Leafs to be active July 1st, but not on the big names

Kudos to the guys from Maple Leaf Hot Stove who extracted audio from Brian Burke’s stint on Halifax radio yesterday. If there’s one positive thing I can say about Burke that we can agree on, it’s that he’s available, he’s clear, he’s concise, and he doesn’t leave anybody in the dark.

On this stint, he spoke a bit about Maple Leafs team needs, the James van Riemsdyk trade, and why he doesn’t think that Morgan Rielly should play in the NHL next year, but the major bit of information in there was about his plans for July 1st and free agency day. 

We are as not as big as we’d like to be, that has been addressed for three years now through drafting and trading. There is size on the way, whether it’s ready to play or not or whether we have to go get it on July 1st we’ll see.

This was in reference to a Michael Traikos column dissecting the Leafs’ three team needs. One of those needs is “the toughness required to play Randy Carlyle hockey”. Joe Colborne and Tyler Biggs are all coming through the system, but it seems like Burke was hinting at an external solution.

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Later in the interview, Burke discussed how he wouldn’t be in on the top free agents like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, yet claimed the Leafs would still be active:

Teams are not allowing their players to get to unrestricted free agency. They’re locking them up with long-term deals and significant money, so it’s a very thin group. It’s not top heavy, it’s not deep, it’s not pick whatever adjective you want. It’s a small group of players that would have an impact. So I do not anticipate at this point that we’ll be active on July 1st with the big names.

These are positional needs that don’t fit so much for us. We don’t need that type of defenceman as much as we need other things. We don’t need a small forward as much as we need as Mike Traikos pointed out, a centre or whatever.

The phrase “a centre or whatever” doesn’t really inject me with a whole lot of confidence. Worth nothing, though, that Burke usually speaks very clearly and concisely, so maybe there’s something up his sleeve. It won’t come via free agency, however.

I don’t anticipate we’ll be on that big group, but there are players in the pool we have interest in and we intend to kick some tires at least and find out what they’d cost.

I don’t get this. This team has depth forwards stuffed everywhere. With 11 forwards under contract not including Nazem Kadri or Leo Komarov, and Nik Kulemin and Matt Frattin still to sign, or even a guy like Colborne, there is a lot of depth on this team.

Well, maybe not “depth” in the traditional sense, but there is little need for a big forward down below. Same on defence. John-Michael Liles, Cody Franson and Mike Komisarek are all capable third-pairing guys. You need a top four defenceman and a top-line centreman and a starting goalie, and those are basically the Leafs team needs.

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Unless there is a plan afoot to get Colby Armstrong, Matt Lombardi or Tim Connolly off of their deals a year early, then the Leafs have no business palling around for free agents that aren’t the big guys. I will say this: the solution to the Leafs’ forward woes aren’t in the free agent market. There’s potential that you can find your top four defenceman via UFA, but centre and goalie just aren’t available for free and for cheap in this day and age.

So let’s hope that “kicking tires” is just “kicking tires” at this point.

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