No guaranteed starters: Burke

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:20 PM ET

TORONTO — As the Maple Leafs showed off $48 million in ACC renos upstairs, Brian Burke was down in the dressing room, vowing to sit or demote some seven-figure players if they are out-played by the team’s influx of new blood.

“We are prepared to send down millions of dollars to the Marlies if that’s what it takes,” the general manager said yesterday, in a town hall meeting with reporters prior to the start of training camp this morning.

“Ownership is prepared for that,” added Burke, as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. COO Tom Anselmi sat unflinching beside him. “Players would have to be nervous if they’re sitting by me in the press box opening night.”

The Leafs have nine one-way contracts on defence alone and might only carry seven when the regular season starts.

Burke also said the Leafs are very much in the Phil Kessel sweepstakes, but hopes to uncover some in-house offence. He played up the potential of those Leafs he thinks suffered last year playing on a meek team, expressing anger that skill forward Mikhail Grabovksi was constantly subject to late hits and face-washing.

A hungry group of college and junior grads could earn jobs, but much depends on the Leafs re-taking control of the ice with physical newcomers such as Mike Komisarek, Garnet Exelby and Colton Orr.

“When I was in Anaheim, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry became better from playing in a fear-free environment,” Burke reminded. “We have an offence that spent a lot of time in its own end last year. When we wanted to get a faceoff, it was usually at centre ice after the other team scored.

"But what if we get out of our own end? I think we have some (legitimate) top-six forwards.”

Burke suggested Grabovski, Niklas Hagman, Jason Blake and John Mitchell could fit that bill, while Alexei Ponikarovsky almost doubled his points last season. But Burke, coach Ron Wilson and the rest of the hockey office are most anxious to see if the forwards who shone at rookie camp; led by Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg, Robert Slaney and Christian Hanson, can step it up.

Burke said all of them and first-round draft pick Nazem Kadri would stay as long as Wilson thinks they merit the chance.

“If he says they stick, then they stick,” Burke said. “But Nazem is also competing against guys such as Jiri Tlusty who had a good second half with the Marlies and (recently acquired veterans), Wayne Primeau and Rickard Wallin.”

Player medicals are today at the new MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke, where on-ice sessions begin tomorrow morning.


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