MONTREAL – Brian Burke didn’t need to land John Tavares to make an impression at the NHL draft.
The Toronto Maple Leafs GM was unable to achieve his goal of landing the top-ranked forward on Friday and was further agitated when the Bell Centre crowd booed him mercilessly as he stepped to the draft podium.
He didn’t hesitate to fire back at them during an interview afterwards.
“I will tell you this – the best hockey fans on the planet are not in Montreal, they’re in Toronto,” said Burke. “When we host this event in a couple years this will seem like child’s play for the booing they get in Toronto.”
then, Nazem Kadri hopes he’ll be among the hated Maple Leafs. He was selected by Toronto in the seventh spot on Friday night and hopes to be part of the franchise’s rebuilding efforts.
Burke did all he could to accelerate the process by moving up in the draft.
However, the price being asked by the Tampa Bay Lightning for the No. 2 selection was steeper than he was willing to pay.
“Could we have moved up? Easily,” said Burke. “We could have done it easily, we could have done it on the floor, we could have done it two weeks ago – if we put Luke Schenn in the deal. To me that’s a step backwards for our franchise.
“My ego’s not that big I’ve got to get up there in the first two picks every couple years. I think for the Toronto Maple Leafs we made a prudent decision to keep the kid that I think will be our captain in a couple years.”
In Kadri, they get a player who had 25 goals and 78 points for the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. The Maple Leafs figure he’ll need at least another year of seasoning in junior.
Kadri was born and raised in London and is of Lebanese descent. He wants to become a player that young Muslim children can look up to.
“It’s nice to be a role model for those young kids and it’s nice to have them look up to you,” said Kadri. “You know, I think definitely me playing with the Leafs and being in this organization will help that out.”
Burke fully agrees.
“If this has a ripple effect on young players in the Muslim community to take up hockey, that’s a wonderful side effect,” he said. “If that increases our player pool and touches a part of society we’re not talking enough now, that’s great.”
In addition to the boos, some fans also chanted “67! 67!” prior to the Leafs pick – a reference to the last time the franchise won the Stanley Cup.
Kadri heard those derisive chants and wants to see the day that they’re silenced.
“Hopefully when I get some experience under my belt, I’ll become one of those impact players,” he said. “I think I can be. I’ll just bring everything to the table, everything that I possibly can.
“Hopefully, I can be fortunate to win a Stanley Cup with the Leafs.”
There was a time he dreamed of doing that for the rival Montreal Canadiens. It didn’t take him very long to drop that allegiance.
“I was a die-hard fan when I was growing up but today I found a new favourite team,” said Kadri.