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Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young (Chris Young)
Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young (Chris Young)

Leafs Beat

Brian Burke keeps finger on trigger Add to ...

Leave it to Brian Burke to stir up trade talk during a fan Q&A session with a half-empty practice arena as his audience.

The Toronto Maple Leafs general manager added some intrigue to the team's Family Day event on Monday when he revealed he was hoping to complete a trade for a defenceman soon, perhaps even before the Leafs play against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

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"We're trying to put a player in the lineup as soon as possible," Burke said.

The deal would be his fifth in the past two weeks, a flurry of activity in which the Leafs have shipped out Tomas Kaberle, François Beauchemin and Kris Versteeg.

Burke, however, said the selloff was over.

"We've gone through now the selling part of this process," he said. "We're a buyer now."

Burke also told the fans in attendance that the team's leading scorer, Clarke MacArthur, will be moved by the trade deadline next Monday if his salary demands are too high.

The Leafs GM will sit down with MacArthur's new agent, Don Meehan, for contract talks this week.

"If he doesn't agree to something that makes sense, then we're going to listen [to offers]" Burke said. "It's not a guarantee that he's not going to be here, but we're certainly going to listen."

MacArthur would give Burke another key trade chip to move, joining the two first-round picks and a third-round pick he acquired in the Versteeg and Kaberle trades.

There are just six days before the deadline and movement around the league continues to ramp up. The Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins were the latest teams to pull off a deal involving young talent on Monday afternoon, with Pittsburgh receiving winger James Neal and defenceman Matt Niskanen in exchange for defenceman Alex Goligoski.

Burke is looking for a puck-mover to join a group of mostly stay-at-home or two-way types on his back end. Without Kaberle on the roster, there's a considerable hole to fill on defence.

Toronto was even using fourth-line centre Tim Brent as a power-play quarterback at practice Monday, a sign of how much it needs a top-four defenceman who can put up points on the man-advantage.

Colorado Avalanche defenceman John-Michael Liles is one name in the rumour mill who may fit the bill, although he is undersized and, at 30, is not entirely in keeping with the youth movement Burke has in place.

The Leafs have also shown some interest in 20-year-old Zach Bogosian, who went two spots ahead of Luke Schenn in the 2008 draft, but the Atlanta Thrashers' asking price could be too high.

If Toronto is unable to find a fit in the next few days, it could also simply wait and add a blueliner via free agency come July 1.

Either way, an addition or two is coming at the position.

"We've done a major surgery as far as what we need to do, but we still have got a couple things we'd like to do," Burke said. "We've had some discussions about forwards that we have to consider, but it's not our priority. Our priority will be to add a defenceman."

Meanwhile, Burke's hardball stance with MacArthur shouldn't come as a surprise, as he has steadfastly refused to overpay restricted free agents in the past.

Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin, for one, was looking for a far larger raise than he ended up receiving last spring when he signed a two-year deal for $2.35-million (U.S.) a season, a contract that looks like a bargain given his breakout year.

Burke said Monday that MacArthur is a difficult player to evaluate given he has bettered his career highs by so much this season. MacArthur has 45 points in 59 games, a 63-point pace that is nearly double his previous high of 35.

"We haven't quantified [MacArthur's value]yet," Burke said. "I know he's said he'd like to stay. I think he'd be crazy not to [want to]play in a city like this with linemates like that."

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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