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Burke busy reshaping Maple Leafs

by Adam Kimelman
Brian Burke went into the deadline looking to continue his rebuilding effort with the Toronto Maple Leafs. While he knew he couldn't pull a full roster makeover, he did make quite a few changes.

Prior to Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, Burke traded forwards Nik Antropov (to the Rangers) and Dominic Moore (to the Sabres) in separate deals that netted the Leafs a pair of second-round draft picks.

Much of the speculation leading into the deadline had Burke being among the League's most active GMs on deadline day, but other than dealing two forwards, he mostly was quiet.

Burke said he had let the 29 other clubs know he was "open for business," but said players from losing teams generally aren't heavily in demand at the deadline.

"When your team hasn't had success, it's not like there's a huge line at the checkout counter for your players," Burke said. "The deals that were presented to us made sense. Anyone that was interested in any of our players should have known we were open for business."

That business mostly revolved around Antropov, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound center with 21 goals and 46 points in 63 games this season. In return, the Leafs received the Rangers' 2009 second-round pick, as well as a conditional pick.
Burke recently had publicly chastised Antropov for lackluster play, but on Wednesday he said Antropov's recent strong showings -- he has 4 goals and 8 points in his last 10 games -- is what allowed him to get back what he did from New York.
"If you look at the timeline here, I don't think we had a prayer of getting a second-round pick for this player (Antropov) until I confronted him publicly," said Burke. "If you had asked me a month ago if I could have gotten a second-round pick for him, I would have said no."

Burke extracted a 2009 second-round pick from the Sabres for Moore, who is having a breakout season with career-highs of 12 goals and 41 points.

"This was an opportunity for us to put draft picks back in the hopper," Burke said. "We were missing a couple picks in this year's draft and this will put them back in. We shopped very hard, we involved every team, made sure that everyone who had interest in these players was consulted. From our perspective it was a good day for us in the long term. In the short term we're saying goodbye to a few good hockey players."

Burke said he didn't receive a single call for All-Star defenseman Tomas Kaberle, but said that likely was because of how high he publicly set the bar for trade offers, in addition to a hand injury that likely will sideline him for at least two weeks. He also said better recent play by players like Jason Blake and Pavel Kubina had made Burke reassess their future with the Leafs.

"Through their recent play, maybe they can be players who can be part of our rebuilding process," he said.

Burke wasn't just a seller on deadline day. Early Wednesday, he claimed goaltender Martin Gerber off re-entry waivers from the Ottawa Senators. Gerber, who recently had been playing with Binghamton in the American Hockey League, will assume the starting role for the Leafs while Vesa Toskala has season-ending surgery to repair hip and groin injuries. In 14 games with the Senators this season, Gerber was 4-9-1 with a 2.86 goals-against average.

"With Vesa the decision to have the surgery now is based on the recovery period," said Burke of the move, announced early Wednesday. "It's based on him having the maximum time to recover."

When told he could have handed the reins to veteran backup Curtis Joseph or rookie Justin Pogge for the final 18 games -- which likely would have enhanced the team's chances of getting a high first-round draft pick -- Burke replied that his goal in claiming Gerber was to give the team the best chance to win.
"With Vesa the decision to have the surgery now is based on the recovery period. It's based on him having the maximum time to recover" -- Brian Burke
"We could have said we'll play a kid the rest of the way, but instead we went out and spent the money and got a veteran goaltender," said Burke.

In a late deal, Burke acquired another veteran goaltender, Olaf Kolzig, from the Tampa Bay Lightning, along with defenseman Jamie Heward, defense prospect Andy Rogers and a 2009 fourth-round pick, in exchange for minor-league defenseman Richard Petiot. Neither Kolzig nor Heward are expected to play for the Leafs this season due to injuries, and both will be unrestricted free agents on July 1.

The Leafs also claimed defenseman Erik Reitz off waivers from the New York Rangers. In 42 games with Minnesota and the Rangers this season, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound defenseman had 2 points and 65 penalty minutes. He has an ankle injury, and while Burke said he was unsure when Reitz would play, he still found claiming him worthwhile.

"He's a hard-nosed kid," Burke said. "... I'm looking for sand, I'm looking for grit in our lineup and he's got that. Not a heavyweight by any means, but he plays hard."

And that's what Burke expects from all his players for the rest of the season. While the playoffs are out of reach this season -- the Leafs are 11th in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of a playoff spot -- the goal doesn't change.

"The hockey team's mission never changes despite what anyone says," Burke said. "It's in our DNA to win. It's unfair to your fans to try to do anything but win. I think fans can understand a long-term plan. Our mission for the rest of the year is to win. With the goaltender getting shut down, we had a built-in excuse to lose, but we're not going to take that route.

"My job is to win as many games as we can and that's what I'll do. The day that anyone thinks it's not, I'll quit."

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