How quiet were things in the Toronto Maple Leafs strategy room in the hours leading up to the NHL trade deadline Monday? So quiet, there was time for Brian Burke to make up more new rules.
Starting next season, the Leafs general manager might impose his own 10-day trade deadline ahead of the league’s deadline because of the damage it wreaks on the fragile psyche of players. Wait a minute – we all thought these guys didn’t read the papers or watch television or listen to the radio?
The deadline is hard on NHL players but it is “murder in Toronto,” Burke said, after making a pair of minor deals. “So, I’m debating doing what we do at Christmas,” he groused, mentioning on multiple occasions that the Leafs had “serious discussions upstairs” about imposing their own deadline. More serious, it appears, than whether they’d trade James Reimer or Jake Gardiner, which tells you the type of day it was at the Air Canada Centre.
Burke couched his notions with the caveat that he wanted to make sure his hands weren’t tied by imposing his own deadline – in effect, taking his ball and going home, to hell with the rest of you. For that, Leafs Nation ought to take comfort, because Burke’s homemade rules too often mitigate the financial clout this organization ought to wield. Really, isn’t the point to try and screw over the other guy, not be your brother’s keeper?
So, too, is there comfort that Rick Nash is still with the Columbus Blue Jackets because Burke’s chances of acquiring the power forward are much greater in the summer than at the deadline. It’s going to take three or four high-quality assets to get Nash, who is tailor-made for the Leafs, and putting a package together that addresses all of Columbus’s needs is easier in the summer when Burke has time to fill in any gaps that might be created. Besides, if the Leafs continue their slide, Toronto’s first-round draft pick this year becomes an even more valuable asset to the Blue Jackets.
There were no trades for the future, because Burke essentially said it was pointless to give up assets that are a year away from the NHL – or a year or two or three into NHL careers – for assets that are farther back, or first-round draft picks. So he stood pat – refraining from dumping players for draft picks and surrendering a shot at the playoffs and almost certain first-round demolition, deciding against adding players to beef up his team’s chances of emerging from a fragile group of Eastern Conference playoff worthies.
Burke is one lucky guy. Most GMs see their currency with ownership diminish with each playoff-free season, but his seems to grow, or at least he acts like it does, which is half the battle in Toronto.
So Burke can stand up there and say he’s willing to go all in with a group that is almost single-handedly responsible for keeping four other teams in the playoff hunt, that he’s willing to ride a pair of goaltenders his head coach clearly thinks aren’t good enough. (Ron Wilson’s comments after a 4-2 loss Saturday to the Washington Capitals that “we need to figure out a way to get a save here or there” could not be taken to mean that he thought goaltending guru François Allaire and goalies Reimer or Jonas Gustavsson had any answers.) So he can stand there and say that there has been “no discussion about a coaching change,” despite the regression of players under Wilson and a total lack of defensive responsibility. The Florida Panthers come into the ACC Tuesday night facing a Leafs team with the same old tiresome coach, same goaltending problems and same lightweight forwards and wandering defencemen.
The good news is that a postseason spot is still in play, somehow. The better news is Nash will be in play over the summer. It’s a glass half-full win in a glass half-empty season.