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Leafs Improved With New Additions

Thursday, 07.1.2010 / 6:58 PM ET / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Leafs Improved With New Additions
RELATED: Colby Armstrong Press Release | Colby Armstrong Bio | Versteeg A Big Addition
RELATED VIDEO: Burke Conference Call | Versteeg Conference Call | Armstrong Conference Call
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are not done.

That’s the message from Leafs’ president and general manager Brian Burke after landing Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong via trade and free agency.

“We’re done for tonight but we’re not ruling out doing something tomorrow,” Burke said.

Burke said he would be willing to start the season with what he had.

“We had the youngest team in the league for much of last year.  I wish the season was starting tomorrow.”

On the first day of free agency, Burke landed Armstrong, a free-agent winger from the Atlanta Thrashers.

Armstrong will receive $9 million over three years. He scored 15 goals last season and fits Burke’s criteria of a flinty player who can score.

The real coup is Versteeg. The 24-year-old can play all three forward positions and he put up back-to-back 20-plus goal seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.

“He brings the ability to play either wing,” Burke said. “There’s a pace to his game. He’s adaptable and he’s versatile.”

The Leafs had to part with speedy Swedish winger Viktor Stalberg and shipped out Philippe Paradis and Chris Di Domenico in the deal. Coming back to Toronto was speedster Bill Sweatt, a second-round choice for the Blackhawks in 2007.

The Illinois native was a consistent scorer over four years at Colorado College and is still unsigned.  Burke said that while Sweatt would likely be bound for the Marlies, he would welcome some competition.

“This kid can really skate,” Burke said. “It (whether he sticks) is up to him. I would like to go into the pre-season with a couple of spots open.”

Defencemen who might have intrigued the Leafs, Dan Hamhuis and Paul Martin went to the Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins respectively.

Some big names are still unsigned including Ilya Kovalchuk and two players who might address the Leafs need for more depth: centreman Matthew Lombardi and winger Raffi Torres.

For Burke, the hunt continues for a front line forward.

There is no doubt the Leafs are a better team with the most recent additions, but after finishing 29th last season making things moderately better can’t be the point.

The forward crew, while improved looks out of balance.

The dominant figure is center Tyler Bozak. Bozak often looked terrific, but the prospect of handing the job to a player who has played only 37 NHL games is problematic. 

Right winger Phil Kessel scored 30 goals last season and could be good for more. Versteeg seems the natural choice for the left side of the number one line.

Armstrong fits on to the right side of the second line. Assuming Nikolai Kulemin returns to play the left side, rookie Nazem Kadri seems the natural choice to centre the second line. Should he return, Mikhail Grabovski fits somewhere in the mix.

The rest, Fredrik Sjostrom, Mike Brown, Luca Caputi, Brayden Irwin, Christian Hanson, Colton Orr fit somewhere down below.

Unless Bozak quickly proves himself, the Leafs need a centre and a winger who can play on the first line. Bumping Bozak and Versteeg down could allow Kadri to break into the league at his own pace and dramatically boost the offence from the second line.

It’s probably too much to expect those positions will be filled by training camp, but Burke is filling the holes in his roster diligently. Two scenarios remain.

The first involves defenceman Tomas Kaberle. How much can Burke expect to get for him? And will Burke risk moving 20-year-old Luke Schenn, a prized defenceman whose youth and contract would make him a tantalizing bit of trade bait.

Stay tuned.

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