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Toronto Maple Leafs' general manager Brian Burke. (Photo by Peter Power / The Globe and Mail) (Peter Power)
Toronto Maple Leafs' general manager Brian Burke. (Photo by Peter Power / The Globe and Mail) (Peter Power)

Brian Burke trawls draft waters Add to ...

Brian Burke is one busy fisherman at the 2011 NHL draft, as usual, but it's anyone's guess as to what he lands.

"I've got lots of lines in the water," the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager said. "But I have no idea what's going to happen."

Burke is hoping to pull off a trade for a No. 1 centre or maybe move up in the entry draft by the time the first pick is made Friday. He is using his three picks in the first two rounds - Nos. 25, 30 and 39 - to attract trade offers, but admitted Thursday they are not high enough to get him into the "card game" for the top five picks.

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He professed not to be enthusiastic about moving from the 25th position "to the teens" because he thinks there is not much difference in the quality of the players from around the 10th pick to the 26th or so.

One of Burke's fishing lines came up empty Thursday, when Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren dropped a bombshell on the league: He had traded his top two centres, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, to the Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively.

Holmgren had to shed some salary when he signed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov earlier in the day, but most observers thought only one of Richards or Carter would have to go. Together they represent 20 years and $102-million (U.S.) owed in salaries and the dual blockbuster trades leave the Flyers about $13-million under next season's cap - which the league and the NHL Players' Association announced Thursday will be $64.3-million.

The shocking trades sent packing two players who were supposed to be the Flyers' forward foundation for the next 10 years. It also gave credence to rumours about Richards being a problem in the dressing room, especially where veteran defenceman Chris Pronger was concerned.

Burke was asked if he had made a run at either Carter or Richards. He said he could not answer without violating the NHL's tampering rules (so you can take that as a yes).

According to Darren Dreger of TSN, Holmgren wanted Leafs forwards Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin for Richards. Burke said he would think about it, but Holmgren never called back. Burke was apparently not interested in trading both Kadri and Kulemin for Carter.

The other problem for the Maple Leafs boss is that if a rival GM is trading star players, he prefers to trade them to the opposite conference (in this case the Western) to keep the revenge factor to a minimum.

Thursday's fallout leaves Burke with the options he always had to get his centre: keep trying for a trade at the draft or try to sign a free agent.

"All the draft picks are in play but I cannot handicap this," Burke said, which must make his scouting staff ecstatic.

The one thing about being a scout in the employ of Burke is you have to get used to seeing a year's work go down the drain when the boss trades away a mitt full of picks for a player or two.

One target for Burke is pending free-agent centre Brad Richards. Richards told Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk he will not waive his no-movement clause, which means Nieuwendyk cannot trade his playing rights before July 1.

Presumably, by landing Mike Richards, the Kings have dropped out of the Brad Richards sweepstakes, which could make things easier for the Leafs.

While it is thought Brad Richards, 31, will want a multiyear deal for somewhere around $8-million a year, those who know Burke well say he is not interested in paying that much. A number between $6-million and $7-million is more to his taste -and it appears the New York Rangers feel the same way, which should make for an interesting auction.

Burke said he had nothing hot to report Thursday.

"We're listening," he said. "We're pretty content that, if all we do is pick with the picks we have - and that's what it sure looks like now - we'll do okay.

"But that could change with one phone call. That's why I hate to do these interviews around the draft - you tell the media nothing's going on and that could change with one phone call."

If he does use those picks, Burke says he will be taking the best player available, even though the Leafs need to add forwards to their system.

"We draft the best player on our list," he said. "If you draft by position, you make serious mistakes. Your job as a general manager is to address positional needs by trade. At the draft, you take the best player available."

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