Leafs empty up the middle

Small piece by small piece, Brian Burke’s Maple Leafs are getting better.

But for every Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong the Leafs add, what becomes more apparent is just how weak this team is at centre, the most important position on a hockey club, other than goaltender.

Who won the last three Stanley Cups?

Teams with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, David Bolland, Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg at centre?

Even when Burke won he had Andy McDonald, a young Ryan Getzlaf and Sammy Pahlsson (playing WAY over his head) at centre.

Nice kid Tyler Bozak is currently the Leafs top centreman. He wouldn’t even dress for the Blackhawks. Pittsburgh would probablty try and move him to the wing.

And after Bozak, the Leafs have the wayward Mikhail Grabovski with a bad contract, the hope, Nazem Kadri, maybe Christian Hanson and maybe John Mitchell.

Not very encouraging.

The Leafs had no interest in free-agent Matthew Lombardi, whom Burke’s Team USA assistant, David Poile, happily grabbed for Nashville.

And after that, the market is relatively bare.

This and that

Two words for Ilya Kovalchuk if he signs with the Islanders: Rich loser … One word for the Islanders if they pull another Alexei Yashin: Idiots … Never mind Darryl Sutter losing his senses and signing Olli Jokinen. But giving him a no-trade deal? Who does he think he is, John Ferguson Jr.? … Interesting to hear Rick Dudley’s take on the Leafs’ acquiring Versteeg from the Blackhawks. “If he goes into a situation where he’s given a lead role, he might be spectacular,” said Dudley, the former Chicago executive now running the Atlanta Thrashers …. Impressive free-agent period for GM Lou Lamoriello, who added quality backup goalie, Johan Hedberg, to give Martin Brodeur some much-needed rest, along with two defencemen of note, the underappreciated Henrik Tallinder and the very solid Anton Volchenkov … Viktor Stalberg, still learning to play, should fit in nicely with the speedy Blackhawks, without any kind of pressure to perform … From the team that won the Stanley Cup, seven of the 20 dressed players for Chicago are no longer Hawks. If they bury Cristobal Huet in the minors, that will make eight … Surprised that Florida GM Dale Tallon, fully aware of Chicago’s cap problems, didn’t make an offer to restricted free-agent defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson.