Late last night, Jonathan Willis commented on a quote from ex-player-turned-agent Igor Larionov when discussing the upcoming prospects of his clients Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk. Larionov stated that it’s possible Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke trades his draft pick up to get both Yakupov and Galchenyuk.
Willis commented that Burke did a similar manoeuvre at the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, shifting several stones to bring Henrik and Daniel Sedin, two future franchise players, to Vancouver, giving up their first round pick in the following season and then-young defenceman Bryan McCabe.
@Jimmy_Stallion The Sedin twins. Actually three trades, and a big gamble at the time. I never worked so hard on a transaction in my life.
— Brian Burke (@LeafsBB20) January 7, 2012
But that wasn’t the first time that Burke had made a big trade on draft day. Back in 1993, as the general manager of the Hartford Whalers, Burke traded the Whalers’ first, second and third round picks to move up four slots to San Jose’s #2 overall position and take a young defenceman from Peterborough named Chris Pronger.
However, it seems that, especially in Toronto, every year there have been rumours of Burke trying to move his way up in the draft. Last season, Burke made a more minor deal to move up, trading #30 and #39 to the Anaheim Ducks for the #22 pick, which Burke used not to draft a comparable of Yakupov or Galchenyuk, but rather the large Tyler Biggs, a man of questionable offensive upside.
The thing with Burke is that if he really wants a certain player, he will move mountains to acquire him. His greatest attribute is also his greatest flaw, in that he’s very sold on “his” guys. Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Joffrey Lupul, are all players that Burke has just clung to for one reason or another. It’s done him in as a judge of goaltending talent, as he watched a very strong group in Vancouver for three years flounder behind Dan Cloutier, and has yet to address the current Maple Leafs’ goaltending issues.
But goaltending issues won’t be fixed in this draft. What the Leafs could fix is the limited offensive upside in the system. If the Edmonton Oilers, who hold the top pick, are as serious about adding the defenceman Ryan Murray as I assume them to be, there may be a chance that Burke could unload one of Carl Gunnarsson or Jake Gardiner. Defensive prospects Jesse Blacker and Stuart Percy could also be potential trade bait if Steve Tambellini wants to stockpile big defensive bodies, but obviously the popular option is Luke Schenn.
Dealing Schenn, I think I’ve mentioned it before, would be killing two birds with one stone. For one, the 22-year old former fifth overall pick still has some value in hockey circles and could be used to acquire a good piece, and two, with a salary cap hit of just under $4M, you open up space to make another roster move.
Unfortunately, a trade with the Oilers is only half the equation should the Leafs hope to land both. The furthest Nail Yakupov will fall in this draft is the #2 spot in all likelihood, and with Québec Remparts’ star Mikhail Grigorenko dropping in draft rankings, it possibly takes another forward off the board. A second move would have to be made with either Columbus, Montreal or the New York Islanders to secure another shot at a top four pick.
The Leafs badly need something to change the channel on seven seasons of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs and trading up to take a credible team saviour could be it. True, 90 per cent out of the portion of Leaf Nation in suburbs such as Ajax and Burlington would prefer a Canadian hockey hero to someone with a long Russian name. Galchenyuk and Yakupov, of course, offer some familiarity factor since they played in the OHL.
Also, they’re both pretty good, apparently.