LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Brian Burke won’t be seeking an immediate solution to the Toronto Maple Leafs problems at the upcoming draft.
Even though the Leafs general manager is heading to Pittsburgh with the fifth overall selection, he doesn’t plan on calling a player’s name who will don the blue and white next season.
“We don’t think anyone that we get at five is going to play (in the NHL) right away,” Burke said Tuesday night after the NHL’s board of governors meeting.
It is setting up as a wide-open draft. Beyond top-rated prospect Nail Yakupov, there isn’t much consensus among scouts on how the next few picks will play out at Consol Energy Center on Friday night.
As a result, Burke remains open to the possibility of trading a few spots up or down depending on how the dominoes fall. He hinted that he’d like to come home with a centre—the Leafs have been thin at the position for years—but he remains open to other possibilities as well in a draft he feels has “quality at every position.”
“Drafting positionally probably doesn’t make sense,” said Burke. “This is the one time in my life I’ve considered it—if there were a certain position available we might try to fill. We usually go with the best available athlete and that’s the way I intend to go.”
Over the years, Burke has solidified his reputation as one of the NHL’s best wheelers-and-dealers with some bold moves on the draft floor. If he’s working on a similar transaction this week, he did an excellent job of keeping his cards close to the vest.
Asked point blank about the possibility of luring the No. 1 selection from the Edmonton Oilers, Burke indicated he wasn’t interested.
“I have no sense from Edmonton that that pick’s in play,” he said. “If someone’s trying to actively get that pick it’s not us.”
This sets up as an important summer for a Leafs team that hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2004. Burke is in his fourth year at the helm of the team and expected success to come a lot sooner than it has.
With a fairly thin free-agent class set to hit the market on July 1, Burke believes the best way to improve his team is via trade. He hasn’t been able to make much headway with his colleagues of late but vows to keep working the phones.
“It’s like fishing—sometimes they’re biting and sometimes they’re not,” said Burke. “You’ve just got to keep fishing.”
Draft week is all about hope for every team involved.
This will be just the second time since 1989 that the Leafs have selected in the top five and there’s every reason to believe that they’ll be able to add a high-level prospect to their system.
“The reward you have for a poor year is a high pick,” said Bruke. “We expect to get a guy at five that’s going to be an impact player for us some day, maybe not right away.”