If you like, Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke will tell you how much fun it is to have contending teams pick over your roster while you brace for an interminably long summer.
“Being a seller sucks,” Burke said. “I’d much rather be accumulating assets and gearing up for the playoffs.”
Instead, Burke made moves yesterday and today that will weaken his roster with an eye to the future. Tuesday, he dealt 19-goal forward Alexei Ponikarovsky to Pittsburgh for Pens’ prospect Luca Caputi, a 21-year-old winger as well as veteran defenceman Martin Skoula. Burke flipped Skoula to New Jersey on Wednesday for a fifth rounder. Next, he garnered Phoenix’s fourth and seventh rounders by sending Lee Stempniak west.
It was a lower case day on what is purported to be one of the most exciting in the sport. Ponikarovsky was the biggest name to change teams unless you count Raffi Torres.
And it didn’t have to end that way. The Leafs made 11th hour enquiries about moving their leading scorer, defenceman Tomas Kaberle, to three teams.
“What in fact happened is that the player’s agent Rick Curran, who is a good guy, whispered to us that there were three locations that he would be interested in going and could we please explore those,” Burke said.
“We did. There wasn’t a deal to be made and that was the end of it.”
Kaberle has one year left on his contract and it has been widely assumed the Czech defenceman could be cashiered to shore up a thin crew of forwards. Kaberle has a no-trade clause that expires at the entry draft and leaves a two-month window for a trade.
Burke, however, said he preferred to stack his back line and holds to the notion there is no better group in the NHL.
“My inclination is to do nothing with the defence,” he said. “Someone is going to have me blow me out of the water to get any of these guys out of here.”
To that end, Burke said he would open talks for a new contract for Kaberle, the team’s runaway leader in seniority.
“We’ve told the agent that at the appropriate time that is a conversation we are prepared to have, “he said.
Ponikarovsky was moved, Burke said, because he wanted his new contract to be a four-year-deal. “My suspicion is that he will get it,” he said, “but it won’t be from me.”
The Leafs will now refocus on free agents from American colleges, a source that supplied two players playing on the big club: Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak
“They used to say join the Navy and see the world,” Burke said.
“Well, if you want to play in the National Hockey League and you’re a college free agent, you should see an opportunity here.”