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Leafs Watch: Slim pickings for Burke

The question now: What’s next?

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has been at his best the past couple of weeks. He kick-started the 2011 trade deadline season early by moving Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim and followed it up with trades of Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kaberle.

In the process, Burke has added Joffrey Lupul – a player cast in a Burkian mold, young and big with offensive upside – along with draft picks, including two 2011 first-rounders and players selected in recent first rounds.

The Leafs’ stable of prospects has been bolstered by puck-moving blueliner Jake Gardiner and big center Joe Colborne, 45th in The Hockey News’ top-50 prospect list from our soon-to-be released Future Watch issue. Toss them in with No. 13 Nazem Kadri and current NHLer Keith Aulie and there’s hope for the future.

But what now?

Burke has already moved his most valuable assets. Other trades are sure to happen, but will any be of the same magnitude? He has said he’s open to trading the picks he’s acquired to move up in the draft. And there have been whispers that Phil Kessel-inquiries have been floated and listened to, but the chances of Kessel being traded are slim. He’s not producing worth his salary and is still just 23 with a mountain of talent.

More importantly, moving Kessel would be tantamount to an admittance of guilt on Burke’s behalf; that he paid too much in trading two first-round selections and a second-rounder to Boston for the right winger’s services.

And although no one in Blue and White should be untouchable, Luke Schenn and Nikolai Kulemin are as close as anyone. Throw Mikhail Grabovski into that group as well.

He’s turned me.

The shifty, 27-year-old center has blossomed this season. He’s come into his own offensively and has become battle-worn playing top minutes for the moribund Maple Leafs. Grabovski has shown a grit to his game severely lacking in past campaigns, playing physical and through injuries.

He’s not a No.1 pivot, but he’s the best the Leafs have and is a building block. Here’s guessing a number of teams will inquire about Grabovski’s services as the Feb. 28 trade deadline approaches. For my money Burke shouldn’t budge off anything less than what he got for Kaberle – a first-round pick and a top prospect.

The old adage is that, even on bad teams, someone has to score. And make no mistake, the Leafs are a bad team right now. But Grabovski has become a good player, one worthy of high value. He won’t be the most sought after center come the end of the month, but teams will kick the tires.

And when that happens, Burke should tread carefully. It’s one thing to shed current assets for future ones. It’s quite another thing to give up entirely on the present for the future. Especially in Toronto, where the beloved Buds haven’t made the playoffs in seven years and Leafs Nation is already in an unruly mood.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.


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