GM: Leafs need more bite

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke laughs at all the rumours about his team, even if he can't address them.

He has heard the stories that he is prepared to sign the Sedin twins, Jay Bouwmeester, Michael Cammalleri and just about every other breathing free agent of quality come July 1.

He would love nothing better than to talk about it, but under National Hockey League rules, that would constitute tampering. He is too smart to go anywhere near there.

So yesterday, Burke sat in the coffee shop at the Westin Hotel by the airport, took meeting after meeting in a hotel full of hockey people, all there for the annual event of poking, prodding and interviewing the best juniors heading into next month's draft. You get that many hockey people in one place and what you get are rumours, more rumours and the occasional piece of truth.

Burke would rather deal with the reality of his position than anyone else's supposition. He isn't shy about listing his priorities of the next five weeks, which represent his first real opportunity to put his fingerprints all over the Maple Leafs.

Priority 1 is getting an answer from Swedish free agent goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. "We really like him," Burke said. "If we can't get him, we'll have to trade for a backup goalie or sign one in free agency."

In other words, see you later, Justin Pogge.

Priority 2 is the NHL entry draft on June 26 and 27. The Leafs have the seventh pick but Burke already has been on the record saying he would like to move up and select John Tavares. That's his public stance. Fat chance. Privately, others insist he wants a top 4 pick -- which would get him one of Tavares, Victor Hedman Matt Duchene or Luke Schenn's brother, Brayden.

To date, Burke admits he has made almost no progress in attempting to move up. "Right now I have nothing going on," Burke said. "If it happens, it will happen on the day before, or day of the draft. Not before that."

Burke was seen meeting with Tampa Bay general manager Brian Lawton yesterday, which is just part of the process leading up to the draft. The Leafs have a first-round pick and two second-round picks to manipulate.

"If we sign Gustavsson, and we've already signed Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson, that would be a great draft for us before the draft. If we do that and have our draft, it's like having two drafts in the same year," he said.

If the Leafs pick at No. 7, they are likely to end up with big defenceman Jared Cowan or London forward Nazem Kadri.

Priority 3, which is in sequence but not necessarily ranked in order of importance, is free agency day. The stories around have Burke ready to write cheques for just about everybody. The reality is something else.

The Sedin twins, many say, will be re-signed in Vancouver before July 1. And if they aren't, the only way Burke would be a player in acquiring them would be by moving some salary.

That would mean finding homes for the overpaid, such as Pavel Kubina or Jason Blake or Lee Stempniak. Burke may clear some cap space anyway, although there is no market for Blake, but it isn't necessarily so he can spend on the Sedins.

If the Leafs go big-money on a free agent, it may be for a defenceman. And don't bet on the defenceman being Bouwmeester. Burke has been critical in the past of his fellow managers overpaying for defencemen. Burke says that having signed Scott Niedermayer and traded for Chris Pronger, both of whom are going to the Hall of Fame, and built a Stanley Cup champion around them in Anaheim. The thing about Bouwmeester is, no one really knows how good he is or how adaptable he would be to a high-pressure market such as Toronto. The Leafs probably will monitor the Bouwmeester sweepstakes, may even make an offer for him, but would be more suitable to go after Mike Komisarek, coming off a lost season in Montreal.

Komisarek is the nasty kind of player Burke might want to add to the Leafs lineup. He plays defence, he fights, he has size and can be a leader. The betting here is the Leafs would much rather go after a Komisarek than pay more money for a forward such as Cammalleri, whom Burke knows well from his time on the West Coast.

"My teams are physical teams," Burke said. "I want a bigger, more hostile team. I have not been able to do that yet. We need more bite."

While the Sedins, Cammalleri and Marian Gaborik may get most of the offensive attention on July 1, assuming they remain unsigned, rumours around yesterday had the Leafs with more interest in bangers such as Chris Neil and Travis Moen. At least in the short term.

And that's important by itself: This coming free agent class is limited. A year from now, the class could be huge, including Columbus winger Rick Nash, with a salary cap on the decline. The last thing Burke wants to do is strangle his purchasing power for 2010.

He wasn't hired for one year. He was hired for the long term.

"The overwhelming commentary I get (around Toronto) is, do it right," he said. "If that means we have another tough year, that's fine. People are sick of the Band-Aids, so we're going to do it right.

"I had a very bleak appraisal when I came in and took this job, but I'm not discouraged now, not at all."


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