|Leafs GM Brian Burke may be trying to recoup his first-round draft pick, but won't do it at the expense a foolish move. (Toronto Sun files)
LAS VEGAS — Surrounded by beeping slot machines, busy blackjack tables and roulette wheels, Brian Burke admitted he’s tempted to gamble his way back into the first round of Friday’s National Hockey League draft.
But the general manager of the Maple Leafs is not ready to blindly roll the dice, certainly with his main bargaining chip Tomas Kaberle, in what would be interpreted as a panic attack in the wake of the Phil Kessel trade. Speaking to Toronto reporters at a diner before watching the NHL awards at the Palms Hotel, Burke said the trade offers he’s getting — and there have been a lot — are not specific to what happens in Los Angeles this weekend.
“I’ve turned down a late first-round pick for a player on my team already,” Burke said, though he was vague whether it was Kaberle or Luke Schenn, whose name was also put forward by another team. “We’re at double digits in terms of teams who have made offers or expressed interest. There’s been lots of activity.”
But so far the Leafs have not found the right partner. It’s believed they kicked the tires on Florida’s Nathan Horton before he went to Boston and were buzzing around the Blackhawks before their tentative big deal last night that sent Cup champions Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and Akim Aliu to Atlanta for a first and second-round pick, prospect Jeremy Morin and forward Marty Reasoner.
Rather than move up from the 62nd overall selection, where they are currently marooned after giving up a first and second in this year in the Kessel trade, Burke says Kaberle could be kept in reserve for a scoring winger and if that doesn’t happen during the long-serving Leaf’s summer trade window, he will keep the Czech and maybe re-visit a contract extension.
“We’re talking about a good player at a good wage and I like our defence as it stands,” Burke said. “It would have to be something where we pick up a good forward.”
Putting two and two together after the Scott Niedermayer retirement, many have forecasted Burke will dangle Kaberle to the Ducks to try to get Bobby Ryan, whom he drafted second overall in 2005.
“I have not had meaningful discussions with (Anaheim GM) Bob Murray about any player on my roster or his, certainly not Ryan.”
“I have no intention of trading certain players; I also tell them if someone offers me 10 first-round picks, you’re on a plane. But I was asked an hour ago if I’d trade Luke and I said no.”
Burke says he’s ready for more fan backlash when commissioner Gary Bettman formally announces Toronto’s second pick transferred to Boston and the TV cameras zero in on the Leafs’ table.
“We did not anticipate it would be this high, but we also talked about the possibility it could be a first overall, too. We got back a player who scored 30 and 36 in two years without benefit of a summer of training. We’re happy and if people want to dissect it, they can feel free.”
Burke also tried to cushion anxious fans that nothing might be done on Toronto’s part in the next few days.
“What we’re listening to right now is not related to the draft and not specifically time specific to July 1 (the start of free agency) either.”
Though he wants to get his scouts more active this weekend (the Leafs have just six picks) Burke is not letting his amateur scouts under Dave Morrison off the hook when their time at the microphone comes.
“If you look at the stats on picks, I’m told this should be a year where a high third makes it,” Burke said. “We should be able to hit a triple, if not a home run, with a guy who plays, though maybe not right way.
“Beyond that, we’ll have to see what’s on our board. We have taken some pressure off of our scouts with the free agents we’ve signed. But I’ve also told the scouts I want a legitimate prospect at 62.”