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Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager attends a press briefing in Toronto on Friday February 18, 2011 to discuss the trade of defence man Tomas Kaberle to Boston Bruins. (Chris Young)
Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager attends a press briefing in Toronto on Friday February 18, 2011 to discuss the trade of defence man Tomas Kaberle to Boston Bruins. (Chris Young)

Little changes for Burke on deadline day Add to ...

Not a lot changed for Brian Burke on deadline day.

No big deals. No major pronouncements, contract signings or revelations on a day when many teams blow their brains out trying to load up or tear down.

But, then again, that was to be expected, especially given this is a Toronto Maple Leafs team that's neither a buyer or a seller.

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No, the Leafs remain somewhere in the murky middle, especially after Burke already lopped off a few veteran bodies as part of his "major surgery" when he shipped out Tomas Kaberle, François Beauchemin and Kris Versteeg earlier in the month.

That left only one move to make Monday, with minor-leaguer John Mitchell dealt for a 2012 seventh-round pick that the New York Rangers apparently weren't all that attached to.

"Most of our major activity of course was conducted well in advance of today and so I'm not disappointed or surprised that we weren't able to do much today," Burke said.

That's not to say he didn't attempt to do more, as he was definitely involved in discussions leading up to the deadline. The Leafs had their eye on two players to fill two needs in Colorado Avalanche defenceman John-Michael Liles and Florida Panthers centre Stephen Weiss, but the asking price was ultimately too high.

Burke would have taken on Liles's $4.2-million salary if the Avs would accept a third-round pick in return, but Colorado GM Greg Sherman held off unloading major assets despite clearly being among the Western Conference's sellers.

Weiss, meanwhile, was one of the few veteran Panthers who didn't find a new home, with the price the key issue there as well.

"We had offers out and we had offers to us, but we had no back and forth," Burke said.

Adding either player would have been about far more than the Leafs' final 19 games this season. Toronto's two major needs for 2011-12 will be a top tier centre and a puck-moving defenceman, assets that could be hard to come by in free agency despite all the cap space Burke has to work with.

Making those moves at the deadline isn't generally all that easy, either, and the Leafs GM said he expected Monday would involve far more activity for teams closer to contention than his.

"Teams are at different stages," Burke said. "Your hockey team crawls, then it walks, then it runs, then it sprints. There's four stages. The last two are the hardest to attain.

"Once you're in that running stage, you want to add that piece that allows you to sprint and play with the big boys. I think that probably spurred some teams to move a little quicker to get the piece that they wanted."

The Leafs are decidedly somewhere between crawling and walking. They're in a playoff race, but also in mighty tough to actually make it, even in what is the far weaker conference.

And that challenge pales in comparison to getting this team to make the next step next season: to leave the also-rans and join the runners.

Burke's likely two years away from that point, but decisions he makes on players like Liles, Weiss and even Clarke MacArthur - who the Leafs are playing a fierce game of contract hardball with at the moment - will be the ones that determine if he ever gets this franchise back there after seven years away.

As it is now, he has a roster full of youth and full of holes, a group that is on pace for an eight-point improvement over last season's 29th-place finish but which needs to take more leaps to get anywhere of note.

Despite an 8-2-4 run since the all-star break, Burke's biggest work lies ahead at the draft this June, where it's expected his two first-round picks and several others will be in play for more immediate help.

That's when he'll really be under the gun - at least far more so than what was a dud of a deadline day.

"I think our group makes more mistakes at the deadline than all the rest of the year combined," Burke said, referencing the activity that usually marks the day. "Because of the pressure to win and the pressure to add."

And the Leafs aren't there yet.

 

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