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Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Chris Young

Brian Burke's biggest concern on deadline day, as he freely admits, is not pulling off that big trade. It is to avoid doing something stupid.

Even if the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager does not make that one last deal by 3 p.m. (ET) Monday, when the NHL's trade deadline arrives, he can sit back and say he and his lieutenants did well. In the last month, they shipped out forward Kris Versteeg, defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Fran├žois Beauchemin and a conditional seventh-round pick.

In return, they received forward Joffrey Lupul, two first-round picks, a conditional second-round pick, a third-round pick, a conditional fourth-round pick, prospects Jake Gardiner and Joe Colborne and minor-leaguer Aaron Voros. Both Gardiner and Colborne were recent first-round picks.

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Burke was ambivalent about his chances of making another move before the deadline, although he would like to add a defenceman who can move the puck. Ideally, that would be John-Michael Liles, which is where the doing something stupid comes in.

Liles, 30, had 41 points in 62 games for the Colorado Avalanche before Sunday's game. He is a similar player to the departed Kaberle, albeit one with a little less skill.

Funny how these things work. When a GM trades a puck-moving defenceman his first job is always to replace him.

Burke declined to discuss his trade plans in detail, but those who know say Liles probably could be had for the Leafs' second-round pick in this year's entry draft. That price is too rich for Burke, who might be willing to surrender the third-round pick he got from the Philadelphia Flyers as part of the Versteeg trade.

At this point, though, it looks like Avalanche GM Greg Sherman is hoping for a last-minute bidding war for Liles.

It would make no sense for Burke to surrender a second-round pick to grab a player who might give the Leafs a better chance to improve their still-long odds to make the playoffs but may not be part of the long-term plan. With youngsters like Keith Aulie and Gardiner, who could develop quickly enough to jump to the Leafs midway through next season, Liles is no guarantee to be one of the top four defencemen permanently.

But the biggest obstacle to surrendering the second-round pick for Liles is that it takes away the chance for Burke to package that pick with the two first-rounders he got from the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia. That could represent the 24th, 29th and 38th picks overall in June, which might be enough to land that big-time centre the Leafs need or to move up in the draft. Either way, it is a move that might have to wait for June rather than deadline day.

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It is much better to hold on to the chance of making that kind of trade rather than squander it on deadline day. At this point, the Leafs are not a serious playoff contender. Yes, if things go their way they could make the playoffs but that would only mean they would be among the leading candidates to get knocked off in the first round.

Something else Burke may not do, despite some blustering to the contrary, is trade winger Clarke MacArthur, who is drawing interest. Burke said last week he might trade MacArthur if they cannot agree on a contract extension.

MacArthur will be a restricted free agent this summer and had the good fortune to have a career year this season. He works well with centre Mikhail Grabovski and winger Nikolai Kulemin on the Leafs' most consistent line this season.

Burke and MacArthur's agent, Don Meehan, are not close on a contract yet. But it looks like cooler heads will prevail, even if the contract isn't completed until spring.

As for that scoring centre, don't expect it to be Paul Stastny of the Avalanche. Burke already has his share of small centres, let alone ones who have three years left on their contract with a salary-cap hit of $6.6-million (U.S.) per year.

If worse comes to the worst this summer, that centre may have to come from within. There are hopes Colborne, 21, will make the Leafs next season out of training camp and there is Nazem Kadri, who is producing at a point-per-game clip with the Leafs' Toronto Marlies farm team.

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