February 28, 2011
Leafs trade Mitchell to Rangers
MacArthur, young goalies draw most interest from rivals
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

Centre John Mitchell was traded Monday to the New York Rangers. (DAVE THOMAS/QMI Agency file photo)

TORONTO - On one hand, the current Maple Leafs roster won’t have to share engraver’s space on the Stanley Cup with any johnny-come-latelys.

On the other, the NHL trade deadline came and went Monday without a blue-chip centre or stud defenceman arriving to help Toronto get in the playoffs.

Not that a big move was expected after general manager Brian Burke did most of his wheeling and dealing from Feb. 9-18, moving Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kaberle, picking up Joffrey Lupul and a couple of first-round picks.

Outside of sending little-used fourth-line centre John Mitchell to the New York Rangers for a seventh-round pick next year — dispatching the last player from the Pat Quinn era — Burke adhered to a generally quiet deadline day around the league. Toronto will resume its unlikely post-season push on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, down to 19 games, with the same roster that posted a record of 8-2-4 in February.

“We did most of our major surgery before we got here,” Burke said after emerging from his ACC bunker. “We had set values on all our assets (rivals were most keen on Clarke MacArthur and the young goalies in the system) and the assets we were going to acquire (defencemen such as John-Michael Liles). Those prices weren’t met, so we sit tight.

“It’s hard to say if we were close. You make a call, the other GM says I’ll call you back. You don’t know if they had a heated debate in their room or if they had a good laugh. We had offers out there and offers made to us, but no (serious) back and forth talk to improve on that, such as: ‘Can you add a pick or this kid we like in the minors’. ”


It’s possible the past weekend’s shootout losses might have sobered the club about going overboard to trade players or picks. But even though five clubs on either side of the 10th-place Leafs did make some kind of move, Burke stood firm.

“Obviously, our group has played extremely well the past little while,” he said. “They have a strong work ethic, the coaching staff is doing a good job, we have solid goaltending, our defence is doing well and our power play is showing signs of life. So I’m content this group will give us everything they have.

“A couple of players have stepped up. It’s nice that the league acknowledged Phil Kessel (as first star of the week). It’s not just his scoring, it’s that he’s playing on all 200 feet of ice, hard in every zone, making contributions defensively, retrieving pucks on the forecheck.”

Centre Tim Brent tweeted after the deadline passed: “Glad management believes we can do this with what we have in our room.”

Goaltender James Reimer is expected to fully recover from being bowled over in Atlanta on Sunday to play Wednesday. When he was hurt Toronto was up 2-0 and could’ve closed within three points of eighth-place Carolina before losing a shootout. The next chance to give the team a facelift will come at the June draft in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24, and then free agency July 1.

“You look at today’s deadline and think we really didn’t do much, but that’s not how I look at it at all,” Burke said. “Our deadline started with the Francois Beauchemin trade, we added a couple of picks and still have our own second rounder. We should be able to do something good with those picks (in St. Paul.), either package them and move up, or use them to get players.

“This draft, I don’t think there’s a lot of headliners or someone everybody has to have. Last year, there were two guys at the top (Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin). But there are good players and it’s a draft where we’re very happy to have two picks (minus one the Bruins own in the Kessel trade) of some guys who can play a long time in the league.”

Mitchell was with the Marlies after a five-year struggle to stay in the lineup, the past three trying to win coach Ron Wilson’s confidence. In 159 career games, the former fourth-round pick from 2003 had 55 points and was a minus-30.

“Mitchy’s a good guy, who played some good hockey here and I want to wish him well,” Burke said. “We had some (other) lines in the water, working on some things, but no bites. It’s like hunting and fishing.”

For now, that season is closed.

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