Despite “missing” the first day of free agency to some criticism, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has been making some nice moves this off-season. It’s almost like the old, savvy Burkie is back after making some big, questionable investments via trades for Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel.
Burke re-signed Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak to cap-friendly deals and fleeced teams for two promising defenseman (John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson). It’s unclear if the Tim Connolly gamble will pay off, but it seems like a lower risk move than the Brad Richards mortgage many were clamoring for.
That being said, there are no guarantees that these subtler moves will push the Maple Leafs far enough to make a true playoff bid. Burke addressed two questions that might be essential to that process today.
1. Will James Reimer be a one-hit wonder?
It seemed like Toronto suddenly resembled an actual playoff team once Reimer took the reins as the team’s interim No. 1 goalie. Reimer earned 20 wins, a sterling .921 save percentage, 2.60 GAA and even became a meme generator when ingenious Maple Leafs bloggers made an ode to him via a parody of that odious “Friday” song.
Of course, the NHL landscape is littered with the broken dreams of guys who enjoyed all-too-brief runs of goalie stardom. The Columbus Blue Jackets are actively praying that such a fate isn’t in the works for their should-be franchise goalie Steve Mason. Burke brought that subject up to Reimer, asking the young goalie to Google two infamous names in the one-hit wonder tradition: Jim Carey and Steve Penny. Burke simply asked Reimer not to turn into them.
Too bad being an NHL-level goalie isn’t as easy as using a search engine, though.
2. Will Burke go after Steven Stamkos with an offer sheet?
Speaking of not turning into something you’d rather avoid, there is the question that Burke might mortgage some of his team’s future to send an offer sheet to Steven Stamkos or Drew Doughty. Burke notoriously fumed when then-Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe poached Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks a few years back. He somewhat amusingly avoided snatching Phil Kessel via an offer sheet by sending a bit more than he would have given up for the contract in a trade to the Boston Bruins. (That package netted the Bruins Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton among other assets.)
So will Burke defy his former stance for the sake of swinging for a personnel home run? While Burke lamented losing out on Brad Richards because the team didn’t front-load the deal enough, he denied the urge to send an offer sheet to one of those stars.
Even so, Burke said he thinks that the team has improved and I’m inclined to agree. It’s unclear if Burke took a deep breath and decided to do things his way (rather than bowing to ownership and/or public pressures to make a huge, risky move again), but the results have been promising so far. The Maple Leafs still are a bit lacking in flat-out elite talent, but they’re finally moving in the right direction this off-season. Some might actually listen to the idea that the Leafs are a genuine contender for a playoff spot.
That probably sounds even better to a Leafs fans’ ears than a rousing rendition of “Reimer.”