TORONTO - Those hoping Brian Burke would trade for a marquee scorer, snare a veteran goaltender or draft a big forward on the first day of the NHL draft had to be content with another young defenceman.
But this isn’t like unwrapping another tie on Father’s Day claimed the general manager of the Maple Leafs, ecstatic to land Morgan Rielly fifth overall on Friday. And Burke could still be a player in the big trades unwinding here on Friday and Saturday or leading to July 1 free agency.
The Leafs are weak in the aforementioned positions and even the stable of young blueliners that Rielly will be joining are a couple of years away from making an impact. But Burke, trying to avoid another year out of the playoffs, defended Friday’s pick and insisted the rest of the roster would fall into place.
That includes pursuit of help between the pipes, as Burke was seen chatting with Vancouver’s Mike Gillis — presumably about Roberto Luongo. He was among those contacted by Pittsburgh counterpart Ray Shero about the Jordan Staal deal with Carolina that strengthens another eighth-place challenger, but the Leafs didn’t have the right assets. He was also in conversation with Scott Howson of the Blue Jackets, still trying to move winger Rick Nash, a one-time must-have for Burke.
“The GM’s job is to address the depth chart through trades, at the draft you take the best player available.
Right now, I would describe our (trade) situation as lots of possibilities in the hopper, but nothing imminent. That could change with one phone call.
“I don’t need a goalie until opening night (Oct. 13). And we are far more comfortable with the guys we have than the media seems to be. I still believe in these two guys. Ben Scrivens made a major step forward and I still believe James Reimer will be a legitimate starting NHLer. Out strength coach (Anthony Belza) worked out with him the other day and he’s in unbelievable shape. He’s made it clear he’s not handing that net to anybody.”
Yet, Burke has made these statements before, where Jonas Gustavsson was concerned, and now he’s no longer in the mix. Right now, thrashing out a deal with Vancouver and the cumbersome Luongo contract is the scenario most are predicting.
“If we can upgrade at a reasonable price, we will,” Burke added. “If we can’t, we’re happy with what we have.
“Certainly, I don’t feel any pressure to do it now.”
As for moving up to one of the four places above them in Friday’s first-round order, there wasn’t a deal Burke liked. Teams want Jake Gardiner, the best young gun on the Toronto blueline and not Burke’s deadwood.
Edmonton led off with explosive Nail Yakupov and Montreal scooped Alex Galchenyuk, scratching the top two forwards from the Leafs list.
“We would have got the player we wanted, but we wouldn’t have been better as an organization,” Burke said.
The Leafs defence is now in a dangerously crowded situation, which could finally result in a trade for a player such as former first-rounder Luke Schenn to address the needs elsewhere.
“I’d rather have the problem of too many defencemen,” he said. “Until these kids are ready to play, Morgan, (Stuart) Percy, (Jesse) Blacker, there’s no reason to address that.”
The Leafs already have six with Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles, Schenn, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson and Mike Komisarek, with Korbinian Holzer knocking on the door.
“I have always been a player who has to prove myself,” Rielly countered. “They do have a talented back end and I am happy I can add to it.”
Burke and his scouts are just as excited about what will happen with the 35th overall pick on Saturday morning for Rounds 2-7.
“At that point, you are looking at a possible goalie, or a power forward,” Burke said. “But we’ll go off the list and do a positional pick.”
Burke was not worried about Rielly’s serious knee injury earlier this year overshadowing his career, using the example of Keith Tkachuk breaking his ankle his draft year in 1990 and falling to 19th to Winnipeg.
“Winning championships begins and ends on the blueline. Once the Islanders announced their pick, there was no discussion at our table. We punched Morgan right into the computer.”