Burke: No. 1 priority is a No. 1 centre

Brian Burke, President of  the Toronto Maple Leafs gives his end of year presser which in Toronto...

Brian Burke, President of the Toronto Maple Leafs gives his end of year presser which in Toronto is always held in mid-April. He was speaking to media at the Air Canada Centre on April 12, 2011. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI AGENCY)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:47 PM ET

TORONTO - Brian Burke knows what he wants.

Getting it could prove to be another headache for the Maple Leafs general manager, who has had more than his fair share in the 21/2 years he has been attempting to re-make the Toronto roster.

If Burke has taken care of his No. 1 priority by the time training camp opens in September, it means he will have either signed or traded for an established top-line centre who won’t wilt as the regular season intensifies in the final few months.

“Our top priority is a centre, no question about it,” Burke said on Tuesday. “I have to wait and see what there is on July 1. Maybe we have to do it through a trade. We intend to be active on July 1, but we may not get our wish list on July 1.”

The first of July is the day that magical franchise-changers, thanks to free agency, are supposed to fall out of the sky. But if Burke’s hunch is that he will have to acquire a first-line centre through a trade, then he probably is right. Brad Richards will be the plum player available, but he has talked about re-signing with the Dallas Stars while others think he could be bound for Broadway and the New York Rangers.

Other centres who are headed for free agency include Tim Connolly, Jason Arnott and Michal Handzus. None are cornerstone material.

With little else after Richards available on the open market, Burke could find himself in a bit of a jam. He acknowledged he has “plenty” of salary cap space, but probably can’t spend it on the Leafs’ biggest need. A defenceman is not as high a priority, and as far as signing a veteran backup goaltender, Burke is not sure about that either. There’s little sense in going out and signing depth players, because the Leafs have plenty. Burke acknowledged that the strong play of Tim Brent, Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb will make off-season decisions more difficult.

So a trade, and Burke clearly loves to make them, is the likely route. Trouble is, blue-chip centres aren’t sitting around waiting to be plucked. Burke said he would be willing to deal one of the Leafs’ first-round picks, and it would take at least that and a prospect, and undoubtedly more, to land the type of player Burke wants.

Tyler Bozak started the season as the man in the middle on the top line, but barely a few weeks had passed when it became obvious he was not up to the task. And for that, Burke blamed himself.

“If a guy is out of position, if he is in the wrong box, that is not his fault,” Burke said. “If we have Tyler Bozak in the one-hole and he can’t play in the one-hole, that is my fault, not Tyler’s fault. If he is not at the same level as his wingers, that means they are not getting the puck and scoring chances, and that is not his fault.”

Mikhail Grabovski, for as many strides he made, isn’t the guy either, and Burke knows that. It’s clear Burke is going to be looking for someone to play with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.

“We need a guy who can distribute the puck and hit the line with speed,” Burke said.

So do many of the other non-playoff teams. Burke has his work cut out.

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


Videos

Photos