|Leafs GM Brian Burke is working hard to recover draft picks he lost in the Phil Kessel trade. (Sun Media/Pete Fisher)
Saturday's win over Washington -- and even another tonight against the New York Islanders -- won't likely be enough to alter the course of change with the Maple Leafs.
General manager Brian Burke is working hard to recover the first- or second- round pick sacrificed in the Phil Kessel deal, while the NHL's unofficial trade window of U.S. Thanksgiving is here and cap-strapped teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks are looking to deal.
The Hawks and Leafs were linked earlier this month, but the pending multi-year extensions for Chicago pillars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and defenceman Duncan Keith have put its management under the gun to create some $2 million US in "tag room" to accommodate the big salaries next season.
Chicago did pick up an extra half-million when forward Andrew Ebbett was claimed off waivers by the Wild, possibly the reason for talks with the Leafs stalling at the critical stage on the weekend. But elements of a deal, or deals, with the Leafs could be quickly resurrected in this environment.
Brent Sopel, a former Burke favourite in Vancouver, is a cash drain on an already strong Chicago defence, making $2.33 million and playing less than 14 minutes a game.
Chicago scouted both Marlies farm games this weekend and assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was also at Saturday's Leafs-Caps match.
It's unlikely Chicago would now trade any of the other pieces it needs for a Cup run this year, such as Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg or Cam Barker. But the Leafs, with several players with expiring contracts, still don't know for sure what's in their own cupboard with the Marlies.
Centre Tyler Bozak, for example, has just now recovered from a suspected H1N1 flu bug, a strength-sapper that might explain his 10 points in 16 games and minus-5 rating. Until he is 100%, the Leafs won't know if he can make the jump and possibly centre Kessel.
The Marlies have just settled in for a long homestand that lasts until Dec. 14. That gives the Leafs brass lots of evaluation time, while Burke determines once and for all during three winnable games this week (Islanders, Tampa and Florida) whether to take the drastic step of waiving a one-way contract for demotion.
In addition to Bozak, and wingers Viktor Stalberg and Christian Hanson, left winger Ryan Hamilton has played well enough to be considered for promotion, as has centre Alex Foster.
Players on the main Toronto roster with appeal could be the affordable Matt Stajan and Tomas Kaberle, who bristled at more questions about giving up his no-trade clause.
"Where is this coming from?," he said yesterday after having continually expressed a wish to remain a Leaf. "I'm the wrong guy to be asking (about a trade)."
Burke, meanwhile, said he's not twisting Kaberle's arm.
"I have not asked Tomas (to waive his clause) and will not," he said. "I respect these rights when players obtain them."