Brian Burke has made three trades in the past 10 days as he continues to mold the Toronto organization, but he's not done dealing yet and some of the recent returns might not be around for long.
On Friday, Burke traded defenseman Tomas Kaberle to Boston for touted prospect Joe Colborne, the Bruins' first-round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft and a conditional second-rounder. He's also dealt forward Kris Versteeg to Philadelphia for a No. 1 and No. 3 pick in the draft and defenseman Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim for forward Joffrey Lupul, prospect Jake Gardiner and a conditional pick.
There are a lot of draft picks in that bounty for Burke, but that's not his end game.
"Draft picks have never been a priority," Burke told reporters after the Kaberle deal. "I said that about a month ago and we made a couple trades to get a bunch of draft picks. I'm sure people are saying, 'Well, he just told us they're not his top priority' and they're not. But at some point the value a draft pick brings -- you have to make the deal.
"It's not what we wanted precisely, but it's assets in the shopping cart -- and now we've got to see what we can turn them into. Ideally, we'll turn them into a young player."
Burke now has two first-round picks in the 2011 draft -- one from Boston and one from Philadelphia. Both figure to be in the bottom third of the round considering how well the Bruins and Flyers are playing.
Toronto's GM mentioned the possibility of flipping those two picks twice during his news conference -- once for a spot higher in the first round (where the Maple Leafs would presumably be able to add a prospect that is close to NHL-ready) or for a young player.
The third-round pick from Philadelphia is also "in play."
"I don't know if it's going to go or not," Burke said. "That is in play and it has been offered to another team and they're contemplating it. We're going to try and add a defenseman. Obviously if you take Tomas out of the lineup, you take some minutes and some skill out of the lineup. I don't know if we'll able to do that. Sometimes you can only deal with so many chess pieces on the board at the same time, but we are going to try and add a defenseman."
If Burke is able to replace Kaberle, he feels the Maple Leafs still have a decent chance to make this year's playoffs, even if some of his deals this month have been made to bolster the team's future. Toronto begins Friday six points in back of Carolina for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but as Burke said on NHL Live! last week, he's not interested in building a team that is just capable of sneaking into the playoffs.
He wants to build a legitimate contender. Other GMs have done so by culling draft picks and being patient with player development. Burke wants to play on the value of those picks and try to speed up the process.
"The hardest part of this whole process is the losing," Burke said. "I don't like to lose. I hate losing. The process is taking longer than I wanted it to it. It is taking longer than anyone wanted it to, but the game plan and the blue print has never changed. It was never about getting older assets and getting better for a year or two. We spent all those assets on a 21-year-old right winger. Everything we've done has been part of a long-term plan. It hasn't changed from Day One and it's not going to.
As for Kaberle, Burke denied reports about how the process went down. He said Kaberle didn't want to leave and asked for a contract extension several times. When Burke relayed that wasn't going to happen, Kaberle's agent told the GM his client would like to play in Boston.
"I said, 'OK. That makes sense. We'll try to get [Kaberle] there,'" Burke said. "We were not accepting a one-team list from any player or any player. We set our price, which was a first-round pick and a prospect off our list -- not their list. We said if Boston meets that, we'll make the deal and if they don't we want two more teams. And if we can't make a deal with those teams we want two more teams after that."
Boston did meet Burke's price. Colborne was one of the top pro prospects in the NCAA during his two seasons at Denver, and Toronto's management staff feels he can be a top-six forward for the Leafs.
"Our pro guys are really pleased with his progress," Burke said. "He's a big guy. He's not an unduly physical player. He's not noted for that and we're not getting him for that. We're getting him for skill. He's a good kid who works hard and brings that size and brings that skill."