Burke keeps trade avenues open
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|Toronto Maple Leafs' Clarke MacArthur celebrates with his teammates Nazem Kadri and Mikhail Grabovski after MacArthur's overtime goal against the New York Islanders in their NHL ice hockey game in Uniondale, New York, Jan. 24, 2012. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)
TORONTO - Decoration not detonation.
That’s how the Maple Leafs hope Brian Burke will approach change with their roster, either today, tomorrow, next week or at 2:59 p.m. on Feb. 27 when all National Hockey League trades must be completed. While Burke is on the phone upstairs at the ACC, those inside the dressing room after Tuesday’s win over the Islanders believe they have a playoff-calibre team that doesn’t need too much makeover.
“Oh, 100% yes,” said winger Clarke MacArthur, after reviving himself with a two-goal, three-point effort that completed this week’s sweep of the Islanders. “We love the group we have in here. Whether they make little alterations or what, you can never control that, but winning makes it tougher on them to do it.”
Defenceman Luke Schenn, now seen as a prime trade candidate with Tuesday’s four-year, $15 million US contract extension for John-Michael Liles, has been waiting four years to be a part of a winning Leaf team and has no desire to go now.
“The guys we have right now are obviously thinking they’ll be part of things here in the future,” Schenn said Tuesday.
He’s already had a talk with the general manager after his name seeped into trade banter for Flyers’ James van Riemsdyk earlier this month.
“We want to get ourselves into the playoffs,” Schenn added. “(Trades) are the business side of hockey and we really can’t focus on that. There’s a lot of talk and speculation outside, but that’s out of our control.
“I was talking to my roommate Cody Franson and he said he’s never dealt with anything like this (before arriving this season). He said in Nashville, there might be a bit of rumbling on the day of the deadline, but not a month or two in advance. “That’s part of being in Toronto.”
Of the 20 men that celebrated the back-to-back wins on Tuesday night in Long Island, some likely won’t be around for the final 33 regular season games. Part of that is internal dynamics, because Liles and winger Colby Armstrong will be back after the break. Both Armstrong and Darryl Boyce can’t be accommodated under the 23-man roster if no one gets demoted or traded in the meantime.
In the big picture, the Leafs require size and scoring depth and maybe another experienced hand on the blueline. And as well as Jonas Gustavsson has played, they’re likely to keep options open in net before the end of next month, including a farm call-up.
“We do like the group,” Burke said Tuesday before one of his club’s best comebacks of the season on Long Island. “It’s a group that cares about each other (witness Joffrey Lupul tossing aside two Islanders to help an over-matched Phil Kessel). The work ethic is excellent.”
However, despite their best year to date under Burke, three men in the all-star game, two scorers in the NHL’s top eight and going the past 11 games without giving up a power-play goal, the Leafs are still in a three-way tie for the last two playoff spots. Never mind Burke’s presumptuous statement a couple of weeks ago that making the first round would not be enough. He might need a significant move just to squeeze in as eighth seed.
When the over-reliance on Kessel and Lupul was pointed out, given Nikolai Kulemin’s season-long funk and MacArthur’s eight-game points’ slump, Burke insisted the secondary scoring problem was being “over-stated” in the media. That whole forward line must have bugged the Nassau Coliseum press box, because they combined for nine points right after.
“If we can be better, then that’s (the GM’s) job all year,” Burke said. “That has nothing to do with the trade deadline. If someone stepped up with the right deal tomorrow, we would do it.
”But if (trades) are not there, then they’re not there. Sometimes, you have to keep pitching. We’re doing a lot of listening and working the phones. Nothing I would characterize as imminent or close.”
It’s in Burke’s DNA to go big at this time of year rather than stand pat. Shop early and avoid disappointment at the deadine.
“It’s an unsettling time for players, I know that,” he said. “I don’t like the deadline, I like to make my moves in advance. (But) I’ve done that (last-minute shopping), too.”