Nik's days numbered

Leafs general manager Brian Burke suggests Nik Antropov needs a

Leafs general manager Brian Burke suggests Nik Antropov needs a "change of scenery." (Sun Media/Michael Peake)

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. -- It will be a milestone occasion for Nik Antropov tonight in sunny South Florida as he plays in his 500th game as a Maple Leaf.

But there will be a dark cloud hanging over the nine-year veteran whose days with the team that drafted him clearly are numbered.

Virtually all doubt about the big winger's future with the club was made as clear as the blue ocean outside the team's beachfront hotel yesterday.

Saying it is time for a "change of scenery," Leafs general manager Brian Burke all but guaranteed that Antropov won't be around to see his 600th game in blue and white.

"From my take at this point, I don't see any reason to put a new contract offer on the table here," Burke told radio station AM 640. "I don't think Nik's play has merited that discussion."

STRUGGLED

Tough to argue that one as the former first-round draft pick has struggled at various points after losing his long time centre, Mats Sundin, prior to this season.

An unrestricted free agent this summer, Burke and the coaching staff clearly don't see the Kazakh as a fit for the future. And this is a player that former GM Cliff Fletcher declared the team's "only top-six forward" this past September.

Now the challenge for Burke will be to get something more for Antropov than a bag of pucks prior to the March 4 trade deadline.

Heading into tonight's game against the Florida Panthers, Antropov is second in Leafs scoring with 16 goals and 22 assists, but those numbers tell only part of his story.

On too many nights, he has been a defensive liability and is a team-worst minus-14.

How pitiful is that? Antropov was tied for 804th in the league prior to last night.

Recently, the 28-year-old went through a 16-game scoring drought, which didn't exactly enhance his prospects for the future.

He also is symptomatic of one trend that has driven the Leafs coaching staff crazy, that being the defensive irresponsibility shown by so many veteran forwards.

Ron Wilson and his staff are aggressive in their teaching, but in some cases it appears the bad habits run too deep.

Though he leads the team in hits, Antropov is nowhere near the physical presence Burke would like to see from a 6-foot-6, 230-pounder.

Meanwhile, Burke told Sun Media on Sunday that trade talks are starting to heat up and we can expect that to continue as the no-nonsense GM continues to lay his cards face up.

The Boston Bruins have been mentioned in reports as one team interested in Leafs players and expect all sorts of speculation, legitimate and otherwise, in the weeks ahead.

Burke also has hinted broadly that he will at least investigate the possibility of moving defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina.

Both players have acknowledged recently that they would waive the no-trade clauses if it was clear they weren't wanted by the Leafs.

DELICATE

The forthright GM is handling those two as delicately as possible.

While Burke maintains he won't ask the veterans to waive their no-trades, he will offer their agents a chance to forward a list of possible destinations for the players.

Given that both could be dealt in the summer should the Leafs miss the playoffs (triggering another clause in the contract), such a tactic by Burke could be attractive to both parties.

Meanwhile, it would appear that Antropov is one of the Leafs players most bothered by the trade talk, a nuisance that no doubt will heat up as early as this morning's game-day skate.

"It is not in my control," Antropov said recently when asked about the looming deadline.

"That is up to Brian Burke. All I can do is go out there and do my job and try to help my team."

Not for much longer, it would seem.


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