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July 5, 2010

3rd Liner Pile Up

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So Brian Burke continues his rebuilding of the Toronto Maple Leafs. His first move of the offseason was to trade Viktor Stalberg, and prospects Chris Didomenico, and Philip Paradis for cup winner Kris Versteeg and Bill Sweatt.

This trade is typical for Brian Burke who says he wants to contend NOW. There is no denying that Versteeg can score. He has put 20+ goals in the net over the last two seasons playing on a strong Blackhawks team. The question is whether or not he can do so on an offensively limited Leafs team. Bill Sweatt is supposed to be a fast, scoring winger who should be able to help the Leafs in a couple of years. Not unlike Didomenico who we traded away.

I think Burke is trying to compensate for his devastating Phil Kessel trade by bringing in decent players to help now, so we don’t give Boston another top 5 pick next season. My fear is that the help he’s brought in won’t bring us out of the basement, and again he’s making moves which are costing the Leafs their future.

I think Stalberg, with some talented linemates in Chicago, will be just as good as Versteeg is now. Stalberg isn’t there yet, and Versteeg is, so the help coming in is immediate, but I don’t think Versteeg has the upside that Stalberg does. Didomenico was a terror in the QMJHL. He was one of the top 3 scorers in the league and was destined for an impact scoring role on the Leafs until he broke his leg months ago. This may have been the reason Burke dealt him, but did Burke realize that the kid had over 40 points in 20 or so games after he came back from the injury? This kid is going to be a STAR in the NHL and is going to bite the Leafs in the ass one day.

Paradis is the prospect the Leafs got for Jiri Tlusty. He is only 19, is a former 1st round pick, and is projected to be a Burke type player. He is a big, strong, 4th line type center man who can kill penalties, dish out some pain, and occasionally put the puck in the net. Burke will miss him one day soon.

If Versteeg hasn’t reached the peak of his abilities, and he can blossom into a 30+ goal scorer for the Blue & White, then this trade will be seen as a good one. If he has reached his limits, then this could be a disaster one day when our former prospects come to town and wipe the floor with us.

Burke has resigned Nikolai Kulemin for approximately 2.4 Million a season for 2 seasons. I am not upset about the signing, as Kulemin did show some flashes of skill and grit. Whether he can sustain that productivity for 82 games is another question altogether. If Kulemin can become a 20+ goal scorer who is a plus rated player, then he is a steal at 2.4 million.

So far, Burke’s big splash into the free agent market has been to acquire Colby Armstrong. Colby is a former Thrasher and Penguin who has made his living as a 3rd line checking center with some offensive ability. He is good for 15 goals a season, and has NEVER had a minus rating in his entire pro career over the course of an NHL season.

Welcome to Toronto, Colby, where minus ratings are a common trend. Ask Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek how their first years as Leafs were in regards to +/- ratings. I can’t say I dislike this move by Burke, as he brought in a young guy who has some scoring touch and can center the Penalty kill alongside Fredrik Sjostrom.

However, I thought Burke was supposed to be signing offensive talent to go with the rest of our 3rd liner pile up. For 3 million a season, it is questionable whether Armstrong is worth the money. Personally, I would rather have Olli Jokinen for the same money. Jokinen at his best is a 90 points a season player, whereas we’ll be LUCKY to get 50 out of Armstrong. The Leafs, and their fans have recently enjoyed the skills of tremendous 3rd line centers like Wayne Primeau, Rickard Wallin, and the recently resigned John Mitchell. If you can’t sense my sarcasm then you are probably also having difficulty with the complex English contained in this article.

The Leafs do have some young centermen who are on the rise. Tyler Bozak looks like he can be a legit 2nd line centerman with some scoring touch, and Nazem Kadri is waiting for his chance. We don’t really need another grinder like Armstrong taking playing time from our kids who need to develop. We need a legit top line centerman, to run the powerplay, lead the team in scoring, and dish the puck to Kessel so he can score 40 goals this season.

Burke, its time to do what you promised, and get a legit top line center. Stop signing stupid meathead 3rd liners. You already had a team of 3rd line talent last season and I am sure that on draft day, when Boston called out the name Tyler Seguin, you must have realized that many of the choices you made were flawed.

Its time to pull your pants up Burke. Make some moves. Sign some SKILLED forwards, and stop giving us this “truculence” bullshit. We have enough truculent 3rd liners to fill 3 AHL teams. Its time to get us some legit top line NHL talent.

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