doesn't have all that much offensive upside, but his game will mature, and I believe he will have a solid career in the league. Yakupov is an exciting prospect, but so was Alex Daigle.

    So if Burke could do something along the lines of 1st+Armstrong (Crosby likes him) for Staal and Kessel for Nash, add or remove a lesser prospect or two, I'd be in heaven. Not likely, but one can dream, right?

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  15. You're blueprint for this summer is an interesting one, bluenwhite. That approach would require a lot of patience on the part of Leaf faithful, but we'll see it being prudent is the organization's chosen course. Thanks.

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  16. Thanks Anon. You're right, being a Leaf fan generally makes for a hope-filled summer!

    There's no question the Leafs have created organizational depth, and they may be hesitant to unload any of the youngsters they have worked hard to get their hands on. Staal is an attractive piece, but we all will wonder, at what cost?

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  17. CGLN...great post, thanks.

    Just to clarify- your comment above is suggesting that Kessel is the player who would be apt to struggle with tight checking? I have wondered about that very thing myself and posted on that subject here before. In fairness, we haven't seen Kessel play in the playoffs in Toronto, but his game does make me wonder if he would be easily discouraged come playoff time.

    I'm not sure Armstrong and a first would be enough to get Staal, but as you alluded to, CGLN, summertime is for dreaming...

    I always am afraid to give up on young defensemen like Schenn. As Anon said above, too often when a team trades promising young players (for me, especially defensemen), you risk seeing them develop really well elsewhere.

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  18. That's why trading up is would be risky; we'd have a bluechipper in Yakupov, but giving up Schenn would be something I'm not all that keen on. I don't think Schenn will ever be irreplaceable, so that's why I'd give it serious thought. It might bite back in the sense that I Yakupov is not, in my mind, a "sure thing".

    And no, 1st+Armstrong would not be enough, most likely, I'd throw in a lesser prospect and a lower draft pick to get the deal done; but the deal, in my opinion, should not involve Gardiner. Nor should any deal we make, because puck-moving defencemen don't come around all that much, and Gardiner's current trade value is less likely to reflect his true potential quite yet than Schenn's.

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  19. I'm certain the Leafs will keep Gardiner, as you suggest, CGLN. They made an outstanding deal to get him- they don't want to turn around and un-do their work.

    I'm hoping to post on these topics late today...Thanks.

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  20. Just a couple points regarding Kessel before any of us are too quick to trade him or question his abilities to play against tough competition.

    1) Since acquired by the Leafs he hasn't exactly been playing with top-flight linemates and has always lacked a true #1C on his line. Lupul helped him a lot this year, and we are just now seeing his offensive prowess grow.
    2) As for his abilities in the playoffs, the Leafs haven't given us a chance to see what Kessel can do. Looking back when he was with Boston, his record in the playoffs was 15GP 9G 6A 15Pts +8. This was from a guy only playing around 13 mins per game and who wasn't even on the first line PP unit.

    IMHO Kessel simply needs quality linemates so that the opposition's line can't focus too much attention on him. Carlyle's style is more defensive minded, but Kessel can work within that system and still be successful.

    All that being said, would I trade him for Nash? Well probably yes, but Nash is an exceptional player and would bring some much needed size.

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  21. Fair points on Kessel, TML__fan. The one difference I maybe see, though, is that when Kessel played with the Bruins in the playoffs, he was not on the "go-to" line that the opposition focused on shutting down. I'm not sure he has shown, even in some regular-season games against really good opposition, that he is (so far, at least) the kind of player who is prepared to fight through the heavy going. But we'll see.

    But I certainly agree that a front-line centre would hopefully make it harder for opponents to take him off his game.

    The Nash discussion will continue this week, for sure- and maybe beyond the draft, if Columbus does 't move him by then....

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  22. In a perfect world, the Leafs trade for Luongo and Staal. Sign Schultz. And draft Galchenyuk.

    I am tempted to say that I would accept anything to get this done, but it's impossible. I like to dream sometimes, too.

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  23. Those four additions would be something to see, Derek!

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  24. Leaf fans should be happy / content to get anyone of those four...Luongo, Staal, Schultz or Galchenyuk.

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  25. I heard it said by a writer in Toronto that the Leafs would have to give Kessel+ draft picks for Nash. That is something I do not get. Nash has a worse +- than Kessel, Kessel has outscored Nash this year by 30 points and was 16 better in the +-category. Why all the love for Nash? His production has gone down over the last 5 years.

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  26. My sense, Anon, is that many observers believe that a change of scenery would be important to Nash...

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  27. Kessel straight up for Nash is not a trade I'd want Burke to make. Kessel is an interesting player with the leafs mold, especially with Carlyle. does Carlyle change his style, getting Kessel to play more defense (haha), or does he do what Hunter did with Ovie - play him till you have the lead and then let your shut down guys go to work? I think Carlyle will have a certain degree of input in to what Burke does with Kessel. That being said, I think Burke keeps him... Can't see him dumping what he called a franchise goal scorer. I like Nash, but not at a Kessel price. He's tailed off. Could be for a number of reasons - doesn't like Columbus, doesn't care about playing for a crappy team, etc. - but wouldn't a guy in that situation who has asked to be moved try even harder to have a team make a legitimate run at him? it doesn't make sense - it makes me think that what we have seen from Nash in the past few years is likely the Nash we would get - low to high 60's in pts. Kessel, meanwhile, has improved each of the past 3 seasons. while his compete level has looked low at times, and I don't like how he hides from the media or tries to leave the spotlight (this is Toronto after all), you can't deny that he scores a whack ton of goals, and with the defense the leafs have... well they need him. So I really hope if Burke gets Nash its not for Kessel.
    Of the centres mentioned (Staal, Getz.), I'd prefer staal. That would A) get Cherry to shut up about the lack of Ontario boys, and B) once again shut Cherry up about the leafs PK and his love for Zigomanis. I also think putting Staal in a true first line centre role could allow a side of him the NHL hasn't really seen to come out, and he could turn in to a Toews type player with slightly less offensive upside. But that's a gamble too. Thank God I'm not getting the big bucks to make these decisions.

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  28. You hit the nail on the head, Kyle- it's way easier talking about this stuff than being the one to make the decisions!

    Nash is a tempting piece, but at what price?

    The next few days should be fun....Thanks.

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  29. I think if Burke wanted to make a strong statement getting Luongo and Staal would be his best offseason moves.

    Luongo would probably cost the Leafs something like Kadri, 35th overall, Armstrong and Lombardi. Gillis just sees getting Luongo off the books to get Schneider signed as #1. Armstrong and Lombardi are salary dumps but only 1 year contract so they don't handcuff the team but helps Toronto. Gillis won't have to look to fill his bottom 6 now. Toronto gives up Kadri and a 2nd basically but Luongo is a top goalie, if the contract was 4-6 years I don't think their would be much negativity surrounding it.

    I have suggested on the Leafs site that a trade of Kulemin, Colborne, Franson, and the 5th overall. Staal will cost a premium. He fills many needs for Toronto - top line centre since Sundin, two-way responsible hockey which would make up for Lupul and Kessel, 6'4 and 220lbs. He will be 24 come September and has a Stanley Cup ring. From Pittsburghs point of view they get a potential 30 goal winger who has a history of success with Malkin, he would cost around half of what Staal would cost. Colborne could slide right into the 3 slot formally held by Staal. Franson is a big body PMD that they have missed with Goligoski traded and Martin not living up to expectation. Seeing how Pittsburgh is unlikely to draft within the top 15th for awhile it would be nice to add a high end draft pick which has potential to be Murray, Forsberg, or even Galchenyuk or Grigorenko.

    I think already having Lupul, Kessel, and Phaneuf on the team and adding Staal and Luongo would send a serious message. When you consider you only subtracted Kadri, Colborne, Franson, and Kulemin of importance from the roster, surrendered 1 first round pick and was able to rid the Leafs of Lombardi and Armstrong, I'd say they are trades I'd make.

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  30. Those would be very strong statements by Burke, I agree, Sill2Envy.

    I've been reluctant to think that Gillis would part with Luongo as primarily a salary dump, but Kadri (as you put forward) may give him something to chew on.

    Staal, for me, would be the most appealing new name. But you're right, it would take a fair bit, I have to believe, for Shero to let him go, even with their cap realities...

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  31. I think the Luongo trade really is just an afterthought at this point if I'm completely honest. Tampa's out, Florida has Markstrom, Chicago isn't going to get him unless Gillis really hates the Leafs that much/is that stupid, which I don't think he is. I think that deal would include Komi because believe it or not, Vancouver actually does need a Left Handed dman but does that mean we take Ballard back? I can tell you right now though, I don't see Burke trading a Kadri/Schenn/Frattin for him. I'm guessing something along the lines of a Komi + B prospect with size + 2/3 round pick for Luongo. You could expand that to add an Armstrong and Ballard (both would be salary dumps, hoping to rekindle their games elsewhere but at that point we're talking about a lot of bodies and salaries shifting and those types of deals are rarely done these days.

    The second most likely option I'd say is a Staal trade, but really...how much is that going to cost? I'm guessing a Kuli/MacArthur + 1st rounder '13 + Schenn? That may be too much, may be not enough but regardless, I know the price will be steep. As much as Pittsburgh's D seems to be a mess, a lot of readings I've done on the team suggest they have defensive ready prospects to play in the pro's and would just like to dump a Martin type contract somewhere and pull their young guys up. So...who knows if they'll even be interested in a player like Schenn?

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  32. Interesting post, BlueSasquatch. All great points, though I do wonder if the Hawks are still in on Luongo.

    I guess the whole Luongo discussion has much to do with whether Gillis is looking at this as primarily a salary dump, or feels he must acquire young talent in return.

    The Leafs can certainly offer bad salaries in return, but what's the benefit to Vancouver, I wonder? You may well be right. I just sense Gillis needs to do better than just rid himself of Luongo's contract. The guy is supposed to be the best goalie in hockey.

    Staal is also a complicated one. The Leafs may have the players to make a deal, but so do a lot of other teams who may want him just as badly. Big week ahead, for sure.

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  33. I think it is reasonable to say Burkie can get Luongo, a 1st line centreman, and sign Shultz and others in the offseason. First of all, for Shultz, he wants to come to Toronto because of his collage buddy Gardiner and that he could have a spot on the teams D right away. For Luongo, Burkie could easily aquire him if he gives a little (we all have read the rumours of what they'd have to give). Then for a first line centre, there are a few great possibilities out there for the leafs right now. There's Staal, Getzlaf, Thornton, Stansty, and even more out there. If Burke will give up some of his depth, good players, and picks, then he can get what he needs.

    I'm hoping there's a lot of changes next season for the teams sake. C'mon leafs can't make it 9 years next season!

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  34. Just a comment and motion in agreement to what "bluenwhite" said a while back. Don't sell the farm this year, when next year, there are a number of UFA's off the books. Get a goaltender to help the young boys, (ie:Biron) get your center and draft at 5. That gets us something for the near future, that actually might be considered "Bluechip". Trade MacAurthur for a second rounder seeing as we have no third or forth. And let a player like Frattin take over the wing on the second line. Again....please don't sell the farm this year. PLEASE!
    Oh...and do not give in on a Luongo deal, unless salary is going the other way. Patience...it will happen.

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