Burke outlines plan of attack

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:14 PM ET

It likely couldn't happen in any other city, in any other pro sport or from many other general managers.

But few are like Brian Burke either, and the Maple Leafs president is playing his cards face up with little concern who sees them.

Burke boldly declared yesterday that he will do whatever he can to land junior sensation John Tavares at the annual NHL entry draft June 26 in Montreal.

After last night's lottery, in which the New York Islanders secured the top pick, GM Garth Snow moved to the top of Burke's speed dial.

"We're going to talk to everyone between us and the first pick and see what the landscape is," Burke said yesterday at the Air Canada Centre in a news conference that featured the Irishman at his feisty, forthright best.

"Once we figure out who has those top couple picks, we're going to go after them."

Burke said he will use any and all resources at his disposal, including the bankroll of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., to help his team move from the No. 7 position to wherever it will take to get Tavares.

"I don't think any player is untradeable," Burke said. "Wayne Gretzky got traded."

Burke had high praise for the London Knights star and Oakville native who is the Ontario Hockey League's career leading goal scorer.

"He's big, he's a man, he can score goals," Burke said of Tavares, who yesterday was named the top North American prospect by the NHL's Central Scouting. "And he pays a hell of a price to score goals."

Targetting Tavares was just the start of Burke's feistiness, in which he addressed a number of pressing issues. Among them:

- It's time to rid players of what Burke called "Blue and White disease" a malaise he believes swells the heads of ordinary players.

"If any of the (17 players under contract) thinks he has a (guaranteed) job at this address, he better re-think that position," Burke said. "I think players who play here for a long time confuse the passion and attraction (by people and the media) for this team with being a good hockey player. No. (The passion is) because you are a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs."

- Burke said recently that acquiring free agents adds depth but also puts heat on incumbent players. After signing college stars Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak, the team yesterday got two more players under contract.

One was free agent Robert Slaney, a 20-year-old winger with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec junior league. The other, forward Viktor Stalberg, a 23-year-old Swede who played for the University of Vermont this past season.

- Burke confirmed the Leafs are one of several NHL teams to make an offer to Boston University defenceman Matt Gilroy. "We'll see how silly the money gets," Burke said.

- Burke acknowledged talks with the agent for Leafs rookie Mikhail Grabovski "have not been successful" and he wouldn't be surprised if arbitration was required.

"He's a guy who has benefitted from ice time that he hasn't earned," Burke said of the Belarusian, who becomes an restricted free agent this summer. "But he's also grabbed that ring and made himself a better player."

- The team intends to aggressively pursue Swedish free agent Jonas Gustavsson, who Leafs coach Ron Wilson described as "the best goaltender not in the NHL." Burke will meet with Gustavsson and his agent at the world championships later this month in Switzerland.

- Wilson and Burke said they are confident Vesa Toskala can return to form and be the team's top goalie next year.


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