The Stralman Quandry

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    Since taking over the reigns of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke identified several glaring weaknesses in his team.  In several press conferences, he clearly and succinctly described these weaknesses and his intention and plans to amend his product.  Being one of the more active General Managers, commencing with the NCAA free agent period right through til today, Mr Burke has lived up to the expectations most Leaf fans would have.  Commencing with the signings of Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson, followed up with deadline trades to acquire draft picks, drafting London Knights sensation Nazim Kadri, signing key UFA’s specifically addressing his teams needs and the signing of top European goalie Jonas Gustuvvson led to renewed optimism amongst Leaf supporters – not of an imminent Stanley Cup victory, but, rather of a renewed direction and focus, once again bringing hope of a contending Leafs team being iced in the not too distant future.

    What is puzzling however, is the oddly unpublicized trade of top Swedish Defense prospect, Anton Stralman.  In a system lacking any legitimate puck moving defensemen (critical to success in today’s NHL), with a parent club devoid of any depth with this particular skill set, with a player dripping in the type of potential Toronto has not seen in a rearguard for years, and what appeared to be the imminent departure of Tomas Kaberle, Stralman seemed poised to be given his first real, prolonged and legitimate shot at cracking the roster and establishing himself as a top offensive back end force for the Leafs for years to come.  The initial feedback from Toronto has been unusually placid.  For an organization and fan base clearly aware of the consequences of maintaining veterans and moving out top prospects in favour of more immediate results, this type of move is perplexing.  Mr Burke obviously has improved the back end to a degree where fans are willing to take a “wait and see” approach.  The emergence of Luke Schenn from high draft pick/top prospect to a legitimate NHL defenseman, still oozing of untapped potential are obviously keeping the wolves at bay.  We can only speculate as to whether Mr Burke intends on keeping or moving Tomas Kaberle, and who will then subsequently fill the obvious puck moving and powerplay void on the roster if he is moved.

    I believe the movement of Anton Stralman indicates Mr Burkes inability to translate Kaberle into the type of return he was publicly demanding and thus chose to keep Kaberle, rendering Stralman as an expendable asset (especially considering his contractual status which would expose him to waivers if he could not crack the Leafs lineup in training camp).  With Kaberle on the roster, and the inordinate amount of NHL caliber defensemen Mr Burke has accummulated, this would leave little opportunity for Stralman to crack the lineup.  Many would argue that the Leafs were wise to translate this player into a 2nd round pick vs inevitably losing him to waivers.  The concern comes if Stralman realizes his potential, ultimately creating yet another Brad Boyes scenario or worse.  Hopefully, for the Leafs sake, and Mr Burkes sake, sending Stralman to Calgary, with arguably the best defense core in the league, negates the possibility entirely.  Otherwise, if Stralman survives and thrives on that roster, against that competition, the questions will be asked, and loudly.

    For now, the only questions I have is why would Calgary give up a 2nd round pick if their intention was to simply place Stralman on waivers in 6-8 weeks time?  The obvious answer is because they expect Stralman to crack their lineup.  What then needs to be asked is if Stralman can crack that roster, likely the best defensive corps in the league, how is it possible Toronto could not make room for him, especially while accommodating several veterans players on expiring or short term contracts?

    Brian Burke, in my humble opinion, has lived up to all of his billing.  He is aggressive, intelligent, forthright, thinks outside of the box and is not influenced or apparently intimidated by public opinion or the hordes of media coverage in Toronto surrounding the Maple Leafs.  All outstanding and enviable qualities.  However, this particular move wreaks of pre Burke MLSE, where immediate playoff revenue is the priority.  Holding onto veterans (ie Kaberle) instead of moving them at the right time should not be favoured over the development and proliferation of your own assets (ie Stralman), which is essential in becoming a sustainable contender in the economic reality of the modern NHL.