TORONTO - Brian Burke is growing tired of repeating that coach Ron Wilson won’t be fired, but now the focus for change with the Leafs will start becoming the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline.
The general manager didn’t wait for last year’s deadline to get close before significant deals on Jan. 31 with Calgary and Anaheim that shed a lot of dead wood from the roster. That he did it under the restrictive cap system was quite a feat. But it’s a lot trickier this time around.
The names that rival execs are inquiring about are mostly players that Burke himself signed or traded for.
Loyalty is a tenet of the Burke credo, witness his iron will where Wilson’s critics are concerned.
His players will likely get every opportunity to play their way out of individual funks, though it’s likely too late in the playoff chase to worry about exchanging bodies for bodies where draft picks could be the ultimate prize in talks that could go until the actual deadline.
For the short term, Burke is not denying a Hockey Night In Canada report from Saturday that another team made an offer for winger Kris Versteeg, but he e-mailed the Toronto Sun on Sunday that deals of any kind are not yet at the serious stage.
Some minor swaps are taking place around the NHL, but the real action should take place around the Jan. 27 all-star break. The salaries of future UFA’s will be dropping further and there will be a gathering of many GMs at the board of governors meeting in Raleigh, N.C., in concert with the all-star game.
For the Leafs, it’s a matter of playing harder in the second half (they usually do when the pressure is relieved) to prove their individual worth.
“I don’t think about trades, I don’t read a lot about it,” centre Tyler Bozak said Sunday. “It’s business. Whatever happens, happens. I know everyone in here wants to stay here and help this team win. Who knows what will happen?”
But Wilson dismissed the idea that his task of restoring confidence in the second half would be made more difficult by trade chatter.
“Not at all,” he said. “They are rumours and 90% or even 95% never happen. So that’s all you can say about that.”