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Burke Remains Anything But Predictable

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Now what?

Maple Leafs General Manager and President Brian Burke has dispensed with what may or may not be his best trading chip in shipping Alexei Ponikarovsky to Pittsburgh for 21-year-old left winger Luca Caputi and well-traveled defenceman Martin Skoula.

Now he has until 3 p.m. today to reshape a roster that sits 29th in the 30-team league and dropped a 5-1 home-ice decision Tuesday to the slightly less-lowly Carolina Hurricanes.

To everyone but Burke, this deal, every deal, will play out under the spectre of the Phil Kessel trade. The Leafs sit second-last with Kessel, who cost them this year’s first-round draft choice and the first and second picks in 2011. Kessel leads the team in goalscoring, but showed himself to be shy of the elite in the rarefied air of the Olympics.

By packaging serviceable players, and Ponikarovsky was certainly that, the Leafs GM is actually increasing the possibility the club will remain moored where they are.

The optics of that will be horrific should the Bruins select Tyler Hall, Cam Fowler or Tyler Sequin.

But here is where the rubber meets the road. Burke is a last sailor off the ship in stormy seas kind of guy.

Nothing short of a time machine will change the Kessel trade and what the Bruins do will matter not a lick except on the nights the Leafs play Boston. Burke has assured all who asked that he is comfortable with the trade no matter where the Leafs finish.

A year ago Leaf fans and many in the media urged the team to tank. Now when many will want him to acquire mature talent to avoid finishing at the bottom of the standings, Burke is trading his second leading goal-scorer for a player who will report to the Marlies and a defenceman who is on his sixth team in a decade long career. You’ve got to hand it to Burke he doesn’t cave to public opinion.

No one bats .1000 in this racket and Burke must and will continue to act like he has done just that.

So what does he do today? He has some minor cards in rental players such as Lee Stempniak, Garnet Exelby. Wayne Primeau and now Skoula.

But when the Leafs GM said he would be very active at the deadline, you are left wondering if restocking the Marlies was really what he had in mind.

What about the talented but confounding Mikael Grabovski or Nikolai Kulemin who has shown himself to be a fleet, puck-chasing forechecker with some touch?

Will he dare move Luke Schenn, an untouchable just last season but a player who often struggled badly in a veteran defence that will feature Dion Phaneuf and a surgically repaired Mike Komisarek?

In the Kessel deal, Burke re-affirmed his standing as one of hockey’s most daring traders. The question today is how will he add to that body of work.

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