Now that Brian Burke intimated the other day that players on the Toronto Maple Leafs' roster need not worry unduly about being moved during the last seven days leading up to the NHL trade deadline, does this mean the general manager's vision of the team is taking shape?
Some of these guys may not have to worry about losing their jobs in the immediate future but that certainly does not mean they will be around past the summer. A look at the lineup for the Leafs game Saturday against what appeared to be a few Ottawa Senators and some people in the witness-protection program showed as many as five of the bottom-six forwards should not sign any long-term leases, nor should a couple of the defencemen. And the goaltender situation is not exactly settled, either.
The only thing that can be said for sure is no one should expect to see the Leafs in the playoffs despite the tantalizing sight of the continuing struggles of the Atlanta Thrashers and Carolina Hurricanes, two of the alleged contenders.
You cannot trade away two experienced defencemen like Tomas Kaberle and François Beauchemin and expect to march into the postseason. Saturday's numbing 1-0 shootout loss to the Senators showed that without Kaberle the Leafs had a lot of trouble moving the puck to the Senators' zone, even if they did wind up taking 47 shots.
This does not mean the Leafs are completely ruling out the postseason. After the Kaberle trade, Burke indicated the third-round pick he received as part of the Kris Versteeg trade is in play. Presumably, he is willing to trade it to someone who wants to dump a useful veteran who is carrying an unwieldy contract.
By the time the puck drops for next season, there could be as many as nine new faces in the lineup if you assume none of the apparent building blocks of the future will be moved to get other pieces of the puzzle.
All of the bottom-six forwards who played Saturday will be either restricted or unrestricted free agents come July 1. Of that group, only centre Christian Hanson and perhaps winger Fredrik Sjostrom are good bets to survive. Colby Armstrong and Mike Brown are both on the injured list now and will take two of those spots.
Among the top-six forwards, Tyler Bozak needs to figure out how to produce points in the NHL if he wants to stick around. One or two of the others could wind up in the bottom six or traded depending how the search for a No. 1 centre goes.
On defence, the pair of Carl Gunnarsson and Luke Schenn played well Saturday and both can expect to stick around, even though both will be restricted free agents. Schenn, 21, made a lot of strides this season and the fans are starting to show their appreciation.
Brett Ledba has a year left on his contract at $1.45-million (all currency U.S.). He has a job for now thanks to Kaberle's departure but there is nothing certain beyond that. His partner, Mike Komisarek, remains a Leaf because his contract ($4.5-million a year for three more years) means a trade is impossible.
The other pairing, rookie Keith Aulie and captain Dion Phaneuf are not going anywhere, either.
What's become interesting in the last month is the goaltending. J.S. Giguere's latest groin injury spoiled any plans Burke had to trade him as a rental player. But Giguere's frequent absences this season meant there was little value for him anyway.
Now Burke has to decide if he wants Giguere, who becomes a free agent, back as a mentor for the youngsters at a greatly reduced salary. But just which youngsters will be around is up in the air.
Jonas Gustavsson's heart troubles returned, which, combined with his struggles on the ice, raise a lot of questions. Then there is rookie James Reimer, who is putting on an impressive late-season push for employment, plus Jussi Rynnas, who played well on the farm team before breaking a finger.
Or Burke could decide his team is close enough next season to try for a veteran upgrade in goal via the free-agent market or a trade.
Other possibilities for next season are the two prospects landed in the recent trades for Beauchemin and Kaberle, defenceman Jake Gardiner and centre Joe Colborne. Then there are the existing prospects on their Toronto Marlies farm team, forwards Nazem Kadri and Luca Caputi plus defencemen Korbinian Holzer and Simon Gysbers.