Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke returns to his youth movement

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke returns to his youth movement

Image: Damien D.

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ front office has had a busy few weeks. No, they didn’t empty the bank for coveted free agent centre Brad Richards. Ditto for established stars like Simon Gagne, Eric Brewer or even Jaromir Jagr. But in avoiding the big-splash approach to the off-season, Leafs GM Brian Burke opted for a bit-by-bit rebuild that, on a team with needs at virtually every position, is just what the doctor ordered.So far this off-season, Burke has renewed his commitment to retooling the squad’s defence by adding young, talented blueliners—namely, six-foot-five bruiser Cody Franson and offensive defenceman John-Michael Liles—to the team’s nucleus of Luke Schenn, captain Dion Phaneuf and veteran Mike Komisarek. Throw in prospects Keith Aulie, Carl Gunnarsson and Stuart Percy and the Leafs’ blueline corps looks as promising as it has been in recent memory.

The youth movement in Toronto may be borne of necessity—Burke has said he’s averse to handing out monstrous front-loaded deals—but it’s also a familiar road to success for the long-time general manager. When he was with the Vancouver Canucks, Burke helped build an eventual Stanley Cup finalist, largely through the draft, picking up the likes of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Ditto Anaheim, where the Ducks won a Cup with a roster featuring Burke draftees Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry (the reigning Hart Trophy winner as the league’s MVP), who played big roles. Time will tell whether he’s struck gold with recent Leafs draftees, but Burke has high hopes for this year’s top pick, Tyler Biggs, and made it clear that he expects a big season from 2009 first-rounder Nazem Kadri, who will be moved to the wing.

Yet despite Phil Kessel’s best efforts, this team still lacks a marquee frontline forward. And as much as we like newly acquired centre Tim Connolly, who brings some much-needed playoff experience to a team currently void of any, that’s something that’s likely not going to change any time soon—even if they’re still out there.

Kadri on the wing, Reimer in the net: Maple Leafs all set, Burke says [Toronto Star]\
• Unplugged: Burke on all things Maple Leafs [National Post]
Burke: Leafs are improved despite missing big free agents []