Friday, November 28, 2008

Early Christmas for Leafs fans?

As the snow falls here in Ottawa, I've finally resigned myself to the fact that it's almost December. The NHL is at the quarter mark, and each organization is starting to evaluate their team, creating their wish list for the month ahead. In Dallas, Marty Turco is hoping St. Nick brings his "A" game back to him. Ottawa is hoping to find a puck moving D-man under the Senator's tree. For one team in particular though, Christmas may have come a little early this year, but will it be that shinny red bike they've always wanted? This year, will they be serving turkey or duck?

When Brian Burke stepped down as General Manager of the Ducks recently, all eyes immediately turned towards Toronto and the Maple Leafs. All parties involved said and did the right things to avoid possible tampering charges. Burke would remain in Anaheim as a consultant, and all teams were given permission to negotiate a contract with him. All teams had permission, but let's be honest, this was a one horse race from the beginning.

With the announcement of an agreement in principle between Burke and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, for a reported $18 million over 6 years, and complete control of the hockey team; Leaf fans can now stop wondering "if" it will happen, and shift their focus to what will happen next. The winds of change are blowing through Toronto, and several players will be hiring moving vans in the coming months.

In the climate of today's NHL, with cap restrictions and economic uncertainty, trades will not come easily; so I would expect Burke to take full advantage of Toronto's farm team being across the street in the form of the Toronto Marlies. With no travel costs, the new GM can visit the "farm" to evaluate what he has, and if a large contract needs to be taken off the NHL books, under-achieving Leafs can be sent down to the minors, but kept close at hand. Would any Leaf fans be upset if Jason Blake and his multi-million dollar contract was claimed off the waiver wire on his way to the minors by Atlanta, or a resurgent Islanders team?

Another move Burke will use to improve the Leafs is through the U.S. College circuit. Ottawa's Bryan Murray and Burke are two of the best at finding good players, with some age and experience under their belts from the NCAA. The Sens have Jesse Winchester, signed out of Colgate University, in their lineup this season, and the Ducks have picked up similar players under Murray, and Burke. I'd expect Toronto's new GM to look for some undiscovered gems to add grit to the Leafs roster in late March or early April.

Don't expect a return of former Captain, Mats Sundin. Burke is a no-nonsense guy, and I believe the door to his office is firmly closed, despite the "he's always welcome back..." from the Leafs upper management. From my observations, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sundin with Burke's old team - the Ducks; or despite being in the basement at the quarter mark, the Dallas Stars would be a good fit for the former Leaf. Brenden Morrow is out of the lineup, and Mike Modano would have certainly petitioned friend and GM, Brett Hull, to land Sundin.

So as Ottawa contemplates a change of route for the Santa Claus Parade, Toronto is planning the parade route of another kind. They have their man at the helm now, but let's not forget there are 29 other teams in the league fighting for the right to plan the same parade. If I were an Ontario teacher, struggling to make ends meet, I might be wondering why $18 million is now in Brian Burke's bank account; after all, the only thing guaranteed in all this is the money Burke will make during this contract. Have a great sports day everyone.

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