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Burke eyes trade market to improve Maple Leafs

by Dave Lozo /

Brian Burke believes the Toronto Maple Leafs are too small and need to find a top-line center and goaltender during the offseason in order to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Leafs' general manager said Tuesday during a season wrap-up press conference in Toronto that he doesn't see a lot of answers to his team's problems via free agency, so he will undertake the roster re-tooling through trades during the summer. He believes that the team has the assets to acquire the needed resources.

Burke, who has had his position with the Leafs for four seasons, expressed particular displeasure over the Leafs' 8-0 loss on March 19 in which his team was pushed around by the bigger, stronger Boston Bruins.

"My view on how hockey teams are built and how hockey games are won has not changed," Burke said. "I still believe that big, physical teams win hockey games, and if you have two evenly-matched teams from a skill perspective, the bigger team's going to win. We need to get bigger. That's my top priority as far as an overall priority."

With the Florida Panthers reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, the Leafs now have the longest postseason drought of any team in the League at seven seasons. Burke said he hasn't slept in two months because of that, but as he has said in the past, the last thing he wants to do is construct a roster that's only good enough to claim the No. 8 seed and lose in the first round.

Burke said the foundation is there, but admitted there are missing pieces.


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"I'm trying to build a championship team here," Burke said. "And that's very hard to see here today, but the building blocks, the keys that you need, the Phil Kessels, the Joffrey Lupuls, the Jake Gardiners, the Dion Phaneufs, the second line -- all those things have been put in place. And that's what can't be overlooked as you analyze and dissect a season. Even a season that's marked by failure. I think we're going in the right direction."

The Leafs were in contention for a playoff spot through the beginning February, but the wheels came off in spectacular fashion. They finished 7-18-4 and coach Ron Wilson was replaced with Randy Carlyle for the team's final 15 games.

While Burke addressed roster issues -- he said he believes goaltender James Reimer is the "real deal" and wasn't the same after taking a shot to the head from Brian Gionta in October -- Carlyle talked about the improvement that he feels is needed to the mental side of the Leafs' game.

"Confidence was the No. 1 thing that I would say this team did not have," Carlyle said. "We were not a confident group. It's our job as a coaching staff to force, coddle, kick -- whatever word you want to use -- to get them to believe that they can do it."

The Scotiabank NHL Draft Lottery will be held Tuesday night in Toronto, and the Leafs have an 8.1 percent chance of attaining the first pick in the upcoming draft. It will be the first process in Burke's latest attempt to get the Leafs back to the postseason for the first time since 2004, although he doesn't believe anyone in the top five can provide an immediate impact.

"It's not easy to fix a team that's broken," Burke said. "My view was I was hopeful we could do it quicker. We haven't. But I haven't changed the plan. It's a young group, we haven't gone old, we haven't tried to Band-Aid things. We've tried to build them. But yes, it's frustrating. It's very difficult."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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