With the National Hockey League Entry Draft under 48 hours away, general manager Brian Burke's cellphone bill will continue to feed small countries as he contemplates how to effectively use his first-round draft picks.
Whether Burke decides to import two first-round prospects to the Toronto Maple Leafs or package them, along with other assets, for that elusive number-one center is a win-win situation considering the team's needs. But if the bombastic Leafs GM is true to his word, there's a significant chance he actively pursues that number-one pivot his club so desperately requires. Burke made it clear that such a trade would not occur on the draft floor and it would have to be worked out in the days leading up to June 24. Well, considering he had said there's "several lines in the water" regarding potential trades, it's logical to assume this Friday would be a prime time to pull the trigger. Not only would this elevate the Leafs as a serious playoff contender in the Eastern Conference, but it would increase its allure for any potential unrestricted free agents on July 1---and the Leafs would still require a puck-moving defenseman and bottom-six forward.
While a trade could occur at any time in the off-season, Burke doesn't have the luxury of gambling should a team move its trading chip to another club or pull any deals from the table. While there has been much speculation surrounding Brad Richards' potential destination on July 1, Steve Simmonds is reporting the Leafs are not one of them. Now, take this report with a grain of salt, as it is the only one of its kind and is based solely from hearsay. Then again, Simmonds is a respected journalist among the Toronto Sports Media, so whether you believe the article is entirely up to you.
All this leads to the potential centers Burke may target on Friday in Minnesota. And one that has been linked to the Leafs in the rumour mill is the 25-year-old, Paul Stastny. The Colorado Avalanche were supposedly shopping the $6.6-million center at the trade deadline, but the team quickly denied the reports. Well, surprise, surprise, Stastny has re-entered the ol' rumour mill and none other than Howard Berger has confirmed that, once again, the Avalache are willing to trade its number-one pivot to make room for the blossoming Matt Duchene.
If this is indeed accurate, one must naturally assume that Burke will engage in trade negotiations with the Avalache. Hockey forums are aflame with trade possibilities, and almost all of them include the Leafs' top prospect, Nazem Kadri. Unfortunately, the Leafs would likely have to relinquish Kadri if they were to realistically acquire Stastny. While such a trade makes just about any Leafs fan uncomfortable, it actually makes sense when you consider that Stastny hasn't even reached his prime and has already established himself as a 70-point player. While Kadri could reach that plateau and even contribute more to the ice, he is unproven. And the Leafs, under Burke's current blueprint, require proven players to fast-track the Leafs to respectability. Considering the team's lack of depth up the middle, Kadri may be the sacrificial lamb to finally acquire an elite centerman.
Normally, the idea of trading away Kadri on a team that is just now adding depth to the prospect cupboard would seem absurd. And perhaps it is. But considering the circumstances, acquiring a number-one center now, as opposed to years down the line when (and if) Kadri is ready, could elevate the Leafs to new heights. Not only would Phil Kessel have the number-one center to reach his goal-scoring potential, but the powerplay would improve and the addition of such a player would add new dimensions on offense, which as a result could give some breathing room for a defenseman such as, say, Dion Phaneuf---who's dying for another 15+ goal season. Now, what else is included in a deal to land Stastny is up for debate (Gunnarsson and draft picks?) but it seems near impossible for Kadri not to be the focal point for the Avalanche.
If the Avalanche are indeed willing to part with Stastny, though, expect Burke to make a serious pitch for the number-one center.
Is it Friday yet?
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