It was about this time last year when Brian Burke brought Toronto's most talented roster player, Phil Kessel, to the Maple Leafs. While he's stated that he and his management considered whether the pick may be Taylor Hall, surely they didn't believe that they were giving up the second overall pick. The Leafs should have been better than second worst, but they weren't.
Burke has repeatedly said that he would make the deal again if given the opportunity. Would he? Given the number of times he's been asked whether he regrets the deal, you'd have to think he'd be a little gun-shy. But then again, he's Brian Burke and he probably doesn't give a crap what anyone else thinks.
Burke is clearly driving this team to compete in 2011-12 when Gustavsson, Kulemin and Versteeg should all be due for raises. In order for the Leafs to do that, they'll need Kadri to develop well and to acquire at least one more player of Kessel's calibre externally. With no first rounder this year, that player will have to come from another NHL roster.
If you look at next season's crop of free agents, there isn't much there. With St.Louis re-signed in Tampa and Thornton likely to do the same in San Jose, the options at forward are thin. Thin, that is, if you focus exclusively on UFAs.
The RFA market is considerably more appealing. While I'm sure that guys like Stamkos and Doughty will be unattainable, there are other players that the Leafs might be able to steal from under the nose of their current teams.
Do the Flyers have the resources available to re-sign Jeff Carter? I'm guessing that if the Leafs wanted him badly enough, they could put together an offer sheet that Philly couldn't match. Claude Giroux is a potential target for the same reason. Depending on what Kovalchuk's final contract with the Devils looks like, there's a chance that a hefty offer sheet to Zach Parise might be more than their cap can bear. While Columbus will have plenty of cap space, their internal salary constraints could make matching an offer to Voracek problematic.
The questions that come out of this are obvious: Would Brian Burke do what he said he would and pull the trigger on a second Kessel-like deal? And secondly, should he?
I think he would and I think he should. A team that boasted Jeff Carter, Phil Kessel and the other developing Leaf youngsters should not fall in the draft lottery. If you're not a lottery team, then an assortment of picks for Jeff Carter is a no-brainer. Not to mention it would be so nice to swipe a talented young center out of Philadelphia and away from their knuckle-dragging fans.
The fact of the matter is, this is really the only way we can expect to bring in top-level talent before some of our key affordable contracts expire. Burke often argues that he was comfortable dealing the picks for Kessel because Kessel is a 22 year old - he's not washed up and can grow with the team. The same logic would apply to a guy like Carter, Giroux or (by some miracle) Parise.
This is our chance. There's no sense in looking at next year's UFAs, there's nobody there but Semin. Think about whether you're comfortable parting with another package of draft picks to bring in another player of Kessel's calibre. If we're going to land a big fish, that's probably going to be how we go about doing it.