Burke expects to be busy

Leafs GM Brian Burke recently chatted with a number of his fellow NHL execs about who might be...

Leafs GM Brian Burke recently chatted with a number of his fellow NHL execs about who might be available. (QMI Agency/Greg Henkenhaf)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

With the help of some carefully placed scaffolds and ladders, workers were busy hanging blue-and-white Stanley Cup banners around the MasterCard Centre Thursday, sprinkling some colourful flair and a touch of history to the Maple Leafs' new practice facility.

In the coming days, expect the facelift to extend into the Leafs dressing room as well.

General manager Brian Burke admitted as much to a national radio audience during the first intermission of the Canada-Russia Olympic quarterfinal Wednesday, using words such as "significant" and "busy" to describe the potential trade activity involving his Leafs leading up to the March 3 trade deadline.

Burke noted that the Leafs would be both "buyers and sellers" once the Olympic roster freeze is lifted at the conclusion of the Winter Games Sunday in Vancouver. While that only leaves three days to conclude business at the NHL's annual swap meet, the chatter and tire-kicking already has started.

Burke has made it clear that he would take on salary in a deal in order to land draft picks and/or prospects as part of a package. At the same time, there are four pending unrestricted free agents on his roster -- forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak, Wayne Primeau and defenceman Garnet Exelby -- who might be packing their bags within the next week.

Tomas Kaberle easily would fetch the most lucrative return on the market, but Burke is sick and tired of repeating his stance that he will not ask the veteran to waive his no-trade clause. Since Kaberle's contract has a caveat stating that the clause becomes moot from the June entry draft through Aug. 15 in the event the Leafs miss the 2010 playoffs (which seems to be a fait accompli), the summer seems a more realistic time to move him if Burke chooses to go that route.

WHO'S AVAILABLE?

True, Burke's immediate priority is his role as GM of Team USA, which faces off against Finland in the Olympic semifinal Friday. That hasn't stopped him from recently chatting with a number of his fellow NHL execs about who might be available.

Still, from a Toronto point of view, the point man for the majority of trade talks is Dave Nonis, Burke's right-hand man in both Vancouver and Anaheim before following him to the Leafs.

Burke trusts Nonis impeccably, and with good reason. His track record shows that when Nonis swings for the fences in a deal, he is capable of smacking a home run at any time.

Anyone seeking proof need only look at Canada's starting goaltender for the Olympic semifinal against Slovakia Friday, one Roberto Luongo.

On June 26, 2006, Nonis, the GM of the Vancouver Canucks at the time, acquired Luongo, defenceman Lukas Krajicek and a sixth-round draft pick from the Florida Panthers for forward Todd Bertuzzi, defenceman Bryan Allen and goalie Alex Auld.

More recently, Burke credited Nonis for completing the Jan. 31 deal with the Anaheim Ducks that brought goalie J-S Giguere to Toronto for overpriced forward Jason Blake and inconsistent goalie Vesa Toskala. At the same time, Burke was the architect of the seven-player blockbuster with the Calgary Flames that landed highly touted defenceman Dion Phaneuf.

Nonis should be a prime candidate for any GM openings this coming off-season although, as he says: "It would have to be the right opportunity."

Ponikarovsky seems to be the most likely candidate to move, with one team already having offered a second-round pick and a prospect prior to the Olympics. The Leafs opted to wait until the conclusion of the Games, however, figuring the offers might become more lucrative as the deadline nears.

Various reports suggest the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins might be a landing spot for Ponikarovsky, with Pens head scout Derek Clancey having been spotted at the Air Canada Centre numerous times last month. A number of internet stories, meanwhile, have linked Stempniak to his home town of Buffalo.

Whatever happens, it should be a busy few days. Just ask Brian Burke.


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