There were no grand pronouncements. There were no overpayments.
And there was also no declaration that “July 1 would be our draft,” as there has been in the past.
No, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke was pretty quiet on the opening day of free agency on Sunday – making only one small addition in checking centre Jay McClement – and given the market, he was fine with that.
After being burned on July 1 before, he wasn’t wading into the frenzy despite his team’s obvious needs.
“We hand out contracts with unrealistic values and with unrealistic term,” Burke said of NHL teams on free agency. “When you’re in a hard cap system, that bites you right in the butt at some point. …
“I think if you look carefully at the impact players from July 1 have, you’ll see it’s not what people think it is.”
Some evidence of Burke’s previous mistakes in free agency was on display on Sunday.
Colby Armstrong – bought out on the weekend for the final year of a three-year, $9-million (all currency U.S.) deal the Leafs signed him to two years ago – landed with the Montreal Canadiens for just $1-million next season.
Netminder Jonas Gustavsson, a Leafs signing in 2009, received a two-year deal from the Detroit Red Wings, who were happy to have him as a backup and felt he had been misused as a Leaf.
“Their team had trouble and he was kind of leaned on to be the guy and it might have been a bit too much,” Wings vice-president Jim Devellano said. “We’ll have a better team and I think he’ll do just fine.”
On a day mostly characterized by teams overpaying for checking wingers and depth defencemen, the Leafs made plenty of inquiries but came away unsatisfied at the asking prices for players involved.
Only with McClement, who signed for a reasonable $1.5-million a season on a two-year deal, did they find a fit.
Burke sees the former member of the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche as a potential third-line centre, which leaves him with five established players at the position given Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, Tim Connolly and David Steckel are already on board.
The Leafs are overstocked up front in general, as after giving winger Matt Frattin a new two-year deal on Sunday, they have at least 15 players competing for 13 spots.
That may be why, even with plenty of players unsigned and available in free agency, Burke said he expects he’ll continue to find improvements via trade.
“We’re not done,” Burke said, before outlining his team’s needs. “We need to get bigger. We’re still looking to solve or upgrade the goaltending situation. We’re still looking to add a centre or upgrade at centre if we can. … But we’re not done yet. This is a starting point.
“I’m not discouraged at all [by July 1]. I felt all along I thought we were going to have to address these things through trade and that’s how we’re going to have to do them.”
If there was a troubling aspect of Burke’s meeting with the media Sunday it was that he suggested the Leafs won’t be making any additions on the blueline, as he preferred to focus on other areas.
Going into next season with a top six made up of the same group as last season minus Luke Schenn, however, may not work all that well given this is a team that allowed the second-most goals in the league last year.
Some of that falls on the goaltenders, including Gustavsson, but the Leafs likely need upgrades in all aspects of keeping the puck out of their net.
“That’s a lower priority,” Burke said of his blueline. “We think we have an internal upgrade [on the roster]. …We think that the seventh D or extra D might be a guy we already have.”