The Toronto Maple Leafs were involved in plenty of trade talk during the NHL’s draft weekend, but Brian Burke was unable to find a deal that made much sense.
He acknowledged that he had discussions with the Pittsburgh Penguins about a trade for Jordan Staal before the centre was instead dealt to Carolina on Friday night. Ultimately, Burke wasn’t willing to pay the price being asked by Pittsburgh, especially since it was known that Jordan wanted to play with his brother Eric in Raleigh, N.C.
“We were in on that trade,” Burke said Saturday. “We didn’t have a brother named Staal. That was part of the problem.”
He did manage to swing a minor deal — sending the rights of goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to Winnipeg for a conditional 2013 seventh-round pick — and added six new prospects to the organization through the draft.
Gustavsson was never able to live up to his heavy billing after the Leafs aggressively pursued the Swede and beat out three other bidders to sign him in 2009. The 27-year-old’s play was often up and down in Toronto and the Leafs felt it was time to start anew.
“He saved our butts last year during the season at times, he played some real good hockey for us,” said Burke. “But I think it’s time for us as an organization to move on, I think it’s time for him to move on. Winnipeg approached us and said they want to sign him as a backup goaltender.”
Essentially, the Jets bought an extra week to talk with Gustavsson’s agent Joe Resnick before the player becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The Leafs will only receive the draft pick if Gustavsson signs in Winnipeg.
Burke maintains he’s willing to move forward with a goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, although it’s known the team has had discussions with Vancouver about Roberto Luongo. However, that’s another situation where the asking price has simply been too high for Burke to stomach.
“Rather than strip the organization to fill one positional need, we’ll go with what we have,” he said.
Reimer’s sophomore season was derailed by injuries to his head and neck. He received treatment from a specialist in Montreal in April and is feeling much better now.
“We are encouraged by the medical reports on James Reimer, he has a clean bill of health,” said Burke. “He’s working out like a madman and he’s made it very clear to us that he has no intention of giving up the net.
“And that’s changed our thinking a little bit.”
After drafting defenceman Morgan Rielly fifth overall on Friday night, the team was excited to add another blue-liner in Matthew Finn with the 35th selection on Saturday morning. Finn, a Toronto native who plays for the OHL’s Guelph Storm, dropped after being projected as a possible first-round pick.
The 18-year-old grew up as a big Leafs fan and called it a “dream come true.”
Burke was criticized by Don Cherry on “Hockey Night in Canada” this season for not having enough local players on his roster. However, the Leafs GM added two local boys during this draft after also selecting forward Connor Brown in the sixth round.
“I think it would be a thrill to play in your hometown,” said Burke. “I know when I was growing up playing hockey, I dreamed of playing for the Minnesota North Stars. ... To me, there’s a bit of pressure that comes with it but there’s also a greater reward. Your friends and family can enjoy your success.
“When the day comes when this team is more competitive, these guys can run for mayor. It’s an opportunity for a hometown kid.”
The Leafs don’t expect any of the new prospects to play for them next season. Immediate improvement will have to come in the summer via trades or free agency, with Burke anxious to add more size at forward and likely willing to at least consider adding another goaltender.
Even though those needs weren’t addressed during the draft weekend, he’s confident they can still be made before the fall.
“What’s the date today? The 23rd of June? We’re not starting (the season) for awhile,” said Burke. “I’d say it’s a work in progress. We need to do some things — it’s a starting point for the summer, not an ending point.”
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