Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has avoided the trade deadline rush by making early splashes in the pool. So far he’s shipped out Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul, a prospect and a draft pick and right winger Kris Versteeg to the Philadelphia Flyers for first and third round picks in this year’s draft.
Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun suggested Burke wasn’t done dealing, though the Leafs GM said he’s agreed to a “veil of secrecy” with defenseman Tomas Kaberle’s camp regarding the blueliner’s trade status.
That didn’t prevent speculation from running rampant that the Leafs were closing in on a deal that would ship Kaberle to the Boston Bruins. This was fuelled in part by Burke’s comments to a local Boston radio station confirming he was indeed in talks with the Bruins, though he wouldn’t confirm if the talks centred around Kaberle.
At one point there were reports Burke had sought Kaberle’s permission to speak with the Bruins about a deal involving the blueliner, but TSN’s Bob McKenzie reminded everyone the Leafs GM only needed to seek Kaberle’s permission to waive his clause to permit a trade, not to simply talk to a team.
CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reported any potential deal with the Bruins would involve either left winger Blake Wheeler or defenseman Mark Stuart, plus a prospect. Haggerty noted Burke recently scouted young Bruins prospect Zach Hamill.
So much for the supposed “veil of secrecy” involving Kaberle’s trade status.
Reports claim any potential deal between the Leafs and Bruins won’t see the latter ship back the Leafs 2011 first round draft pick, which the Bruins acquired as part of the Phil Kessel trade.
It remains to be seen if Kaberle becomes a Bruin by week’s end, but there’s no denying interest in the long-time Leafs defenseman has increased significantly.
LEAFS LINE UP FOR TOP FREE AGENT ACQUISITIONS
Veteran goalie J-S Giguere has been considered a trade candidate for weeks, but Hornby noted Jonas Gustavsson’s heart condition, combined with a finger injury to prospect goalie Jussi Rynnas, may mean Giguere will still be a Maple Leaf after Feb. 28.
James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail, meanwhile, reported Burke not only would be willing to move his recently acquired first round pick for the right price, but might already have a taker for that third round pick as well.
Mirtle wrote Burke’s recent moves were done to clear salary cap space with an eye toward pursuing the top talent in this summer’s unrestricted free agent market.
But that may not turn out as well as Burke hopes. He has already freed up more than $24 million in payroll for next season, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to land what few quality stars might be available this summer.
The Maple Leafs have been mired in post-lockout mediocrity, so Toronto isn’t the preferred destination for top unrestricted free agents compared to a decade ago when the club was considered a Stanley Cup contender.
That’s not to suggest Burke won’t sign any decent free agents this summer, but Toronto fans shouldn’t get their hopes too high expecting Brad Richards, Ilya Bryzgalov or Kevin Bieksa to don Leafs jerseys this summer.
BRUINS HUNGRY TO MAKE IMPACT MOVE
Boston’s recent home-and-home losses to the Detroit Red Wings stoked expectations Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli will pull the trigger on a deal or two before the trade deadline.
Bruins fans didn’t have to wait long as he acquired Chris Kelly Tuesday night from the Ottawa Senators, addressing his need for depth at center.
Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald observed Chiarelli has the right combination of cap space plus available draft picks, prospects and roster players to pull off an impact move, while the Boston Globe‘s Fluto Shinzawa speculated Chiarelli would target either older pending free agents, such as Toronto’s Tomas Kaberle, or perhaps look at slightly younger players with a contract, such as Colorado’s John-Michael Liles.
Chiarelli still needs to land a puck-moving defenseman. Given what he has at his disposal to offer up, including the Toronto Maple Leafs first round pick in the 2011 draft, Chiarelli can afford to be patient in finding the right deal.
MONTREAL AND NASHVILLE TALKING SWAP?
Reports out of Nashville indicate the Predators were being scouted by the Montreal Canadiens, leading to speculation the Habs are seeking depth on the blueline.
It’s possible the Canadiens have been scouting Alexander Sulzer, who has an affordable salary of $650,000 this season and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Another possibility is the rugged Shane O’Brien, whose salary is nearly $1 million more than Sulzer for this season, but could bring some much-needed muscle to a Habs team that got slapped around pretty good during a brawl-filled tilt last week with the Boston Bruins.
Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier may also be in the market for an affordable physical forward with a decent scoring touch, but he’s not going to find that on the Predators. Critics of Canadiens under-achieving right winger Andrei Kostitsyn are hoping he’s shipped to Nashville to be reunited with his brother Sergei, but that doesn’t appear likely.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.