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Burke staring another bad season in the face

brian burke nhl trade rumors

Andrew Pinsent

Brian Burke emerged from the 2009-2010 season, muttering a phrase I’m sure he would love to have back.

Freshly coming off Burke’s first full season at the helm, which while scattered with bursts of optimism, started with the team posting no wins in its first eight games.

They were subsequently  eliminated from playoff contention with 5 games remaining and finished 12 points out of eighth place.

To this point Burke had made some noise, acquiring Dion Phaneuf, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Phil Kessel, while ridding himself of underachievers Jason Blake, Vesa Toskala, Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman. He also parted with the teams second overall pick.

Maybe he was feeling a little too confident.

“I am not interested…in a five year rebuild like some these teams have done,” Burke said.

“Maybe because of my age, maybe just because I know it doesn’t have to be five years because it wasn’t in Anaheim. And I am not interested in a five year rebuild here.”

Well as it stands right now, its going to be exactly that.

Six weeks away from training camp (as long as a new CBA is signed), and looking at their roster you can definitely see upgrades with the addition of James Van Reimsdyk in the top six, and some depth and veteran presence in Keith Aucoin.

There are still plenty of question marks.

The Leafs finished 13th in the Eastern Conference last year, with 5 teams ahead of them.

So logically, you would have to do more upgrading than those five other teams to have a better year in the standings. Of course there are exceptions but that’s generally the plan.

Teams that finished ahead of Toronto, in order starting at eighth were : Ottawa, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg and Carolina.

Let’s look at those teams.

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Ottawa

Ottawa was the surprise team of the NHL last year. At the beginning of the year the fans were chanting for the team to “Fail for Nail,” with expectations so low, the hope was the team could at least grab number one pick Nail Yakupov.

The team finished eighth and put up a good fight against the Rangers in the first round but were eliminated in seven games.

General Manager Brian Murray appears to know it was a bit of a fluke because he hasn’t let it phase his rebuilding plan. The team parted ways with Filip Kuba, Matt Carkner, Nick Foligno, Zenon Konopka, Bobby Butler, and Matt Gilroy this summer and have only added Guillaume Latendresse, Marc Methot and Mike Lundin.

Having stocked the farm with talent however, Murray has a number of options from within the organization.

Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg and Mark Stone will all be looking to grab a top-six spot.

Peter Regin is hoping to put injuries behind and regain his form and promise and will likely be competing with Zach Smith for the teams third line center position, behind Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris.

It’s also important to note the Sens goaltending depth, having Craig Anderson starting with Ben Bishop likely having the backup role while Robin Lehner continues to develop and get starts in the AHL.

Buffalo

The team looks to be getting tougher, as so far this off season the Sabres have acquired Steve Ott and signed tough guy John Scott.

Scott is a fighter, and a reputable one at that, so it will make Buffalo a harder team to play against while Ott will bring his size and grit along with his offensive nose that netted him 39 points last year.

Tampa Bay

Steve Yzerman has been very active this offseason, trying to improve on a league worst 3.39 goals allowed per game.

Yzerman went out and got Sami Salo and Matt Carle, who will join Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer as the teams top four defencemen. This gives Tampa much more depth at the back end, with eight defencemen under NHL contracts and Keith Aulie and  Matt Taormina still in the wings.

Tampa has also tried to address their goaltending situation by signing youngsters Riku Helenius and Anders Lindback, which still leaves a bit of a question mark at the position, but you can expect a competition will only work out on behalf of the team.

Up front they also signed 25-year-old winger Benoit Pouliot, who is coming off a career-high 32-point season in Boston and increased its toughness by adding the hard-nosed forward B.J. Crombeen from St. Louis, who will be protecting the likes of Steve Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis.

Winnipeg

The Jets tried to bring in some depth at goaltending by signing Al Montaya presumably to play behind Ondrej Pavelec.
They also acquired Olli Jokinen and Alexi Ponikarovsky to help a team that was offensively challenged on a number of nights last year, with goalie Pavelec being very vocal about it.
Carolina

The Hurricanes traded for Jordan Stall signed him to a decade long deal, and proceeded to sign Alexander Semin. Joe Corvo was added on the blue line. Nuff’ said. Hurricanes will make significant jumps up the standings next year.

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I would say the Leafs only came out on top of Buffalo and Ottawa in terms of additions.

So while the Leafs have definitely upgraded up front, they are also relying on Van Riemsdyk to play center, something the forward has yet to do at the NHL level.

While I don’t expect it will be exceptionally hard for him, as he played the position right up until he was drafted by the Flyers, it will be a transition nonetheless.

Even if he does extremely well, the Leafs are still lacking another top-six forward unless Nikolai Kulemin can regain his 30 goal form.

Size is also an issue up front and while they have done a great job getting bigger, they still need more depth and size in their bottom six.

Goaltending is still the biggest question mark for the Maple Leafs.

While Reimer battled injuries last year, he was very good to start the season with the pressure very high, winning his first four games. He wasn’t the same consistently after his concussion, but if the Leafs want him to be the go-to guy he will need to regain that form and confidence.

Should Reimer go down, the writ would fall to backup Ben Scrivens, which while a good young goalie, not a number one goalie to be called upon when needed. So while I believe Burke is currently trying to upgrade, if he doesn’t get anything done he is rolling the dice on the season, and really, his job.

Progress has been made, however it hasn’t been enough, and as this is written the Leafs are not a playoff team.

On November 29  the Leafs will be in Winnipeg to face the Jets, marking Burke’s fourth anniversary at the helm of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Do you think he will be throwing a party?

Andrew Pinsent

Andrew is a journalist and avid sports fan born in rural Ontario. He loves the Leafs for better or worse but is not afraid to criticize. He has written for the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Sun and CBC News. Always enjoy feedback, start the conversation on Twitter @andypinsent89 or comment.

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