Burke just getting started

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Well on his way to transforming his team from the Bud Lights (or should that be the Lightweight Buds?) to the Beastie Buds, Brian Burke now turns his attention to The Monster.

With the first day of free agency in the books, Burke is in Sweden with the priority of getting goaltender Jonas Gustavsson signed, sealed and delivered.

Not an easy challenge, especially since the Dallas Stars -- reportedly the Leafs' No. 1 challenger for Gustavsson's services -- are now being run by recently hired general manager Joe Nieuwendyk who, as an employee of the Leafs up until last month, likely is well aware of Toronto's recruiting pitch.

But Burke is a bulldog when it comes to these things. He is the consummate salesman. If it takes pestering Gustavsson into a deal, so be it.

If efforts to sign Gustavsson fall short, maybe J-S Giguere remains an option, having recently included the Leafs on a list of teams he would accept a trade to.

PHILOSOPHY

It is part, as assistant GM Dave Nonis admitted last night, of the Leafs' philosophy of building from the net out.

In their pursuit of Gustavsson, they are attempting to address the issue between the pipes.

On defence, they traded veteran Pavel Kubina to Atlanta while bringing in rugged Garnet Exelby and gritty Mike Komisarek yesterday.

Observers claim Komisarek was never the same after hurting his hand during a November scrap with Boston's Milan Lucic. But the Leafs love his leadership skills and feel he could be the perfect mentor for future captain Luke Schenn.

"Obviously, by our commitment of tenure, we feel he has a lot of character qualities he can bring," Nonis said of Komisarek's five-year, $22.5-million US deal, one which gives him the highest average annual salary ($4.5 million) on the team.

Of course, by the time all was said and done yesterday, most of the whining by the fans concerned the team's failure to land any blue chip forwards.

Cut Burke some slack. He tried.

A week ago, he attempted to snatch Phil Kessel, 21, from the Boston Bruins as part of a deal for Tomas Kaberle. It fell apart.

He wanted the Sedin twins. They went back to Vancouver yesterday.

He wanted Mike Cammalleri. Instead, the kid from Richmond Hill snapped up Montreal's five-year, $30-million offer.

After that, well, the Leafs weren't going to blow the bank and overpay.

"Signing marginal forwards to huge deals to score a few more goals, but not really help us win long term, well, that's not really intelligent," Nonis said.

"We'll try to (make more signings) but I wouldn't promise it. We're not ruling out anything. But if things don't work out, we'll keep the cap space and see what happens by September."

With cap space, Burke and Nonis still hold the hammer, especially on the trade front. With just less than $48 million committed to salaries, the Leafs still have plenty of wiggle room under the league's $56.8-million cap ceiling and might still move Kaberle if Burke somehow is overwhelmed by an offer.

The Leafs addressed the forward ranks by inking pugilist Colton Orr to a four-year, $4-million contract. They also offered pepperpot Chris Neil $2.3 million per season, but he took a so-called hometown discount of $2 million a year to remain in Ottawa.

With the Sedins back on the left coast, maybe Burke is eyeing another prize down the road in Columbus star Rick Nash, the Brampton native who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent 364 days from now.

In any event, stop panicking out there, people. Burke's rebuild is just starting.

Not ending.

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MIKE KOMISAREK

DEFENCE

Born: Jan 19, 1982; West Islip, N.Y.

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 220 lbs.

Career stats: 12 goals, 46 assists, 58 points, 496 PIMs in 361 games

2008-09 stats: 2-9-11, 121 PIMs in 66 games.

The Skinny: Led Habs in blocked shots and hits a year ago ... No. 7 overall pick in 2001 entry draft by Montreal Canadiens ... Gritty competitor ... Was KO'd by Bruins Milan Lucic in Game 4 of Eastern Conference final, his last appearance as a Hab.

COLTON ORR

RIGHT WING

Born: March 3, 1982; Winnipeg, Man.

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 220

Shoots: Right

Career stats: Four goals, seven assists, 11 points, 549 penalty minutes in 245 NHL games.

2008-09 stats: 1-4-5, 193 PIM in 82 games.

The Skinny: According to hockeyfights.com, he has engaged in 63 NHL scraps including 18 last season ... Has his own line of clothing called "The Enforcer" ... Considered one of toughest skaters in league.

GARNET EXELBY

DEFENCE

Born: Aug 16, 1981; Ste. Anne, Man.

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 215 lbs.

Career stats: Six goals, 40 assists, 46 points, 511 PIMs in 357 games.

2008-09 stats: 0-7-7, 120 PIMs in 59 games.

The Skinny: Ranked in NHL's top 25 in hits last season despite just playing 59 games ... Plays very much with an edge ... Has had more than his share of scraps with the Leafs over the years ... Averaged 16:43 of ice time per game, fourth best among Atlanta D-men.


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