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What Leaf fans expect this off-season

One of the appealing things about the mid-season Phanuef deal was the fact that it was totally unexpected. Unless I was missing something, there were no rumblings, no musings from, for example, the Ottawa Sun columnists who like to spread “inside” information from NHL “contacts” that are usually proven baseless- it was just a deal that suddenly appeared.

In this media age where every move by a team like the Leafs is anticipated, predicted, discussed and batted about, it was different- and exciting.

Now, with the Cup chase behind us, besides the debate about whether the Hawks can build a dynasty (if people mean a dynasty like New Jersey and Detroit, organizations that build a contender year-in and year-out, maybe) attention will be focused on all the usual off-season realities- the draft, trades and free-agency.

In Toronto, there are some things that Leaf fans expect to see happen:

• Kulemin will be re-signed at a compromise figure, but certainly not what his agent is seeking right now

• Phaneuf will be made captain. I’m sure I wasn’t the first, but it was an observation I made within days of Phaneuf arriving here. It’s obvious he is Burke’s kind of player, and for better or worse will be the locker-room and on-ice go-to guy.

• Players the Leafs will absolutely not move (and Leaf country would be shocked if they were) include Bozak, Gustavsson, Phaneuf, Kessel, Orr and Kadri – all Burke moves. Kulemin and Gunnarsson also will be retained.

• Players who could be moved include Luke Schenn (depending on whether current Leaf management sees a high ceiling for him. If they do, he stays. If they don’t, he could be a chip used to get back into the top of the first round).

• Kaberle will be gone. He’s been a marked man since Burke arrived. I don’t think there is any question at this point. When you send a memo to every NHL team confirming a guy is available, it’s only a matter of time. Given how obvious the Leafs have been about their intentions, he can’t stay, even if they don’t get the “home-run” deal they want.

• A free-agent signing of some magnitude. We can all speculate about who might be a good fit in Toronto, but what Burke can accomplish on the trade market may dictate free-agent decisions. That said, it seems logical that Burke will push every button to make the team substantially better. That likely means trades (including deals to get into the first round of the draft) and free-agent signings.

Each of Pittsburgh, Chicago and Washington hit rock-bottom before becoming Cup champions -or at least contenders- through the draft. But they’ve also done it with good coaching and shrewd personnel moves to bring in the kinds of role players that help win championships.

The Oilers seem to be following that blueprint right now. The aforementioned Devils and Red Wings have been contenders for fifteen seasons because of combination of smart drafting and great trades.

The Leafs are following their own drummer. Kessel and Phaneuf were high draft picks who have come to Toronto as ready-made, very young stars-in-waiting. So while Burke can certainly be criticized for moving picks, he also has acquired elite players who are past their growing-pains period.

The Burke blueprint is different than Washington, Chicago and Pittsburgh’s, and different, too, from how the Wings and Devils have stayed strong.

He may not want a five-year plan, but the reality is we won’t know for three more years (which will be almost five years into his tenure) whether the Burke plan will achieve what those five clubs have, in each their own way.

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