TORONTO – Despite making his second major trade in less than a week, Brian Burke is still refusing to concede defeat in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ pursuit of a playoff spot.
The Maple Leafs general manager dealt forward Kris Versteeg to the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday for first- and third-round draft picks at this summer’s draft.
But Burke says the third-round pick has already been offered to another team as part of a package for an NHL forward and that the Leafs’ focus remains the same.
“We are going to try and add a player. We have not conceded the last playoff spot, nor will we. If we can add, we’re going to,” Burke said on a conference call Monday. “There’s no change from our philosophy, it’s just that this was the best offer that we had.”
Burke reiterated a point he made last week when the club acquired Joffrey Lupul from Anaheim for defenceman Francois Beauchemin, saying it made sense to make the move now.
“I like to get out in front of the (Feb. 28) trade deadline, set my prices and when I get my price I want to make that deal rather than get into the stampede around the deadline,” Burke said.
The Maple Leafs currently sit 10 points back of eighth-place Carolina in the Eastern Conference, but do have a game in hand.
Burke says he was hoping to get a young player or a prospect in the Versteeg deal, but settled on the two picks.
“This was the best offer we had, it met our criteria,” Burke said. “The package of picks was something we felt we had to take at this point. We did not feel that would be there on the 28th.”
Versteeg, who lasted just 53 games with the Maple Leafs, was one of Burke’s biggest off-season additions last summer, arriving from Chicago for Viktor Stalberg and prospects Chris DiDomenico and Phillippe Paradis.
However, he wasn’t able to take the next step on a struggling team and had recently settled into a role on the Leafs third line. He was sixth in team scoring with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists).
“(Versteeg’s) best contributions would come on a better team. When you look at what he contributed with Chicago, he wasn’t having the same impact on our group,” Burke said, adding the acquisition Lupul made dealing Versteeg easier.
Versteeg joins a Philadelphia club that will give him an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup for the second straight year. The 24-year-old was part of the Chicago Blackhawks team that beat the Flyers last spring.
The deal gives Toronto something it didn’t have—a first-round pick, although the selection will come late because Philadelphia is challenging for the Presidents’ Trophy.
Boston holds the Leafs first-round pick in the upcoming draft as a result of the Phil Kessel trade.
“We’re excited about adding a first-round pick,” Burke added. “We think there are plenty of assets in this draft.”
Versteeg, meanwhile, is set to earn US$3.083 million next season in the final year of his contract.
“Right away I was extremely excited to join this team,” Versteeg said in a statement. “They’ve had a lot of success this season. They had a great playoff push last year and I’m excited to try and have a good one this year.”
The Flyers got a glimpse of his potential during last year’s Stanley Cup final and are happy to add him to their deep lineup.
“Kris is an exciting young forward,” GM Paul Holmgren said in a release. “He’ll fit in with our group of players here. He’s a quality forward that can play in a lot of different roles for our hockey team. He can move up and down our lineup, he can kill penalties, he can play on the power play.
“We think he’s a guy that over the last few years, particularly in Chicago, has really blossomed into a good forward and we think he’s going to be a really good addition to our team.”
Notes: Burke says Christian Hanson will join the Maple Leafs to fill Versteeg’s roster spot for Tuesday’s game against the Bruins in Boston.