Burke Looks to Upgrade Leafs’ Offense

With the NHL trade freeze set to expire tonight at midnight, speculation has become rampant that the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the verge of acquiring external help through the form of a trade.

Leafs GM Brian Burke informed his team in late-November that they are responsible for salvaging their dismal season. Burke also emphasized that the team’s lack of success is not a result of poor coaching. Despite a losing record of 13-17-4, he continues to support head coach Ron Wilson and doesn’t feel that he is the main problem.

One would think that Burke would have a challenging time trying to orchestrate a trade at this point in the season, when teams are still identifying whether they will make a run for the post-season or rebuild for next year. However, there are several teams who have identified players who they are willing to move for the right price.

Based on Burke’s desire to acquire another top six forward – preferably a winger – the Atlanta Thrashers have made it clear that they will listen to offers for Niclas Bergfors, who was involved in last spring’s Ilya Kovalchuk trade. The 23-year old has seven goals and 11 assists in 28 games this season, but has been a healthy scratch 10 times after struggling to earn ice time under a very deep group of forwards in Atlanta.

Bergfors is an inconsistent scoring forward with tremendous upside. He could be had for a relatively inexpensive price, especially because of his lack of ice time and development into the player Atlanta projected him to become. He isn’t necessarily the sizeable top six forward that the Leafs are seeking, although he would add another element to the current group of forwards in Toronto.

A player who classifies as a ‘prototypical Brian Burke player’ is Lightning forward Ryan Malone. The 31-year old is on the downside of his prime, but is still capable of contributing over 50 points annually if he stays healthy. His experience as a member of the United States Olympic team, along with his stint playing alongside Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, would bring a significant addition in the leadership department.

It has been mentioned in various media outlets that the likes of San Jose’s Devin Setoguchi and Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk are on the block. If recent history is any indication, both of those players will remain with their respective clubs. They will serve as integral parts of their teams in the playoffs, especially in cup contending cities like San Jose and Philadelphia.

Without a first round pick in the upcoming draft and no tantalizing assets to trade, the Leafs are positioning themselves towards acquiring a somewhat overpriced forward from a cap strapped team. That doesn’t necessarily mean the player is underachieving. For instance, Malone has 28 points in 36 points this season, for a career-best pace, but the Lightning must save money in order to re-sign Steven Stamkos in the off-season.

Leafs management capitalized on Chicago’s lack of cap space this past summer by acquiring Kris Versteeg, who has ultimately paid dividends in Toronto. A similar situation arose with Calgary when Burke dumped several low priced forwards in exchange for an overpriced Dion Phaneuf, who has gone on to become Toronto’s captain and major presence on the blue line.

Burke will not panic and make a transaction without evaluating all of his options. However, his only option appears to be making use of the abundance of cap space that the Leafs have and something most other teams sorely lack.

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