Leafs general manager Brian Burke heading into NHL draft with open mind – Metro US

Leafs general manager Brian Burke heading into NHL draft with open mind

CAMPBELLVILLE, Ont. – Brian Burke is heading to the NHL draft open to just about anything.

The Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager still wants to move up from No. 7 in this weekend’s draft at Montreal to have a shot at a top prospect – London Knights centre John Tavares and Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman are regarded as the top players available.

With the Leafs being between US$10 million and US$13 million under the salary cap, Burke would also listen to teams looking to shed high-priced talent as well as those offering additional draft picks for Burke to move down in the draft.

Burke, 53, served as the honourary drawmaster Tuesday for the US$1.5-million Pepsi North America Cup harness race at Mohawk Racetrack.

Afterwards, Burke said he’s been actively talking turkey with a number of teams about potential deals and while he’s got nothing brewing just yet, he expects things to heat up in Montreal.

“I know we’ve got nothing going right now and that doesn’t discourage me because these frequently do happen very late,” he said. “Teams haven’t said they won’t move (their) pick, most of them just said they don’t like my pricetag so far so that’s kind of how it goes.

“We’ll see, we’ll keep banging away at it. It’s still early yet.”

Toronto finished 12th in the Eastern Conference standings with a 34-35-13 record, 12 points behind Montreal, which secured the eighth and final playoff spot. The Leafs have missed the NHL postseason the past four years, something that doesn’t sit well with Burke.

“The day we were eliminated from the playoffs I was pretty bitter about it,” Burke said. “To me, that’s what we’re in this business for.

“When your team doesn’t make the playoffs, then you have failed as a group and I was really sour about it and it didn’t seem to bother anybody . . . the players didn’t seem upset, the media didn’t seem upset and I was, ‘Guys, this is a day of shame, a day in infamy in my mind.’

“It was the first time I watched the playoffs on TV and it really bothered me and still does.”

Burke was named the Leafs president and GM on Nov. 29, 2008, after four seasons with Anaheim. He led the Ducks to their first Stanley Cup title in 2007.

Toronto last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.

Burke was emphatic Tuesday in his desire to transform the Leafs into a much tougher team, and he’s open to doing so either through the draft or by acquiring veteran NHL players.

“It’s going to have to come from both,” he said. “I’m not sure how much toughness you can add at any one time.

“I don’t want our fans to think there’s a bold promise of this … but we will be tougher, there’s no question. I’m not going to watch this again.”

With upwards of US$13 million to spend, Burke certainly has the financial flexibility to make a deal for a high-priced veteran with a team desperate to shed salary.

“I think it’s a function of there’s some teams that have made some decisions they would like to have back, some concerned about where the salary cap is going,” Burke said.

“But, yes, I believe teams that have cap room will be able to take advantage of that.”

One player who could be on the move this weekend is Tampa Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier, whose 11-year, US$85-million extension with the NHL club is set to kick in July 1.

Lecavalier’s name had been mentioned in trade talks with the Montreal Canadiens – Lecavalier is a Montreal native – but Lightning GM Brian Lawton recently told The Tampa Tribune his phone hasn’t exactly been ringing off the hook for the 29-year-old all-star centre.

Burke said he’d be content staying at No. 7 but would prefer to be busy during the draft so as to reward the efforts of his scouting department.

“I like our scouts to be busy on draft day because they work hard all year,” he said. “Right now we’re at a stage where we’ll probably have to do it so, if we trade some picks, I’ll try and get some back.

“I hate the guys all year then sit on their ass on draft day.”

Burke has had a knack of making a big splash at the draft.

In 1993 as the Hartford Whalers GM, Burke sent first-, second-, and third-round picks to San Jose for the second overall selection, which he used to take heralded defenceman Chris Pronger.

Six years later in Vancouver, he secured the second and third picks to select Swedish twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

Last year with Anaheim, Burke twice traded down, sending the No. 12 pick to Los Angeles for the 17th and 28th selections, then moved the No. 28 pick to Phoenix for a pair of second-rounders.

Burke would even be receptive to any deal involving picks for next year’s draft.

“I think you have to be open to all scenarios when you go in,” he said.

The future of the Phoenix Coyotes has dominated the hockey headlines of late, with Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie looking to purchase the money-losing franchise to relocate it to southern Ontario.

The NHL, on the other hand, would prefer to find an owner who’s committed to keeping the club in Arizona.

When asked about the Coyotes, as well as the long-term future of the Lightning, Burke took a philosophical approach.

“For every situation you look at Phoenix you have to look at Washington and Pittsburgh,” he said. “Three or four years ago they were saying the team in Pittsburgh was in bankruptcy and had to move.

“They were saying that Washington was a graveyard, that Chicago was empty, Boston was empty. I think in pro sports you’ve got to look at it as being cyclical in different markets.

“Not every market is a Canadian market where there is great passion for the game. Some of those markets you have to have a successful team. So to me it’s a cyclical thing.

“I hope we’re looking back at Phoenix in a couple of years saying, ‘Remember when they were in trouble?”‘