Our truculent, exuberant General Manager has succeeded in many respects since taking over the franchise in November of 2008. From that moment Burke has systematically eliminated bad contracts (Ed Note: and added a few) and stockpiled the organization with valuable assets and talented prospects.
The positives, thus far, have outweighed the negatives. The rebuilding process has taken longer than we may have expected, but no fan can deny that the team has been rebuilt. Certainly 10th in the Conference doesn’t scream success to most of us, but it is progress.
With the trade deadline looming on Monday, February 27th, Leaf Nation is understandably restless. Burke has succeeded in righting the ship, but he has a long way to port.
This deadline day may very well be the day that defines the Brian Burke era in Toronto. The playoffs are not something we hope will happen this year; they are something that must happen. We have lived through the rebuild with the knowledge that a carrot dangles perilously at the end of the journey. For the first time in 8 years the team is in position to make a significant run at the post season.
I expect Monday to be a day of mixed emotions. With live updates coming from phones, twitter, Facebook, wall-to-wall mainstream media coverage – there will be no shortage of feverish excitement, and paralyzing fear as the rumours swirl.
I don’t imagine I’ll be in a state of mind to objectively criticize Burke, and the Leafs performance on this day of days that is the end of the trading season. As a result, I thought it best to write down my expected emotions, and the trades possibilities that could accompany each.
Complete and utter elation
JVR! JVR! JVR! With Nash looking more and more like he'll be on his way to the bright lights of Broadway we all know who the big fish is, and it’s the stud power forward playing out of Philadelphia. Van Riemsdyk hasn't been able to fully tap into his potential with the Flyers, and a change of scenery could jumpstart his career. The time is right, and the Leafs have the asset base that could help address many of Philly's needs.
We’ve talked a bit about Dustin Brown here at BCP over the last week. He lacks the name recognition of a JVR or Bobby Ryan, but make no mistake – the guy can be a force on the ice. In 2010-11 he recorded 28 goals, 29 assists and was a plus 17. He’s never one to away from the physical side of the game, and would add a gritty edge to our second line. While there likely won’t be a parade across Front Street if we land Brown this Monday, there will still be plenty of reason to celebrate.
Scoring goals this year has been far from the Leafs most pressing issue, currently sitting 8th the league with 2.93 goals per game. Our problem, of course, has been the number of pucks finding their way behind Reimer and the Monster each night. The Leafs sit 28th overall, allowing 3.00 goals per game. Which is why bringing in a goalie at the deadline would be very satisfactory. Whether it is the veteran Evgeni Nabokov, or perennial back up Anders Lindback, any goaltending upgrade will be a positive for our playoff chances.
I like Travis Moen – I like Paul Gustad – heck I even enjoy watching George Parros. But if all we do on deadline day is bolster our bottom six forwards I’ll be very disappointed. I do agree that our bottom 6 needs to add a bit more grit. As Mike Brown likely couldn’t be our only 'tough guy' in a 7 game series with say, the Boston Bruins. Overall team toughness does matter come playoff time, but it’s far from the top of my wish list. Burke loves pugnacity, and I love just saying the word pugnacity, but as the old adage goes, there are far bigger fish in need of frying.
I have supported the rebuild in large part because I’ve felt confident there is an end to the story. The long, drawn out process of rebuilding the team from the ground up has been bearable only because of the promise that it will one day end. If the Leafs do nothing – no top 6 forward, no veteran goalie, no contract for Grabbo, no upgrade of any kind – if 3:01pm Monday comes and goes with zero transactions then it is over. The Brain Burke era will have come to an inglorious and depressing end.
I imagine that at some point throughout Monday’s festivities you will feel one, if not all of the emotions listed above, perhaps even simultaneously. For me, I hope that when all the dust has settled, the TV coverage has ended, and sun has set on another deadline day, only one emotion remains – anticipation. Anticipation as I wait for my extra large, #21 Van Riemsdyk home jersey to arrive in the mail.