Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Burke fails to impress

So Brian Burke's first trade deadline with the Maple Leafs has come and gone, and it could be described as "underwhelming".

He had to trade pending UFAs Moore and Antropov, and he managed to get a couple of second rounders in return (the conditional pick in the Antropov deal is a fourth rounder that apparently only kicks in if the Rangers go to the semi-finals). And he added an additional pick from the Lightning.

Other than that, nothing. And in this case, nothing just isn't enough.

There were any number of rabbits Burke could have pulled out his hat today, and he came up empty:
  • Find somebody will to pay his ransom for Tomas Kaberle? Nope, although maybe you give a pass there due to the hand injury.
  • Trade a young-ish veteran like Ian White or Alex Ponikarovsky? Nope.
  • Find a GM in panic mode to take Jason Blake's contract off his hands? Nope.
  • Find a new home for veteran grinder Jamal Mayers? Nope.
  • Throw us all a curveball by doing something unexpected? Don't be silly.
He does get credit for an unusual deal with the Lightning that sees the Leafs essentially buy a fourth round pick and a middling prospect. That was at least creative, a sign that Burke was at least trying to make things happen.

In the end, all Burke managed to do with the current roster was move the team's only two UFAs. And he couldn't even get as much as he'd hoped for those two.

Not one single prospect to get excited about. No first round picks. No deals that will have any impact at all on next year's cap situation.

In fairness, the trading landscape in the NHL these days is a tough one. The cap made things hard, and the coming financial meltdown makes it worse. We were reminded of this a dozen times today. We get it.

But at the same time, just because the class is difficult doesn't mean the students get an A for showing up. If the job was going to be easy, Burke wouldn't be making the big bucks to do it.

Are the Leafs in significantly better long-term shape now than they were yesterday? Are they even significantly different than they were the day Burke took over? If so, I'm not seeing it.

And yes, over the next few days anyone who expected anything more than this will be lectured about having unrealistic expectations. The experts will shake their heads over dumb Leaf fans who actually thought that a rebuilding team would use the deadline to, you know, rebuild.

We'll be reminded that Burke isn't really a "deadline guy". Which is fine, when you're a buyer. But sellers needs to be deadline guys because that's when prices are highest. If Burke couldn't find a buyer today for more of his assets, then either he's not much of a salesman or the assets are in worse shape than we thought.

Either way, let's give Burke a C- on the day.

So what now? Well, first we ride out the last few weeks of the season. Then we sit through those games that come after the season -- can't remember what they're called, I think it starts with "p" but it's been a while.

And then on to the draft, which is the next day to get excited about on the Leaf calendar. The Leafs will have a chance to draft an elite prospect, and should be in a good position to move up if they choose. There will also be the window to move Kaberle or Kubina to any team in the league, and make any other deals that will continue the rebuild.

Or they may not do much at all. After all, maybe our expectations are too high.


  1. I too am a little disappointed in the results of the day. I will say that getting what should be a mid to high 2nd rounder for Moore is a steal, considering guys like him are a dime a dozen. I would have liked to have seen a 1st for Antropov, or a 2nd and a prospect, but it seems like there wasn't much of a market for him. (I can't believe Montreal wouldn't have tried to get him)
    Based on what they did get in return, I'm glad they didn't move Ponikarovsky or White, since they probably wouldn't have fetched any better than a 3rd or 4th round pick. And despite what Damien Cox says, mid-round picks won't get the Leafs any closer to the Cup.

  2. Agreed, C- is about right...Burke did nothing to help the Leafs today... basically he the picks he got will help to replace all the damage that Cliff did during his spending spree but no re-building pieces were added.

  3. I think its tough to call this deadline underwhelming. Antropov is over-rated and inconsistent the market simply wasn't there to get a 1st rounder for him, the only guy all day that netted a 1st rounder was Jokinen. Getting a 2nd for Moore is a crazy could find a player or two on any AHL team that could fill his role. I was surprised that Mayers didn't move...but the 4th or 5th we would have got back would have been pretty much useless.
    As for White and Kaberle, they are actually 2 pieces that I like going forward.
    Poni or Blake or Kubina wouldn't move because of their salaries in the coming year (obviously with kubina's NTC factored in).
    Unfortunately this rebuild isn't going to be quick ala Philly because the team simply doesn't have great assets or prospects. Stockpiling draft picks is probably a good place to be now.

  4. i gotta say DGB, this is the first time i've ever disagreed with you, and i couldn't disagree more - though, i do see where you're coming from, and, as always, you make a strong case.

    i however find it whacked that half the people complaining that 2nd round picks are a waste, are the same guys that are/were anxiously watching the developement of guys like Kulemin, Mitchell, Didomenico, and Stephanovich, among others. what a fickle bunch. someone please show me a club comprised of 23 first round picks...

    Alexander Daigle - first overall. Doug Gilmour - 8th round. good draft positioning isn't nearly as important as good scouting. i mean really, this isn't rocket surgery.

    now, i understand that some fans may be disappointed that BB didn’t get more for Antropov, but let’s get real. how many ‘blue chippers/first round picks were traded today? it’s not like Burke missed the boat here. i would bet a month's pay that Burkie said he wants a first for Nik because, let’s face it - you aim high and settle for what you actually wanted in the first place. if you’re selling your car, and you WANT $5000, you ask for $7500. Be honest - you've watched the big Kazak play in T.O. for many years - would YOU give up a first or one of your blue chippers for him?

    should he have traded Stajan, Mayers or Poni? maybe. but COULD he have traded them? maybe not. if nobody wanted those guys for a fair price what was he to do? trade Stajan for a 6th, just for the sake of making a trade? that makes no sense.

    it's funny too, don't you think, that on a 'rebuilding' club, people wanted to trade White, who plays both D and wing, with heart and passion, is young, cheap, and signed, for a second round pick? and that not trading White for that pick was a mistake, but getting 2 seconds for a couple of UFA's (one who was a waiver pick up, cost nothing, and is having an 'inflated numbers' career year) is a failure.. that also makes absolutely ZERO sense.

    and Blake? trade Blake? really? is JFJ working somewhere? you've repeatedly said yourself that Blake has the most unmovable contract in the league.

    IMO, Burke did good today. we're up 3 draft picks, we didn't lose our UFA's for nothing, we didn't take on any long term crappy contracts, and (bonus) we're down 2of our top performers and are going to have the worst keeper in the game between the pipes for the remainder of the season. bottom 5 here we come!

    so, now i can reset my countdown clock to the draft, when BB’s hands aren’t ‘tied’ by NTCs and other teams cap restrictions, and he can, and probably will, use those 2nd rounders in a package with Kabs and Kubina to get even better picks.. we've been patient for 40+ years, a few more months won't kill us.. today was a step in the right direction.

    keep up the good work DGB.


  5. I have to agree with McCoy. I too think BB has done a good job today. Sure I would of love to see more but you gotta face reality here, there really isn't that much of value in this team. If you did believe that there valuable assets or stars on this team then wouldn't you be happy that we only lost two of our stars! And if you think that more should of been done because we need to remove our trashy players, all I can say is, who the hell would want our trashy players and trade a top prospect or pick for them?
    In a real world, Burke did ok today, we got 3(4) picks from departing assets, addition from subtraction played to a tee!

  6. Crap is usually not worth very much, as we saw yesterday. This team is crap, to a man, save for Schenn.

  7. Good post DGB and good comments esp from Surreal McCoy. Good points on both side of the equation.

    I think Burke did aim too high especially in his asking price for Kaberle (which he admits scared some people off.

    However we now have 17 million in cap space and if we deal either Kubina or Kaberle at the summer we will have another 4-5 million under the cap.

    BONUS GOOD NEWS: Tlusty had 6 points last night. has 56 pts in 50 games w the Marlies.

  8. Burke doesn't panic on D-Day, but he's also very stubborn about worth and player types, and he doesn't really care if he gets nothing done at all. The offseason and draft are two other significant times to move players, and Burke has at least 3 years to get what he wants.

    Simply put, while offloading Blake and Mayers is certainly a worthy dream, those deals were never going to happen. Mayers has failed in every tangible, measurable aspect on his hometown club. Blake's contract will never be tradeable.

    Criticizing Burke for the fanciful expectations of an unreasonable populace just doesn't work, and I think it's odd that you want to dismiss the reality of our assets offhand as being immaterial to Burke's potential for success.

    We have two players who are deserving of a $5 million contract. Both of them have no trades, one of them was injured literally before deadline day. No other player on our roster warrants even half the compensation Leaf fans seemed to expect to appear out of thin air yesterday. Nik Antropov is not Justin Williams, Erik Cole, or Olli Jokinen.

    Sure Burke set his price high on Kaberle, but had he said nothing and then settled for less I can only imagine the uproar of selling low an all-star defenseman on an insane contract. You're a contrarian, and that's why we love this blog, but this situation is so lose/lose it's barely worth discussing.

    Would it have been nice to completely restock the team and farm in one blow? Yes, but GMs are more conservative now and these are not the heady days of 06-07.

  9. Scott:

    you're right about this not being the heady days of "06-07" which makes JFJ's horrible NTC contracts and the subsequent debacle last year when Cliff Fletcher couldn't trade any of them all the more painful.

    This rebuild will be longer than most people anticipate in my opinion.

    A silver lining right now is the apparent trend around the league to hold onto draft picks and prospects. This might actually force the Leafs to invest some quality time and cash into their scouting and development system.

  10. It was more of an underwhelming deadline day for the Leafs. As someone posted "crap gets you crap".

    Restocking some picks, albeit boring, is a positive step. I see it more as a B.

    We have tradeable assets in Kubina and Kaberle for the summer. As well the cap room to add some pieces come July 1.

    I'm prepared to wait until the puck drops in September (ugh!) to really begin to pass judgement on BB.

  11. In all honesty, I think Burke did a good enough job, in the situation he was put in. Teams are more interested in keeping their picks right now, since it's cheap talent.

    Not to blame stuff on the economy, but teams are going to want to save money. Look at baseball for example. The market their is in the shits, and I think NHL teams are paying attention to that. They don't want to frivolously spend money.

    Burke got us a couple 2nd rounders, hopefully we can use them to move up in the draft a bit for some 1st's

  12. Everyone who is a leaf fan is disappointed but i think one element of your post rings true with what Burk said...asset value it low and no one wants to carry marginal players in the cap space that will be reduced in the next few years. Its no mystery that Moore and Nik were UFA but they were also the most highly valued on the team currently...our "best " players.. One thing Burk has done is not lie...he did say up front he would not be trading a lot at deadline... he also said the off season would be agressive...i believe him. Many teams will dump salary for the coming cap reduction...Burk has cap space to buy and low value assets to sell. He is in good shape.

  13. DGB - If other teams were turning their trash into treasure, I'd be in complete agreement with Burke getting such a low grade.

    I think this is a case of high expectations (Jason Blake tradeable?) meeting the reality of a rational market - if Bill Guerin is only worth a 5th how low must Mayers' value be?

  14. Have to agree with the majority of comments here. Though I still wonder how Antropov only garnered a 2nd and conditional - I mean, couldn't a team like Florida have topped this? - in the end you have to believe Burke did the best he could, and around 2:30 realized it was that or nothing. Moore for a 2nd is excellent, given his (supposedly) ridiculous salary expectations (2.5-3 mil? Really? Good luck getting that from the Sabres!).

    I also agree that the draft will be a much more important day for Burke and the Leafs, both in who's chosen and what deals are made to move up. I'll reserve judgment until then.

  15. Hey everyone... great comments so far.

    I certainly agree that Burke was in a tough spot, and may not have been able to do much more than he did. That's why he still gets a passing grade.

    I'm not as optimistic about the potential for an overhaul in the summer. With the exception of Kubina and Kaberle's NTCs, what really changes? Deadline day is normally the best day of the year to be a seller -- if Burke couldn't sell yesterday, what makes us think he'll get anything done at the draft?

    It's looking more and more like Burke may plan to keep much of this team together and add some big name FAs to the mix for next year (while still drafting and developing for the future). He really seems to think that the current win streak shows that this team is better than we all think. We'd better hope he's right.

  16. I remember thinking a few years back that I should give this new GM a chance. That maybe his odd moves or lack of moves on deadline and draft days were part of some bigger plan and I wasn't privy to. We then watched for four years as JFJ mangled the shit out of our team. A bit of a stretch? Yes, but I'm still disappointed. What other 20 goal scorer is sold on deadline day for a 2nd round pick?

  17. Cheer up, DGB. It’s going to be Ok.

    I understand disappointment – it would have been great to see some drastic moves that really shook up the team. But considering how little activity there was across the league, I don’t think you can fault Burke that much. The market is what it is.

    I think you’re right that he’s going to try to improve on the current team via free agency, which is what I’ve expected all along. There aren’t many big market teams that have gone through a prolonged rebuild (ie not spending $$ in order to be intentionally bad) – that’s a tough sell in a rabid hockey market, especially if the team has deep pockets. Most recent ‘rebuilds’ (Pittsburgh, Chicago,etc) have been done out financial necessity, not out of adherence to some ‘pure’ hockey philosophy of ‘building from within’.

    The biggest reason for hope is that the Leafs are actually well positioned in terms of the cap. They have almost no unreasonable long-term contracts - Blake and Kubina are probably the worst, and they’re not even that bad when you look around the league. So when it comes time to start signing players again it will be in a reduced cap environment which could mean getting them for less than they would if they were signing them this year or last year

  18. Burke has always said he hates making trades on deadline day, and he's backed that up - all the "big" moves he's made in his career (the Pronger trade, the Bure trade, the Sedin trade, the Fedorov trade, the 2nd Pronger trade) have been at other times (usually draft day).

    Any Leaf fan expecting big things on deadline day have only themselves to blame for being disappointed.

    He did trade Alexander Mogilny for Brendan Morrison on deadline day in...2000 I think, but that's really it.

  19. @bishnu ...

    Burke has always said he hates making trades on deadline day

    Sure, but Burke has generally been a buyer. A buyer should absolutely wait until the off-season, since that's when prices are more reasonable. A seller needs to get moving when the market is at its peak, which has generally been at the deadline.

  20. @daoust...

    Most recent ‘rebuilds’ (Pittsburgh, Chicago,etc) have been done out financial necessity, not out of adherence to some ‘pure’ hockey philosophy of ‘building from within’.

    That's a great point, and I'll go one further. A lot of the recent rebuilds (and I'll add Washington to the mix) have had a lot to do with good old fashioned incompetence. Sometimes teams are just terribly run, finish last year after year, and then we all rewrite history to pretend it was part of some grand strategy.

  21. And yet somehow the Leafs have been consistently terribly run into mediocrity.

    Why are these discussions always so depressing?

  22. You’re exactly right, I should have made the same point about incompetence myself. The love affair everyone seems to have with the Hawks this year makes me want to puke (I have a good friend who’s a Hawks fan, which isn’t helping either). Has everyone forgotten the last 10 years?? They had their very own Harold Ballard doing his best to run the team into the ground. If he hadn’t died, and if they hadn’t gotten lucky to win the lottery and move up 2 or 3 spots to draft Patrick Kane, the team would still be crap. I have no problem conceding that they’re a great team now, because they are. But to hold them up as some sort of model of how a team should be managed or rebuilt is frickin preposterous.

  23. @ Scott --- JFJ was the master of mediocrity, but Quinn did alright. From 98/99 to 03/04 the Leafs finished 5th, 7th, 14th, 3rd, 9th, 5th and went to the conference finals twice. they were at the very least competitive and respectable, no matter how hard the media tried to convince us otherwise.

  24. re: the above... those were their overall NHL ranks, not conference.

  25. Sure, but Burke has generally been a buyer. A buyer should absolutely wait until the off-season, since that's when prices are more reasonable. A seller needs to get moving when the market is at its peak, which has generally been at the deadline.

    Not true at all, and in fact if you look at his past, whenever Burke has typically had veterans to sell - like Steve Rucchin, Petr Sykora, Sergei Fedorov, or (going back to his Vancouver years) Pavel Bure, more often than not he's done it in the off-season.

  26. "If Burke couldn't find a buyer today for more of his assets, then either he's not much of a salesman or the assets are in worse shape than we thought."

    The correct answer is 'the assets are in worse shape than we (Leafs Fans) thought'.

    You simply can't blame Burke for not getting a 1st for Antropov. Sure its what everyone (who cheers for the Leafs) wanted and thought he should get, but the fact is not one other GM in the league is a Leafs fan.

  27. Antropov also has TWO playoff goals (and 3 assists) in 25career games. It is difficult to sell a team that he is going to be the answer for you down the stretch.

    An important thing to consider is that draft picks/prospects are worth more this year than arguably at any point in league history because of the cap and economic situation.

    I would have liked to have seen Burke pull of a couple more of the 'Kolzig' style deals, essentially just eating salary and/or cap space in exchange for picks, but methinks Tampa is probably one of the worst run teams in the league, as well as one of the poorest, so I'm guessing there wasn't anybody else there willing to sell picks like that.

    I'm kind of surprised he wasn't able to give Blake away, but I wonder if Burke isn't a bit enamoured with him right now. Like if someone offered to just take Blake and his contract flat out with nothing coming back, do you think Burke would have done that?

  28. @Mike...

    Like if someone offered to just take Blake and his contract flat out with nothing coming back, do you think Burke would have done that?

    I hope so. I can't imagine he wouldn't jump at that.

  29. I agree with most who have said that Burke did pretty well. Obviously we all wanted to see big moves but a team is not rebuilt in one deadline. Hopefully we'll see some more action at the draft and in the offseason. This will be a long process.

    However, question about the Tampa trade. How was the kid's name pronounced, the one we gave up? Richard Peddie-ot? Maybe Burkie's trying to send a message.

  30. Sorry Brown, usually you are dead on but I have to disagree with your assessment. Let's break it down according to your criteria:

    1) Kaberle: Why limit yourself to a "list" of teams and trade him while he's injured when you can trade him at a higher value in the off season? Pretty obvious why this didn't happen.

    2) Why would you WANT to trade White? You are not going to get fair value for him so why not keep him? I'm much happier White didn't get traded. Poni might have got a 3rd round pick and still could get that in the off season. No biggie there. And Moore doesn't qualify as a "young-ish veteran"?

    3) You are truly dreaming if you really believe ANYONE would take Blake's contract, might happen next year, but no way this year.

    4) So he failed to trade Mayers, an asset at his lowest value ever, big deal.

    5) Unexpected?? I'd say pretty much NO ONE expected the deal with Tampa. Not only did he do something creative, he also helped out a fellow GM who might be pretty open to returning the favor come draft day *hint hint*.

    We Leaf fans love to over value our players (and prospects) but the league usually brings us back to reality. Antropov bringing a 2nd rounder in return is a steal, when you remember the 8+ years it took him to get where he is now. Plus, both Moore and Antropov could be re-signed this off season (god knows why!)

    This rebuild won't be short so prepare yourself for the long run.

  31. Jason Blake is the only player on the team who can actually influence a game's outcome. Why would you trade him (for nothing)? Does anyone honestly think that the Leafs are prepared to embark on a 5 year rebuild? No chance.
    Blake (playing like he is recently) is a 40 goal scorer if you find a half decent centre to play with him. You try and find a guy like that for less than 4 million a year. Can't be done.
    Burke's mandate wasn't to completely gut this team and turn it into an expansion team. He was signed to turn the franchise around as completely AND quickly as possible. The moneymen in TO won't stand the ridicule of running a joke team for 4 years.
    Comments from jokers like Daoust (who takes that name? Why not Terrion?) just underscores the complete lack of understanding that permeates the Leaf fan noosphere.

  32. @Anonymous...

    Jason Blake is the only player on the team who can actually influence a game's outcome. Why would you trade him (for nothing)?

    Blake will be 36 years old by the start of next season. As a guy who relies on speed as a big part of his game, there's plenty of reason to fear that his production will drop each year for the remainder of his contract.

    He may be decent next year, but the Leafs won't be. By the time the Leafs are ready to contend for anything (2010-11 at the earliest) Blake will be closing in on 38 and still have two years left on his deal. The odds of him being worth it at that point are slim.

  33. "He may be decent next year, but the Leafs won't be. By the time the Leafs are ready to contend for anything (2010-11 at the earliest) Blake will be closing in on 38 and still have two years left on his deal. The odds of him being worth it at that point are slim."

    Maybe. There are many examples of players who have maintained well into their late 30's. Blake seems to be a competitor so I think he'll be one of those guys. The point is that for this deadline,trading Blake to get out from his contract made no sense whatsoever.
    For a #1,I would do it but otherwise;the replacement cost the Leafs would face after the trade wouldn't make any trade (for junk) realistic.
    You still have to ice a team after all (and meet the salary floor). From a different perspective,what point is there in icing a team of kids if you don't have some vets to show the way? Do we want to repeat the mistakes of the 80's and ruin kids by putting them out there without a safety net (oh,what might have been;Todd Gill)?
    What lessons can be learned from a season where your team loses 60% of it's games?
    I thought Burke did a great job getting the best return he could. Wilson has this team playing the right way and we aren't as far off as had previously been suggested (honestly,if we had kept Sundin; we'd be in the playoffs right now). Maybe they can get a 2 for him next year,depending on what they have on stock;he might be worth trading at that point.

  34. @anonymous...

    I'm generally with you on the anti-tanking platform. But as far as the kids needing veterans to learn from and emulate, there have been plenty of reports that Blake is selfish, moody and generally not well-liked by his teammates -- exactly the sort of veteran you don't want around a bunch of kids.

    Wilson has this team playing the right way and we aren't as far off as had previously been suggested

    This is what scares me. I think the recent win streak is a mirage, and I pray that Burke doesn't really think he has most of the pieces of a winning team in place.

  35. Well,you are right to be a-scared. You (and all of us Leaf fans) should be ascared of just that. And it will happen. You and I both know that if the mirage manifests itself then the Leaf's will have no choice but to wander into the desert in pursuit of the oasis. The gravity well caused by missing profits will be too severe to withstand (especially in this economy,TML could buy half of the world's banks with a good playoff run).
    But really,I'd rather be Boston making it in 20 years in a row and not winning over TB winning once a decade and then falling of the cliff.
    It's the playoffs man,ANYTHING can happen once you make it in (can't you tell that I'm a life long Leaf fan). Because it is true,anything can happen assuming that you have a good coach and a great goalie (remember what Pat Burns accomplished with the Cat between the pipes). One down,one to go;maybe we can offer Rask a big contract this summer.