This was Brian Burke’s vote of confidence.
Rather than tearing his sagging team apart at the trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs GM instead opted for the status quo, making only two small deals that involved only minor league players.
The only body leaving town that has any NHL experience was big defenceman Keith Aulie, who was mired deep enough on Toronto’s depth chart that he was moved to the Tampa Bay Lightning for another prospect in winger Carter Ashton.
It’s a deal that doesn’t hurt the Leafs now – but it doesn’t help them any either.
Despite his team winning just once in its last nine games, Burke made it clear on Monday – in his actions and his words – that he believes in the group he has.
“Panic can’t be part of your vocabulary if you’re a general manager,” he said. “If you want to win a championship, that can’t be part of it. Setbacks for 10 days or 12 days, that can’t be how you guide the ship. You can’t change your course because you have 10 bad days out of 180 or 190 days in the season.
“You can’t. And I don’t. I still believe that this group can get it back on the rails.”
If they can’t, Burke will surely face far more criticism than ever before in Toronto, as it would be the fourth consecutive playoff miss under his watch and would almost certainly mark the end of coach Ron Wilson’s tenure with the team.
The biggest surprise in terms of the Leafs inaction on Tuesday was in goal, where Burke admitted he attempted to find a solution but found the asking prices leading up to the deadline too high.
Instead, the organization is putting its faith in James Reimer over the final 20 games, hoping that he can rebound from a terrible stretch and get Toronto back in playoff position.
“From my perspective, James Reimer is the real deal,” Burke said at one point. “Despite the fact he’s scuffling a little bit right now.”
As for their skaters, Toronto didn’t receive much to their liking in terms of offers. While teams were interested in veterans like Luke Schenn, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur for picks and prospects, there was little for the here and now.
Even though his team isn’t a contender for much more than eighth place, Burke insisted he had no interest in taking any more steps backward – putting the Leafs in a curious situation where they were neither buyers nor sellers.
“These were legitimate offers, but they were all [going to mean] we wait,” Burke said. “Their team gets better, and we wait. I’m not interested in setting this process back. I’m not interested in that.”
The Leafs GM was also asked point blank what he felt his team needed in order to improve and take the next step, a question that drew a surprisingly upbeat appraisal of his 21st place team.
“I don’t think we need anything,” Burke said. “It’s been like a rollercoaster ride, our season. There’ve been times we’ve dominated, where we’ve been the best team in the East. And there are times when we haven’t.
“If I’m a member of the Leafs, I look at this [trade deadline] as an endorsement from management that this group is capable of making the playoffs.”