'Frustrated' Burke clears the air

January, 14, 2010

TORONTO -- As far as impromptu news conferences go, Brian Burke certainly didn't disappoint.

The embattled GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs cleared the air on a number of matters Thursday as the pressure intensifies in the NHL's biggest hockey market with the team sinking in the standings and no carrot of a first-round pick awaiting in June. The Leafs are 28th in the overall NHL standings, not where Burke honestly believed his club would be Jan. 14.

He's definitely not a happy man right now, but he said he's not firing coach Ron Wilson and not trading defenseman Tomas Kaberle.

"I'm very disappointed. It's very frustrating," Burke told a number of us at Air Canada Centre ahead of Thursday night's game with the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers. "I just hate losing. You can dissect it any way you want. It's not part of my constitution. I can't stand it, and we're going to sort it out. We're going to find people who are willing to pay the price to stay here and battle harder and make things happen."

The hot-button topic in Toronto, where hockey is discussed 24/7 on talk radio, is Wilson's job security. The belief is that Burke has cornered himself because he can't fire the man who also happens to be his 2010 Olympic coach for Team USA. I don't know that any other coach would have made a difference here this season, so I'm not sure it's that big an issue. Ron Wilson is a good coach, but his team isn't good.

"I don't fault the coaches at all for where we are," Burke said. "I can tell you right now, there's not going to be a coaching change here. That's not been considered, discussed, whatever. He is as safe as the gold in Fort Knox."

Meanwhile, what of Kaberle, the team's best player this season? The star blueliner has another year left on his deal after this season at $4.25 million, peanuts for a guy of his caliber. He also has a no-trade clause. But the theory in the local media is that perhaps Burke should be looking to recoup a first-round pick via a Kaberle trade. The Leafs also have 13 free agents (nine unrestricted) at the end of the season, and some of them will surely be rental players exiting this city.

During any other season, it would be crystal clear by now that the Leafs are sellers. But with no first-round pick (the team dealt of pair of those to Boston for Phil Kessel), the decision doesn't come so easily. It might be wise just to win some games in order to avoid giving the Bruins a lottery pick. But Burke once again stood by the Kessel deal, even with the chance of Boston receiving a top-5 pick in June.

"Let's be clear on this: We talked about that possibility when we made the deal," Burke said Thursday. "We didn't think it was a realistic possibility. But if you're the GM and you don't consider every possible permutation, you're not doing your job. … We've got a 21-year-old who scored 36 goals in the National Hockey League last year, and I'd make that trade again today."

This soap opera is just getting more interesting by the day, folks. Don't change the channel.



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