So much for Brian Burke’s tendency to beat the trade deadline.
Now the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager is just another NHL exec, looking for a deal in a market where they have been awfully hard to find.
With his team still clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Burke now has 10 days to add a piece that will presumably make his team strong enough to stay among the top eight.
In this climate, however, with 25-odd teams still believing they have a chance at 16 playoff berths, the buyers once again outnumber the sellers and the asking prices could be far-too high between now and the trade deadline of Feb. 27.
Especially when you consider where Toronto is in the standings. This is not, in the Leafs GM’s parlance, a team that looks ready to “bloody somebody’s nose” in the first or second round.
Getting in is going to be a feat on its own, and even then, the odds are high the Maple Leafs would face a team 25-plus points ahead of them with a couple deadline additions on their roster as well.
Entering Thursday’s games, Toronto was given a 64.4-per-cent chance of making the postseason by sportsclubstats.com, the current authority on such things.
That includes a 44-per-cent chance of finishing seventh or eighth, putting the Leafs in the path of a Stanley Cup contender like the New York Rangers or Boston Bruins.
It’s also right where Burke has said he doesn’t want to be.
“I’m not interested in making the playoffs and getting our asses kicked in the first round,” the GM told a Toronto radio station last month, repeating a mantra heard countless other times. “I’ve done that. It’s not much fun.
“I’m interested in getting in with a realistic, reasonable chance to win or bloody somebody’s nose and use that round or two rounds or whatever we can do as a building block for a championship team.”
Make no mistake, however, Burke wants his team in the playoffs in 2012. That would mark the franchise’s first major step forward under his leadership and also its first trip to the postseason in an incredible eight years.
(The last thing the organization wants is to have the Florida Panthers, currently leading their sad-sack division, ending their drought before Toronto’s.)
It would also save head coach Ron Wilson’s job.
That said, Burke also has to realize where his team is – and that’s well-behind the contenders. Any trade he makes over the next 10 days won’t involve acquiring a rental player, and it won’t attempt to improve the roster over as short a term as this spring.
One deal Toronto had been working on that now likely won’t come to fruition was with the Philadelphia Flyers, who acquired defenceman Nicklas Grossman from the Dallas Stars on Thursday for two draft picks.
Grossman fits the bill as the capable stay-at-home defenceman the Flyers had been looking for when they were scouting Leafs blueliner Luke Schenn in recent weeks. The problem was, the player Burke coveted in exchange, big forward James van Riemsdyk, remains out with a concussion, putting any trade talk on hold.
Burke has said in the past how little he likes dealing in the days leading up to the deadline, when the prices go up and common sense goes out the window. For that reason, there remains the possibility he does nothing, or very little, in the coming days.
While there will be conversations about acquiring Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash, the smart play for the Leafs may well be to simply play out this season, take their lumps in the playoffs (if they make it) and wait for the draft and free agency to improve the roster.
Because, save for finding a star to play in net, this team isn’t going to surprise anyone in the playoffs.
And there’s too much riding on next season and beyond to make a deal simply to make a deal.