Maple Leafs' plan for future? Get as many picks, young assets as possible

February, 25, 2009

The Brian Burke era in Toronto will really get going with Wednesday's trade deadline, when the veteran GM makes his first big decisions in the massive rebuild that awaits him with the Maple Leafs.

The goal for the Leafs' front office is simple -- get as many drafts picks and young assets as possible. Toronto has only five total draft picks in the June draft. That's amazing when you think about it, right? Here's a team that needs to rebuild so badly, and it doesn't even have a second- or fourth-rounder in the draft. (Mind you, the Maple Leafs moved that second-rounder to Long Island in June 2008 to move up and draft Luke Schenn fifth overall, and he's a gem.)

At this point, the only player all but guaranteed to get moved from Toronto is center Nik Antropov, an unrestricted free agent as of July 1. The question is whether Burke can fetch a first- or second-round pick for him.

Judging from what league sources have told us, we believe these three players also could be moved by the Leafs: Matt Stajan, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Dominic Moore.

Let's put it this way, we're told that Burke isn't desperate to move those guys but that other teams are calling with regularity; if the offers make too much sense to pass up, all three could be gone.

Stajan, 25, has one more year on his deal at $1.75 million; Ponikarovsky, 28, has one more year at $2.5 million; and Moore, 28, is slated for unrestricted free agency. We're hearing the Leafs are talking extension with Moore; if he signs in the next few days, he's obviously off the market.

You might wonder why Stajan would be moved, given his young age. Our humble guess is that Burke loves his bottom six forwards to be gritty and tough and that Stajan, though a smart and versatile player, is neither a tough forward nor a gritty one and isn't really good enough to play in a top-six role.

We're sure the Leafs would love to move goalie Vesa Toskala, who has one more year on his deal at $4 million, but apparently not a single team has called to show interest. The same goes for winger Jason Blake, who has three more years on his deal. No one's kicking the tires at this point. Long-term deals are tough to move these days with the fears that the salary cap will go down dramatically in 2010-11.

The most attractive name on Toronto's roster is star defenseman Tomas Kaberle, a silky-smooth puck mover who earns a bargain $4.25 million next season and in 2010-11. But, for that same reason, Burke isn't itching to move him. He made it clear on a national media conference call Wednesday what price it would cost another NHL team to get Kaberle.

"The minimum would be this: a minimum of a first-round pick, a guy that can play on our team right now and a top prospect," Burke said. "It would be a package just like I paid when I got Chris Pronger from Edmonton. I'm not putting a price on it that I haven't paid myself in the past."

Kaberle has a no-trade clause, but he gave Burke a list of 10 teams -- all in the Eastern Conference -- he'd be willing to move to. Our guess is Kaberle is staying put, but stranger things have happened. There might be a desperate team that loses out on Pronger or Jay Bouwmeester on Wednesday afternoon and feels it must acquire a top-end puck mover such as Kaberle.

That's exactly the kind of desperation the Leafs hope to see. They need draft picks and prospects, ASAP.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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