Burke stuck playing the waiting game

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

Who will be the first to go?

Brian Burke, victim of unmovable contracts, questionable signings, the Phil Kessel trade, his own reputation, and a hockey team gone bad is poised to do something.

Exactly what that is, when that is, who it involves — and clearly, it’s something more significant than the laughable trade request from Jamal Mayers — is on the horizon.

But the horizon may not be present until after the Olympic Games; until the pending trade deadline of March 3. And the forever impatient Burke is instead forced to play the waiting game in a salary capped National Hockey League where the demise of the Maple Leafs is greeted as welcome news.

“I know what fans are saying,” said Burke. “Why doesn’t he do something? The only answer I can tell you it’s not for lack of trying.

“Do you think I like driving home after every game? I understand the fans frustration, believe me. If anyone driving home from (Tuesday’s) game (against Los Angeles) is discouraged, imagine my ride home.

“The fact is, the team’s not winning and I haven’t made any changes. I understand, this is the GM’s problem. I accept that. You want to blame somebody, blame me. It’s my job to get it right. It all ends up on my desk ... I thought we had something (a trade) in November. That fell apart.

"Unfortunately, (talking trade) is like being a farmer. You plant your crop and then you do nothing but wait.”

It’s not like Burke has a lot of wait for. The mess of mediocrity he is surrounded by is compounded by the ridiculous contracts he inherited. There is no trading of Jason Blake, Lee Stempniak, Jeff Finger or Vesa Toskala. Tomas Kaberle, maybe the most tradeable commodity, hasn’t asked to waive his no-trade deal.

You can deal the rental players like Alexei Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan, but last year the Leafs attempted to trade both and came away empty handed. Talking to agents, there does seem to be some interest in Ponikarovsky, but likely closer to the deadline. And Stajan is one of those typical Toronto players who gets overvalued in this market, but not overvalued by clubs that regularly scout the Leafs.

There also may be some interest in Niklas Hagman, who has one year left on his contract, but again, anything that would happen with him would likely occur in March.

Which leaves what?

“I can hang up (on) you and make a bad trade right now. That’s easy,” Burke said.

Burke understands people are looking at him quizzically. Burke understands that people expected more from him, more from the Leafs in his first full season in Toronto. Burke knows that the longer the Leafs struggle the less anyone cares about his Stanley Cup in Anaheim, or his Sedin master manipulation in Vancouver, or the Chris Pronger draft in Hartford. All that seems like ancient history to Leafs fans. They want some history of their own. They want a reason to believe.

They want a team that looks, appears, to be headed in the right direction.

No one wants to pay the highest prices in hockey to watched the 28th best team.

You can break the Leaf players down into three categories. Those he can’t trade; those he can trade at the deadline, maybe and those he won’t trade.

Ian White is one of the difficult calls. If he hasn’t been the best Leaf player this season, he’s been close to that. His contract is up. He’s going to get a raise. On the one hand, you don’t want to trade him because he’s a solid player who even with a raise, will be reasonably priced. On the other hand, you might want to trade him because he may be one of the more coveted players on your roster. With all of this, there are no easy answers. Not when you’re trying to run while your shoes have been tied together.

“I go back to my first answer,” said Burke. “It’s my job. It all ends up on my desk. I’m frustrated. But I’m sticking to the blueprint.”


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