For long-suffering fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs - with Florida making the playoffs last season they're officially the longest suffering fans in the NHL - looking at this year's off-season to date, there's not a lot to look at. Almost nothing in fact.
Arguably GM Brian Burke's team has improved about as much as badgirl Lindsay Lohan. Yeah, they got James van Riemsdyk from the Philly Flyers for Luke Schenn, but with neither of those players meeting expectations thus far in their careers, who's to say that's an improvement? And yes Nikolai Kulemin's just been signed for two years while they added depth guy Jay McClement, but really, that's all much ado about next to nothing. Where's the big trade? Where's the free-agent signing?
Maple Leafs: No Rick Nash, No Roberto Luongo
The word appears to be that Rick Nash isn't coming to Toronto, and it certainly looks like Roberto Luongo is headed to Florida, which might have been the case all along. So Toronto is left doing next to nothing, and with not much left to do, a scenario that could see them miss the playoffs for an 8th straight season (counting the lock-out there's been no postseason since 2003-04).
While the Leafs have been busy doing next to nothing, other non-playoff clubs in their conference have improved, some of them big-time. The Tampa Bay Lightning have likely improved their goaltending with Anders Lindback and made huge improvements on defence with Sami Salo and Matt Carle. They got tougher up front with BJ Crombeen. Meanwhile the Carolina Hurricanes landed Jordan Staal and are reportedly in the mix for Alexander Semin.
GM Brian Burke: areas to address
But for the Leafs there remain a number of areas to be addressed, with goaltending the one that has fans worried the most. James Reimer and Ben Scrivens are too young to be expected to improve enough to take this team over the hump. And not finding a first-line center for Phil Kessel isn't going to make anyone feel any better about their front-line scoring. Yeah, Kessel will get his share of points, but give him a playmaker and his numbers could go through the arena roof.
Expecting Jake Gardiner, Carl Gunnarsson, Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri and Kulemin to improve enough to get them from 13th to the playoffs isn't realistic. This is a team that, since Burke took over, has finished 24th, 29th, 22nd and then 26th. Something more than youngsters stepping up and earning ice-time is needed here, and Burke has to get out into the market and find it.
If he doesn't he'll be gone next season, small solace for Maple Leaf fans.
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