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Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke speaks to the media (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) (Tom Gannam)
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke speaks to the media (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) (Tom Gannam)

James Mirtle

Burke's work not done after deal Add to ...

Brian Burke's approach to reworking his roster this off-season has been far from a state secret.

Back in mid-April, at his season-ending address, the Toronto Maple Leafs' general manager even dropped a subtle hint how he intended to overhaul his roster.

"July 1, that will be our draft," he said.

Since then, through countless appearances on Leafs TV, Leafs Lunch and even some non-Leafs-branded programs, Burke has outlined his team's wants and needs more than any other executive in the league.

One, he wanted to add one or two skilled, top-six forwards - one of which he added Wednesday night in acquiring Kris Versteeg from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Two, he wanted to add at least one or two gritty players to his bottom-six forwards.

And three, Burke wanted his team to be bigger and tougher than it was a year ago.

The only position where Toronto is truly set is in goal, where the Leafs will use a platoon of veteran Jean-Sébastien Giguère and sophomore Jonas Gustavsson. On defence, where Burke has seven players signed and the majority of his cap dollars committed, there could be an addition as long as it's followed by a subtraction.

The bulk of the Leafs' activity in the off-season, however, will be aimed at continuing to improve a thin cast of forwards.

Last July, Burke signed defencemen Mike Komisarek and François Beauchemin, enforcer Colton Orr and Gustavsson in the first week of free agency, spending more than $10-million (all currency U.S.) against last season's salary cap in seven days.

A year later, with Burke's house-cleaning nearly complete, the Leafs have as much as $16-million available to spend and need to add five or six skaters to round out the roster.

Here's who the Leafs could pursue come noon Thursday:

Likely targets

Colby Armstrong: The Atlanta Thrashers' winger has size, can hit and brings the heart-and-soul type of game Burke loves. He would add a needed presence on the Leafs' awful penalty kill and can chip in with 15 to 20 goals.

Raffi Torres: After two seasons plagued by injuries, the Toronto native was healthy this year and had 19 goals in 60 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets before a deadline deal to Buffalo. Torres's agent, Steve Reich, said Wednesday his client is looking to play a top-six role and contribute on the power play. "He has a lot of good hockey left," Reich said.

Dan Hamhuis: With Luke Schenn and Carl Gunnarsson still both on relatively inexpensive entry-level deals, Burke could choose to add yet another free-agent blueliner if he plans on shipping out Tomas Kaberle via trade. Hamhuis, a steady defender who logged big minutes with the Nashville Predators, is considered one of the top options and will get interest from a lot of teams. His price tag could be too high for Toronto, but it'll likely make a pitch.

Next in line

Manny Malhotra: Hard-pressed to find a team as a free agent last summer, the Mississauga native went on to have a career year with the San Jose Sharks as an all-purpose forward. Malhotra's one of the best faceoff men in the league and helped San Jose finish as one of the top penalty-killing teams in the NHL.

Paul Martin: Another option on defence, although in a different mould, could be Martin, who narrowly missed playing for Burke at the Olympics for Team USA due to a broken arm. Capable of playing in all situations, Martin is a terrific skater who is solid defensively and would be an upgrade on Kaberle.

Arron Asham: A hard-working middleweight who can chip in on offence, Asham had 24 points and 14 fights while playing 10 minutes a night for the Philadelphia Flyers this season. Ranked fourth among forwards in hits during the playoffs and a Brian Burke type of player.

The long shot

Ilya Kovalchuk: The big kahuna in this summer's free-agent market, Kovalchuk has averaged an impressive 46 goals a season since the lockout and is the lone superstar available as an unrestricted free agent. It would likely take a creatively structured contract for him to land in Toronto, however, and Burke has publicly stated a lack of interest in signing players to long-term deals as a way of lowering their cap hit.

The trade front

Adding Versteeg for a trio of youngsters shows the Leafs also aren't afraid to go the trade route. Both Burke and right-hand man Dave Nonis cautioned this week that if prices in the thin free-agent market get out of hand, they may step back and attempt to simply make more deals to improve their team.

"We're not going to just sign people just to say we did something on the 1st," Nonis said.

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