February 17, 2011
It's a fine line for Leafs
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Brian Burke’s reputation as one of the NHL’s more flamboyant wheeler dealers is well known, which is why he felt the need late last week to brief his captain on .
The Leafs general manager met with Dion Phaneuf and essentially told him that despite the trades and trade rumours swirling around the team, management hadn’t given up on the current season.
“As a player you never mail it in and (Burke), wanted to make it clear that he felt that way too,” Phaneuf said. “This team isn’t going to quit.”
But therein lies the challenges in the poker player that is Burke.
Massive road victories against Boston and Buffalo this week suddenly has his team six points out of a playoff spot.
But with talk of a Tomas Kaberle deal with the Bruins possibly being done by as soon as Friday and whatever other moves Burke has up his sleeve, how does that effect the current pursuit?
Burke wants to play both ends. The goal every season, he is quick to remind, is to make the playoffs. But the long-term aim is to have a team built not just to sneak into the post-season then exit meekly.
“The notion of getting in eighth and getting spanked in the first round doesn’t do a hell of a lot for me and I don’t think it does a lot for our marketplace,” Burke said Friday on NHL Radio, a point he also made two weeks ago following the Francois Beauchemin trade to Anaheim.
“We’re not just putting together a team that’s going to get thumped in the first round.”
Coach Ron Wilson gave his team a day off Thursday in part, no doubt, as a reward for the big effort in back-to-back road wins. But also there’s a recognition that the team must expend incredible energy just to get back in the race and any chance to rest is crucial.
As it will be until something happens or the Feb. 28 trade deadline passes, that left Kaberle to be the topic of the day.
Reports out of Boston Thursday morning suggested a deal was done that would send the defencemen to the Bruins in a swap that would include forward Blake Wheeler coming this way.
Burke was swift to deny anything being done, but did acknowledge there has been interest in Kaberle from multiple teams.
“I’m not going to bug him every time a GM calls about (a possible trade),” Burke said of Kaberle. “I’m leaving him alone. He’s played well for us and he’s a quality person.
“(But) my guess is if we found something attractive and if we went back to the agent he might accept it. But that’s far from clear or far from done. We’re just going to keep knocking on doors.”
And now for the water cooler talk of the team’s shot at a playoff spot. Is it a long shot or a real shot? Is it just another February flirtation? Does it really matter?
“The tricky math is you say it’s only six points and eyes start to glisten,” Burke said. “The problem is with all the three-point games, making up six points is difficult.
“It’s not as simple as winning your own games.”
The math certainly isn’t simple, either. With 56 points, prior to Thursday’s games, the Leafs were indeed six points behind Carolina and eighth in the East. In the five years Toronto has missed the playoffs, the lowest point total that qualified in the conference was 88.
To get 88 points, the Leafs need 22 points over their remaining 24 games but more realistically might need 26. In their past nine games, they have 13 points, which would fit that pace but in their past 20 they have just 24.
Wilson’s spin was that making up a point a week would get the Leafs back in it. The other side, of course, is that just one bad week would end all playoff talk for good.
As it has been in most recent seasons, if the Leafs were in the Western Conference they would be 12 points out with six teams to pass and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
But the Leafs aren’t in the West and for the time being at least there’s something more to talk about around this team other than who the Bruins will get with Toronto’s first-round pick.