The Leafs’ Versteeg deal: mo’ money or mo’ youth?
What is Brian Burke up to? Tough to say, these days. In the last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager has made a couple moves that have added a level intrigue and excitement to the squad’s play in the present and its strategy for the future. At first glance, yesterday’s deal moving Kris Versteeg to the Philadelphia Flyers for a pair of draft picks (one first-round, one third) seemed to be part and parcel with his earlier move to bring in Joffrey Lupul and blue-chip prospect Jake Gardiner from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. We theorized that he was putting together a younger team, but Burke’s comments after the Versteeg trade indicate that he’s moved into a new phase of his plan: trade both draft picks and get rid of the winger’s $3.083-million salary. This enables the team to make a big free-agent play in the offseason.
The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle has the story:
The one thing the two deals accomplished other than adding youth was to add another $3-million in salary cap space to the already $12-million or more Burke has available to spend in free agency or via trade in the coming months…
And while there are, as when he started, still two paths for Burke in Toronto, he has already made clear which one he is headed down. It’ll involve big money, spending to the cap and adding veterans to the cast of youth he has already assembled.
The idea that Burke is going after the biggest fish in the sea when free agency opens on July 1 runs contrary to initial speculation that Burke was ready to tear up the current roster in favour of creating a full-fledged youth movement. With the newly acquired Gardiner, recently called-up blueliner Keith Aulie and a handful of other youngsters whose potential is yet unknown, the Leafs do have what appears to be the right stuff to rebuild from the ground up. But Burke seems more interested in the rather unorthodox rebuild-on-the-fly approach. Hence, the impending foray into free agency.
With the space the Leafs now have under the cap—add $3 million more with Versteeg’s contract off the books to the $12 million they already have—Toronto could make a bid for, say, Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars (likely to be the most coveted free agent this summer) and another quality veteran. But that sort of pricey free-agent splash has been tried before in Hogtown. The Leafs have brought a lot of big names (Jason Allison, anybody?) in over the years in hopes that they would catapult them into the postseason. And the last time the blue and white nation enjoyed a quality playoff run was—actually, never mind.