One move down.
Several more to come for Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke after a busy draft weekend in which he dealt defenceman Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers and netminder Jonas Gustavsson to the Winnipeg Jets.
Burke filled one need in acquiring a big forward in James van Riemsdyk from the Flyers, but the Leafs’ roster remains filled with question marks, including who fills Schenn’s spot on right defence alongside Jake Gardiner next season in a top-four role.
The only options on the current roster are Cody Franson and Mike Komisarek, both of whom struggled to play higher in the lineup than the sixth defenceman.
One potential candidate is Gardiner’s former college defence partner, Justin Schultz, who hits free agency on Sunday and should be one of the most sought after players given he’s joining one of the thinnest casts of July 1 hopefuls yet.
But because Burke needs his team to get better in a hurry, that’s a problem. Or, perhaps more accurately, a complication.
In addition to the Schenn deal, Burke spent part of his time in Pittsburgh negotiating with the Vancouver Canucks on a potential deal for netminder Roberto Luongo.
While neither he nor Canucks GM Mike Gillis would specifically address what was talked about – or even that they were talking at all – they weren’t shy in making their frustration over negotiations in general known.
“From my perspective, the prices that are being asked have to be reasonable,” Burke said. “If you can get a goaltender who makes you better, and it costs you 15 first-round picks, would you do it? No.
“So somewhere between 15 first-round picks and something that makes sense, we’re not there yet. I’m not going to overpay to upgrade at that position. I’m not happy with what’s being asked. From my perspective, rather than strip your organization to fill one positional need, we’ll go with what we have.”
Gillis’s take was different, shedding some light on how far apart the two may be in negotiations.
“In my mind, there’s probably 15 legitimate No. 1 goalies in the world and he’s one of them,” Gillis said of Luongo. “Contrary to what people may think or describe, there’s a tremendous amount of interest in players that are high-end players in this league. Finding a fit is occasionally more challenging, but there’s definitely a fit to be found.
“It hasn’t been close for me. I’m the problem. This is a significant consideration for our organization, it’s not going to be done lightly. It’s not going to be done in a hurry.”
Any interest in Luongo is complicated by both the 10 years remaining on his contract and his no-trade clause, which dictates where he goes.
Toronto and the Florida Panthers are the only legitimate candidates for his services with free agency looming, and Panthers GM Dale Tallon hardly sounded like an interested buyer on Saturday as the draft wrapped up.
“We haven’t had many discussions about that at all,” Tallon said. “Our goaltending was good for us last year.”
The deal that makes the most sense is somewhere in the middle of where the Leafs’ and Canucks’ expectations lie.
Burke would love to land Luongo without giving up a player from his roster, even though the addition of van Riemsdyk leaves the Leafs with a few extra bodies up front.
Gillis wants to recoup at least a little value given he was the one who signed Luongo to the behemoth 12-year deal that now stands as such an impediment to moving him.
Both men are stubborn, but they’re also smart enough to know they stand to benefit from making the deal sooner rather than later.
Completing the trade in the next week would allow Vancouver to use the extra cap space in free agency to add a depth player or solidify its backup situation. Toronto could clear salary before the NHL’s buyout period ends Saturday to make way for Luongo’s $5.33-million (all currency U.S.) cap hit, Schultz’s contract and whoever else they decide to add.
The likeliest outcome of all this is they somehow find a way to get Luongo into a Leafs uniform, even if this won’t be an easy stalemate to break. Judging from Burke and Gillis’s comments this weekend, however, negotiations could get uglier before they get better.
“I think if you’re struggling to get into the playoffs, you certainly wish it was easier to make a deal,” Gillis said, responding to a question about how hard it is to pull off a trade in this climate. “But right now we like our team, and we think we have a good team. So we’re not nearly as active as a lot of teams trying to make trades.”