In his annual end-of-season media address, Brian Burke touched on a number of topics from this past season and discussed the game plan going forward asÂ Leafs managementÂ prepares for what should be a busy summer on the transaction front.
Burke opened yesterday’s press conference by highlighting the team’s bright spots, most notably the bounceback performance of Dion Phaneuf after suffering a career threatening leg injury in mid-November. Burke also praised Phil Kessel for his commitment to becoming a ’200-foot player’ and involving himself in all situations, both offensive and defensive. While it’s clear that he still has room for improvement in his consistency, Kessel made major strides in his second go-around as a Leaf, scoring 32 goals and 32 assists for 64 points, while playing in all 82 games.
Without question theÂ 23-year old has the skill set to reach the 40-goal mark, maybe even 50, but won’t achieve that milestone without the support from a top line centre to feed him the puck.
Whether it comes through trade, free agency or eventually internal development, the top priority for Leafs management is to find a top line centre. “I don’t see it (defence) as nearly the same priority as a centre,” Burke said. “But we’ll evaluate that also.”Â Speculation persistsÂ that Burke covets Dallas Stars centre Brad Richards, who is a pending free agent expected to be the big fish in the free agent waters. Although the Leafs have a glut of cap space to spend this summer, Richards will likely settle for a long-term, front-loaded deal, something that Burke has been hesitant to offer ever since Kevin Lowe pried away Dusin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks.
Any transaction involving a number one centre is expected to occur via trade and may involve one of the two first round picks acquired from Boston and Philadelphia. Burke also indicated that he won’t entertain the possibility of acquiring a veteran backup goaltender until Jonas Gustavsson is given a fair chance to compete for the starting position.Â â€œNot at this point,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™ll see how training camp goes.â€
â€œThat might be an area that we need to address. A No. 1 centre. If theyâ€™re available. Iâ€™m comfortable with our centres right now, but if thereâ€™s somebody who can add something to the top line and take all those minutes â€¦â€
- Ron Wilson, courtesy of James Mirtle at The Globe and Mail
James Mirtle’s story on Brian Burke’s press conference yesterday.
Mike Ulmer writes about the Leafs pressing need for a top line centre.
Jonas Siegel summarizes Burke’s comments on another lost season.
Full press conference audio from AM 640.
Wilson thinks the Leafs are two to three players away from competing for the Cup.
Chemmy breaks down the Leafs record against each division this season.
More on the possible relocation talk to Toronto.
Latest from Down Goes Brown.
Steve Burtch at Pension Plan Puppets looks at four prospects that could be of interest to the Leafs in the upcoming draft.
Help Chemmy and Lambert raise money for Right To Play, which helps to improve the lives of disadvantaged children through sport.
Other hockey links:
Oilers will pick first for the second straight season. The question is, will they pick Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson or Landeskog?
The Leafs Nation makes their first round predictions as the playoffs get underway tonight.
Last Night in Leafs Prospects:
Kenny Ryan went pointless with a minus-two rating for Windsor in a 5-3 loss to the Saginaw Spirit, who took a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series. Jesse Blacker and the Owen Sound Attack can close out their series tonight with a win over Plymouth.
Do you agree with Brian Burke’s evaluation of the Leafs performance this season? Who should the blue and white target – besides Richards – as a potential number one centre, either through free agency or trade? Are the Leafs a playoff team without such an addition if Burke needs to wait until part way through the season to pull the trigger?