Brian Burke didn’t make the big splash he was hoping for, but there is still lots of time to get Roberto Luongo.
The Toronto Maple Leafs general manager made a run at acquiring the Vancouver Canucks goalie on Friday, but rival GM Mike Gillis is playing hard to get.
And why not? With the NHL free-agency window to open in a couple of weeks, and with few suitors for his goaltender – the Leafs and the decidedly lukewarm Florida Panthers – Gillis might as well wait and see if he can squeeze a little more out of a trade.
“Right now, for us, it’s slow,” Burke told TSN. “We’ll see what happens.”
Failing that, the GM did exactly what he said he would when it came to the fifth-pick overall in the entry draft – take the best player available.
On a night the defencemen were prized, with eight going in the top 10, Burke landed what scouts say is a real prize among them: Morgan Rielly from the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL.
After selecting Rielly, Burke told reporters the Leafs had him ranked No. 1 overall, not just among defencemen. Which might be a stretch, but there is no doubt the consensus among the experts was the Leafs made a good choice.
“High compete level, good skater, hard worker, I’ll do anything to help the team,” Rielly said when asked to list his qualities as a hockey player.
“He left out a real high hockey IQ,” Burke said. “He sees the ice well.”
The 18-year-old did lose much of last season when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee but the six-foot, 190-pounder is considered to have great potential as an offensive force. He is a great passer, especially when it comes to making the first move out of the defensive zone.
Rielly, a native of West Vancouver, gives the Leafs quite a stockpile of prospects on the blueline. Along with Jake Gardiner, 22 (17th overall in 2008, and a surprise star as a rookie last season), the Leafs have Jesse Blacker, 21 (58th in 2009), Korbinian Holzer, 24, and Stuart Percy, 19, their 25th-overall pick a year ago.
This is in addition to Luke Schenn, 22, who is entering his fifth NHL season this fall.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking this would make it easy for Burke to wildly overpay for Luongo by dealing Schenn to the Canucks.
Blacker, Holzer and Percy all finished the season with the Toronto Marlies AHL farm team but only Holzer is considered a sure bet to make the big club in training camp in September.
The right price for Luongo, considering the weak market, is still a middling prospect and getting Gillis to take an overpaid player as well.
The payoff for Gillis is getting rid of Luongo’s salary-cap hit of $5.33-million (U.S.) for 10 years and opening the starter’s position for Cory Schneider.
And don’t put much stock in that talk from Gillis and his fellow Canucks executives that they are prepared to go through another season with both Luongo and Schneider. They are simply doing what’s necessary to keep the fish biting.
Burke, by the way, is not expected to be a player in any potential trade for Tim Thomas, who told Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli he will waive his no-trade rights. Even if the 38-year-old decides not to follow through on taking next season off, the Leafs will pass.
While Thomas is still an excellent goaltender, the Leafs need a more stable solution. They have a young dressing room and someone with Thomas’s, um, unusual outlook on life and politics would not be a good fit.
The most noticeable thing about the Leafs’ picking Rielly was the reaction of his father, Andy. As the television cameras showed, he was overjoyed his son was taken by the Maple Leafs.
“He’s a big Leafs fan. I’m not surprised,” Rielly said.
(Rielly also said the family name is Irish and once had the conventional spelling of Reilly but there was a typo many years ago that was never corrected.)