Having a plan is one thing

STEVE SIMMONS,SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Say this much for Brian Burke: He gives good headline.

Whether he talks a better game than he trades will be determined over the next two months, having placed himself in a position for possible ridicule after announcing yesterday morning that he was going after John Tavares and going after the first pick in the National Hockey League draft.

And never mind who gets in his way.

Burke is a runaway train when it comes to draft day accomplishment, only he knows now he can no longer sneak up on anybody. He did that with Chris Pronger. He did that with manoeuvring his way into getting the Sedin twins in Vancouver.

So rather than sneak up, he has decided to speak up. Burke has basically launched an all out assault on the early picks in the draft.

Pick No. 1 is owned by the New York Islanders, with neophyte general manager Garth Snow in charge. The Islanders, for the record, have issues, like a lack of money, a bad building, ownership that may be looking to move the franchise and absolutely no identity.

Who knows how Snow might react to a full-court press from Burke: But from this vantage point, the Islanders have no choice but to utilize the pick. The question is: Do they pick Tavares first or do they settle for the big Swedish defenceman, Victor Hedman?

The Leafs have little to offer the Islanders other than money: Burke might want the first pick but getting it from the Isles seems a long shot at best.

Tampa Bay owns the No. 2 pick. This is where it might get interesting. Tampa is a mess of bad contracts, lack of money, ownership difficulty, and a baby general manager in Brian Lawton.

Tampa wound up next to last in the NHL with Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone. The Lightning needs a defence, some season ticket holders, stronger ownership and to rid themselves of a bad contract or five.

Don't expect the Leafs to go anywhere near Lecavalier, but they might make a pitch for Malone's crappy contract, offer up a player and their first draft pick in exchange, and see what they come away with at second pick.

That's one possibility.

And in the current economy, the only real advantage Burke has is working for a team that doesn't have money issues of any kind.

The betting here is, if Burke could somehow wind up with the second pick, he'd wind up with either Tavares or Matt Duchene of the Brampton Battalion, one of the two best forwards available in this draft. If the Islanders pick first and take Tavares, and the Leafs move into the second spot, they would likely take Duchene.

And here's where the draft machinations get even more interesting. Tavares has not had a great playoffs or second half with the London Knights. The more scouts have watched him, the more doubts about him have emerged. Some wonder about his skating. Some wonder about his three-zone readiness as a hockey player. Some wonder if he has reached his level and not improved. One NHL general manager watched him recently and thought they saw some Jason Spezza in him.

That wasn't said as a compliment.

The Leafs hope that kind of talk continues -- remember, once upon a time, some scouts actually thought Kirk Muller would be a better pro than Mario Lemieux.

If the Leafs can't do business with either of the first two teams, the mystery pick comes at No. 3. Colorado fired its general manager the other day. For now, Pierre Lacroix is in charge, at least until he puts his son, Eric, in charge. Eric is a beginner with a capital B. While the Avalanche need a player at this spot, just what kind of offer the Leafs can make is what the club will be meeting about beginning today. If those strategies aren't already in place, they will be soon.

It was no accident that Burke came out and said what he did yesterday. What seems off the cuff in public is actually well planned out. Without saying so, he was hoping to make people nervous.

"The lottery did not change our plans," Burke said. "We intend as we stated today to go after the top picks. We intend to move up from seven."

And damn, they have a plan and don't seem to care who knows about it.


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