Heat on Leafs to land No. 1 centre
Rob Longley, QMI Agency
MINNEAPOLIS — With a collection of 11 picks through seven rounds — barring trades — the Leafs were expecting a busy weekend on the NHL draft floor here.
But in terms of the immediate future, it’s the next week or more that has the attention of management and the anxious fan base alike.
With July 1 free agency looming, the heat will be on to add an impact player from a pool of available talent that isn’t nearly as deep as Toronto general manager Brian Burke would like it to be.
“We don’t know what July 1 is going to look like yet,” Leafs vice-president of hockey operations, Dave Nonis, said Friday night before the draft got under way at the Xcel Energy Center. “We might make some deals between now and then that determine how aggressive we are on that front.
“Are we going to be active? I believe we will regardless of what happens over the next 48 hours here. We are hoping and wanting to sign some players if the price tag makes some sense for us long term.”
Even if there is need and pressure to make a deal or a signing, Leafs management has shown in the past that they are not about to panic and get caught up in the mania that sometimes surrounds the trade deadline and free agency.
“July 1 is a great time to augment your lineup, it’s not a good time to build your team,” Nonis said. “There’s going to be a premium for most of those players.”
Burke and Nonis are well aware that restlessness on the home front will continue until the team lands someone loosely resembling a first-line centre.
The Leafs can’t comment on whether they will be in on the sweepstakes for former Dallas Stars centre Brad Richards but given the likely high price in terms of contract and term, it might be a reach.
“The hunt is ongoing,” Nonis said. “There are a lot of teams looking for the same type of player, which makes it difficult. Not a lot of centres are being moved but we’re still in a good position with assets we can give up.”