The exceptional performances of recent Marlies call-ups has given Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke some new and further options heading into the final month before the NHL trade deadline.
In the past month, several Leafs regulars have been forced out of the lineup due to injuries. Tonight in Phoenix, both netminder J.S. Giguere and the energetic Mike Brown will return to the Leafs lineup. On the flip side of that, Kris Versteeg and Fredrik Sjostrom will both sit out to nurse their own recent injuries.
That means both Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce will hold onto their roster spots for now, and deservedly so. Joey Crabb has been instrumental in helping spark Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel’s dormant offense, piling up 6 assists in 10 games on Toronto’s ‘second line’. On the third line, Darryl Boyce has provided both grit and a surprising amount of offense, racking up 2 goals and 4 points in 7 games.
The question is, what happens when players like Versteeg, Sjostrom, and John Mitchell return from the lineup? Furthermore, what happens now that J.S. Giguere has returned to the now crowded Leafs’ goaltending stable?
Heading into the trade deadline, Brian Burke has expressed his disinterest in selling players for picks despite the Leafs’ current position in the standings. In an interview with AM640’s Jonas Siegel, Burke claimed that the Leafs were looking to add to their lineup to become a better team this year. (Link)
Burke has already made one such move, sending a fading prospect in Mikhail Stefanovich to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Fabian Brunnstrom. This year, Brunnstrom has put up 11 goals and 21 points in 37 games with the Texas Stars of the AHL. Stefanovich on the other hand looked like the odd man out with the Marlies early on this season, but was loaned to Minsk Dynamo of the KHL in order to find him ice time.
The Leafs hope that Brunnstrom will be able to return to the offensive form he showed with Farjestad BK of the SEL that made him a much sought after European free agent in the summer of 2008. Brunnstrom is making $675 000 this year, and becomes an RFA this offseason. Brunnstrom will report to the Marlies for now, but provides Brian Burke with another call-up option.*
This year it looks like Brian Burke will be privileged enough to play buyer and seller. While Burke can look to add even more offensive punch upfront, he will also be able to sell off some organizational depth for picks.
Being that Fredrik Sjostrom, John Mitchell, Tim Brent, Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce are all in the final year of their current contracts, Brian Burke may be able to parlay one or two of these players into late round picks from contending teams looking for some depth. Keeping all of these players through the deadline would be difficult to justify, as both Crabb and Boyce have played well enough to earn more playing time in the big leagues, while players like Sjostrom, Mitchell and Brent are arguably too good to all be sitting in the press box or playing in the minors.
This scenario might be particularly appropriate for the Leafs’ crowded crease. In 6 games this season, injury call-up James Reimer has put up a phenomenal .950 SV% and carries a 1.92 GAA heading into his fourth straight start tonight against the Coyotes. Showing that he could most likely handle, at the very least, backup duties in the NHL, James Reimer’s emergence has made J.S. Giguere nearly expendable.
On Monday, J.S. Giguere told the National Post’s Howard Berger that he’d be willing to waive his no-trade clause and move to a contender if it would help the Leafs. (Link) This comes from a deep seeded respect for GM Brian Burke, who awarded Giguere with a NTC during his time in Anaheim. Burke may be able to acquire a mid-to-late round pick or a decent young prospect from a playoff-bound team looking for goaltending depth in exchange for Giguere. The deal might have to wait though, as NHL GMs know that Giguere’s massive cap hit shrinks by the day.
One deal has been made already, but Brian Burke certainly has plenty more options to shake up his roster as February 28th inches closer.
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