No cartwheels for Burke or fans

STEVE SIMMONS,SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

Is that all there is?

After all the noise, the hype, the pomp, this was Brian Burke's first chance to strut his stuff as general manager of the Maple Leafs and on hockey's busiest day he came away with a performance best deemed as underwhelming.

Maybe he did all he could. Maybe he had little to barter with. Maybe everyone's expectations -- yours and mine -- were impossible to meet.

We expected a rabbit to get pulled out a hat and all we got was a phony trade where the Leafs paid real money (in salaries) to essentially purchase a fourth- round draft pick from the cash-poor Tampa Bay Lightning. That was creative, if not, insignificant. He needed an extra pick and for picking up about half a million in salary, he acquired one.

In all, the Leafs reduced none of their $42 million in payroll obligations for next season but came away with two second-round picks, a conditional choice from the Nik Antropov trade, a fourth- round selection, and more spare parts for a team that already has too many.

"I'm not doing cartwheels," said Burke, summing up his reaction to the day.

We're not, either.

The little trade was in vogue yesterday as 22 deals were made, almost all of them of the forgettable variety. Calgary came away with the only A-list player of the day, centre Olli Jokinen, but after that it's hard to categorize most of what went on this Deadline Day.

We knew by Monday that Burke would be trading Antropov and Dominic Moore and those proved to be the only players sent packing from the current Leafs roster.

For each of the two expiring contracts, Burke came away with a second-round choice, with the possibility of more coming for Antropov, but only if the New York Rangers win two rounds of the playoffs.

It's probably in the Leafs' best interest to have the Rangers and Buffalo Sabres not make the playoffs. That makes the second-round picks somewhere in the 40-to-45 range, but in this case they have no choice.

This was the Leafs saying goodbye to two of their top six forwards on a team that lacks top-six forwards and all they got back is a couple of lottery tickets. That's what second-round selections are, for the most part. If you do the math, about one-third of all second-rounders play as many as 100 games in the National Hockey League. Maybe three out of every 30 turn out to be players of significance.

You need the draft choices to have a chance -- but having a chance, doesn't necessarily equate to anything. That's the difficulty of the rebuilding job Burke must do with the Maple Leafs. You accumulate picks and hope you make the right selections. If you make some good choices in 2009, maybe you'll have a player by 2012, maybe a year after that. Nothing happens quickly with a draft of 18-year-olds.

And that is the difficulty Burke faces in his job. He comes to Toronto, inherits a dismal mess and people expect him to walk on water. He had For Sale signs on more than half his roster yesterday and only Moore and Antropov, with expiring contracts in a salary-capped world, were of any interest to anyone.

"It was a good day for us, long-term," he said.

The term may be longer than anyone is willing to admit. At the end of his first deadline day, he had three more draft picks, a spotty goalie claimed on waivers and a game defenceman who can fight but not necessarily win them, and his No. 1 goaltender heading for surgery. Calling this baby steps may be an insult to any kid.

But what else was available? What else could he have done?

June and July may be more interesting than March. There, Burke can explore free agency, the possible trading of the no-trade defencemen, Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle, the option of buying out any contracts he doesn't care for because his owners are anything but cash poor. There will be more options available in the future.

"We were open for business," Burke said.

There just wasn't a lot of business to do.

STEVE.SIMMONS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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