Burke stays patient as trade deadline looms

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Leafs probably have takers for their more productive forwards, but would the return be worth it?

Toronto —

If you were Brian Burke, what do you do? Your team, which has missed the post-season the past five years, is buried 13 points below the playoff line. You have no first-round draft pick in June. And you just underwent a major overhaul 11 months ago.

Would you buy? Would you sell? Or would you stay the course and let things reach their inevitable end?

Before deciding, you might want to swallow that antacid tablet first because, no matter what you choose, it’s probably not going to change much for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 13th-place team completed the first half of the season with a game against the Los Angeles Kings  Monday night. As we look ahead to the second half, there is no easy solution to remedy all that is wrong.

Sure, fans are pleading for Burke, the team’s general manager, to swap Mike Komisarek and Dion Phaneuf for first-round draft picks, but the Leafs have a better chance of winning the Stanley Cup than getting a deal like that done.

The best thing now is to be patient. The Feb. 28 trade deadline is still more than a month away.

So take a deep breath. That is what Burke is doing these days.

“We have been in a listening mode more than anything,” Burke said. “Teams have come after our players and we are not going to dump. If we can improve, we will do it.

“Are a lot of players on our team in play? Of course they are. We are in last place in our division. There are not too many untouchables. I am not shopping for second-round picks. I am looking for players who can make us better.”

Here’s the problem: the players other teams covet are the same players the Leafs cannot afford to deal.

No one is calling about Komisarek or Phaneuf, whose poor play and pricey contracts make either player practically unmovable, but there reportedly is interest in Kris Versteeg, Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski.

What would take for the Leafs to lose arguably their best assets?

“We have been in a listening mode more than anything. Teams have come after our players and we are not going to dump. If we can improve, we will do it. Brian Burke

Versteeg, with 12 goals and 30 points heading into Monday, might not be worth letting go for a second-round pick, but what if the Leafs could package him and rookie defenceman Keith Aulie to the Los Angeles Kings for Brayden Schenn?

MacArthur is having a career year with a team-leading 33 points. Do you trade him now that his value is at its highest? Do you re-sign him, even though he is expecting a significant raise from the $1.1 million US he is making this season?

A year ago, the Leafs would have let Grabovski go for practically nothing, but now, unless you are getting Brad Richards in return, how do you part with a top-six forward who has scored as many goals as Phil Kessel?

“I think there are also guys who have played well enough that it would be a tough deal to get them out of here,” Burke said. “At some point, do we have say you have been a bargain and we want you to stay? We have to make that decision. If not, then he is an asset who could move.”

The one person who apparently will not be moved is the head coach.

That is not to say that Burke absolves Ron Wilson of all blame. He just believes that at this time, changing the man behind the bench would make little difference.

There are other areas in which to point fingers. The goaltending, which ranks 23rd in the league, has not been good enough. The defence, which has combined for only seven goals, has not been good enough. And the offence, averaging 2.55 goals per game, has not been good enough.

“We all need to be better,” Burke said. “When your team is struggling, everyone has to look in the mirror and say, ‘I take blame in this,’ including the general manager.”

The difference is when Burke looks in the mirror he sees someone who is not going anywhere. The same cannot be said of the faces in the dressing room.

National Post

Organizations: Los Angeles Kings, National Post

Geographic location: Toronto, US

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