Is Brian Burke Lowering Expectations?

8 shopping days left and there seems to be a consensus building that this NHL trade deadline day for the Toronto Maple Leafs is going to be a yawner. A great many of the pundits are saying not to expect much beyond the swapping of Nik Antropov who, it is a foregone conclusion will be traded. At one point, many of these experts were prognosticating that anything that wasn’t nailed down would be dealt. That tune has been dramatically altered. Of course, as given as a Vernon Wells injury, TSM has some questions for you:

1. How would it sit with you if all Burke was able to do between now and deadline day was trade Nik Antropov? Assume Burke got as much as you could want for Antropov (realistic? maybe not. But who cares..in case your answer was predicated on the return for Antropov – assume the best)

2. Would your overall impression of Burke change if that is all he were able to do?

The reasons we are hearing for the lack of moves by the Leafs are many. Of course, what would any conversation be without mention of the economy? Teams are being overly cash conscious these days and therefore the ability to move bodies for picks will be limited. Another reason which has the same response is the cap. Teams don’t have the room to take on additional bodies without throwing one or two overboard at the same time. Of course there is the easy response of why would anyone trade for ____________________ fill in the name of your favorite Maple Leaf player here.

The last point raises another question. In talking to a friend the other night as the Renney news was starting to bubble, it was suggested that Burke can’t trade certain guys due to price the Leafs paid for acquiring that player. I had suggested that Jamal Mayers has played ok in the last couple of weeks, I think he has scored a few goals here and there and maybe he is a character guy that someone may want to add at the deadline. My buddy suggested that it would be hard for the Leafs to trade Mayers because he won’t get them a 3rd rounder back (which is what they gave up for him), it would more likely be a 5th or later. To me, that is irrelevant. With the exception of Brad May, what the Leafs gave up for any player is totally irrelevant. Those weren’t this administrations moves. So If Burke can only get a 5th for a guy like Mayers, then the price paid to acquire Mayers shouldn’t be one of the factors in deciding whether or not to pull the trigger. If the Leafs think Grabovsky is going to go back to the CCCP and they therefore want to trade him so as to get something before he leaves, should they only do so if they can get a first or 2nd rounder (or player equivalent)? I say not. With respec to to Burke acquisitions, in this case so far May, but going forward, I have a lot more respect for a general manager who admits a mistake and moves a player for less then he paid for that player, then for one who holds on out of sheer stubbornness or ego. Therefore, if Burke feels the best he can get for Lee Stempniak is a 4th rounder and he feels that Stempniak isn’t part of the solution, then Burke should trade Stempniak irrespective of what his predecessors paid for him. What do you think?

I think that the fact that these news outlets are starting to throw cold water on the potential of an exciting day for leaf fans comes from the top. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I think a survey of the marketplace has left the man in power with the conclusion that he just isn’t going to be able to do anything of note come March 4th. For Leaf fans that is a scary thing. The economy has show no signs of getting better. Rather it seems to get worse every day. When the draft takes place in June, teams will have just started to get a handle on what their renewals look like for 2009-2010. So while the cap remain the same, teams willingness to take on water and spend to the limit will likely be reduced. That should word to the Leafs advantage right? The leafs have cash and lots of cap space. Here is where Burke will either earn his keep or follow in the footsteps of JFJ and other failures. You see, if the 2010/2011 cap drops by the rumored 5m, then you don’t want to be up against it next year nor obligated to anywhere near it for the year after. People always say the Leafs can take bad salaries back. No they can’t. At least not when there are long term implications in doing so.

I heard someone talking about Pavel Kubina today. If you are not willing to take Kubina now, why would you take him at the draft? The argument for now is apparent. He is a top 6 defenceman who can eat a lot of minutes, play some power play etc. But his cap number for next year is 5m. So if a team isn’t willing to take him now with the 5million next year why would they do it at the draft? Teams focus on the short term. They say less then 2.5 million in cash owed this season, the 5m cap hit next season is another issue. If they are stuck on the 5m issue now, why would they bite next year? It’s not like player salaries are going to grow so astronomically this July 1 that 5m is going to suddenly be a steal. Once that window on Kubina closes it is gone. Burke, who seems to be a man of his word has said he will never ask a guy to waive his no trade clause. So 1 year from now, the Leafs could be in the same place with Kubina, an asset who would be movable but for a no trade clause that GM doesn’t feel he has the rights to ask the player to waive.

If all Burke is able to do at this years draft is use his own picks, that is, he is unable to acquire others, would that change your evaluation of him?

What Burke is left with, should he be unsuccessful at this years deadline and the days leading up to the draft, is realizing that he has but a few picks at this years draft and the ability to buy out any contracts he doesn’t want. After that he can sign a few US college players, sign a few more mid range free agents and then cross your fingers and hope. Hope that the few young guys he has show some improvement, that he can move more assets at this time next year and that he didn’t take on too much salary to ties his hands later on.

It says here, Burke has to be good in the next 8 days, good and very, very lucky. The next 3-5 years of the franchise hang in the balance…..

About the Author