A lot of people are pooh-poohing Brian Burke's assertion he will hunt for, and find a way, to make John Tavares a Toronto Maple Leaf next year. I think he can do it.
The key to all of this is the financial straits the Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves in. I think the Maple Leafs CAN get to that second pick fairly easily. And it will be a trade that makes sense and cents for the Lightning.
Toronto deals the seventh pick, plus Tomas Kaberle and John Mitchell plus a third round pick NEXT year to the Lightning for the second pick plus Ryan Malone plus one more bad contract. This makes dollar sense to the Lightning, who might be able to purge as much as eight million in salary while taking back something close to five. And Kaberle hardly stands to stick around. He could be converted into kids without much difficulty, leaving the possibility that Tampa might very well shed upwards of six million in salary, while bringing in two to four talented kids. Even if the Lightning decides to keep Kaberle and his reasonable salary, exchanging Malone for Kaberle, then the downward drop between Victor Hedman and say Brady Schenn's not all that horrible to think about.
Okay, so now Burke's sitting over Garth Snow's shoulder whispering sweet nothings into his ear. He certainly could offer up Pavel Kubina JUST for the right to flop picks, letting the Islanders have Hedman while he takes Tavares. That gives the Isles Kubina to play in the top defensive pair until Hedman comes across the pond and develops into what I think he is, the best prospect in the draft. Plus Kubina's contract isn't forever, expiring next year. That's a trade Snow HAS to think about, since it's economically viable, improves his club RIGHT now and still leaves him with the possibility at crowing later that he got the Chris Pronger of this draft. Future third round picks (think 2012) might sweeten the pot enough.
And the Leafs simply get worse for next year, making THEM the likely front-runner for the first pick in the draft, Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires. THAT'S when the club starts spending like a drunk to bring in the talent to surround Tavares and Hall and Luke Schenn. Maybe Chris Hanson, Tyler Bozek and the rest of the university free agent clan Burke's assembling will mature at the same time. Say, in about three years.
I see only one flaw in this plan. This is a six-player draft and maybe Tampa Bay isn't enamoured with Schenn the second, or any of the other possibilities here. Maybe the way requires either of the two Swedish kids sitting just behind Tavares, Hedman, Evander Kane and Matt Duchene (from my hometown Brampton Battalion). In fact, Magnus-Svensson Parvijaarvi is the real sleeper of this class. It might be that the Leafs might have to make one more trade to pop up a spot to get Tampa a sixth pick rather than a seventh. That puts Los Angeles in the cross-hairs, and the Kings need veterans who can play, rather than more kids. Would face-off artist Niklas Hagman be enough to effect a swap? Maybe with a fourth-round pick? Something like that might be in order.
With the Leafs on the trading block during Burke's draft-day shenanigans and the willingness to send contracts to the AHL (Hello, Mr. Stempniak and maybe, even you too, Mr. Blake), I could see the Leafs being REALLY, REALLY different next year. Still bad, maybe even horrible. But a plan sometimes needs retreat before an all out assault on the enemy.
And nothing suggest Burke's not a man with a plan.