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Flames' Burke exploring options as deadline looms

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- Make no mistake, Brian Burke isn't in the position he wants to be heading into the NHL Trade Deadline.

"I like buying a lot more than I like selling," said Burke, president of hockey operations and acting general manager of the Calgary Flames, who addressed the media Tuesday in advance of the deadline at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday. "It could be a very important day for the franchise, the next 24 hours, but it's not the same as when you're adding to try to make a push."

With plenty of salary cap space and even more capital at his disposal on a team that sits 27th in the League, Burke admitted his Flames are more than willing to play bank for teams pushed against the ceiling.

"We are budgeted as a full cap team," he said. "There's no scrimping by ownership here. We are budgeted to be a full cap team. We have cap space. We have several million dollars remaining in cap space. I've been authorized to utilize those dollars if I can. If that means taking on a contract that comes with a couple of picks and using some of that cash, I'm authorized to do that."

Burke's authorized to do more than just add. He's been given the green light to retain too.

That means the Flames are more than willing to accommodate teams struggling to find a way to fit forward Mike Cammalleri's $6 million hit under the salary cap, for example.

"That's absolutely within the realm of possibility," Burke said. "We've made that clear to teams. We can be a banker at this deadline and take contracts people don't want. We can retain salary of players that people want."

That scenario could come into play with Cammalleri, Calgary's biggest trade chip heading into the deadline.

Though he has 14 goals and 22 points in 44 games this season, the pending unrestricted free agent is Calgary's most attractive trade chip. Twice the 31-year-old has scored 30 goals, including a career-best 39 with the Flames in 2008-09. He's recorded 17 goals and 32 points in 32 playoff games.

But with forwards Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson still on the table, the market for Cammalleri remains cool, Burke said.

"I think there's a logjam that's been presented or created by two, three, four players that's going to paralyze the rest of the League," he said. "You'll see other deals happening, but I think the hold-up for a high-end forward is kind of been deactivated by two, three, four players. I think we're on the backburner for a lot of teams right now. It doesn't mean nothing's going to happen, but that's where we are today.

"I think it's a prioritization issue. I think that it's not that this player doesn't have value, it's that teams are focused on players they think might have more value or might have a greater impact and that's what's holding us up."

Should nothing happen, though, Burke is more than comfortable with keeping his pending free-agent crop beyond Wednesday.

"It doesn't mean we lose them," he said. "It means we have a greater window to sign them. I've done this before. I've kept players that were going to be unrestricted. I did it with Ruslan Salei in Anaheim. I've done it before, so I'm prepared to do that, yes. If the value's not there with our guys, we're prepared to keep and try to sign."

Trying to move Cammalleri and fellow potential free agents Lee Stempniak and Chris Butler aren't Burke's only options.

As the former GM of the Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs said, a team near the NHL's basement doesn't have the luxury of having too many assets deemed untouchable.

"I think it's a really overused term," Burke said. "I mean, Wayne Gretzky got traded, so how can you have untouchables? The closest we have are Sean Monahan and [Mark Giordano]. Those would be the closest we have to untouchables. It's that simple for me.

"But if someone offers me 10 first-round picks for either of those players, I think those are deals that we have to take. When you're in the place where we are in the standings, your list of untouchables should be either non-existent or tiny."

It's all in an effort, Burke hopes, to convert the Flames back into a competitive franchise as quickly as possible. He likes his odds of doing so.

"I think we are in a good position to improve our team moving forward," he said. "We're probably more in the long term, but yes. I would much rather be buying than selling.

"I hope to be up here in a year talking about buying players, not selling players."

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