BOSTON — The trade deadline is still 13 days away, but Toronto general manager Brian Burke isn't the type to wait until the last minute. And the Leafs boss' flurry of early deals might just force other GMs like Boston's Peter Chiarelli to speed up their plans as well.
"I know from talking to a couple other GMs that our trade set off a big surge in phone activity [Monday] night," Burke said Tuesday at the Garden, where his club was set to face the Bruins. "There's only so many quality players available at the deadline, and I know there was a frantic response to this trade."
Toronto has reduced that number by two, sending veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim last week and scoring forward Kris Versteeg to Philadelphia on Monday. It was the latter deal that sent cell phone bills skyrocketing across the NHL, but Burke still has one major ace up his sleeve in offensive defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who would fill a need on Boston's blueliner.
According to a report from Canadian-based Sportsnet.ca, Kaberle is only willing to waive his no-trade clause to come to the Bruins, which could tie Burke's hands a bit. Still, Burke might just demand a king's ransom anyway rather than deliver another key piece to Chiarelli and the Bruins, who already have a strong foundation in place for the future due to the Leafs' largesse in the Phil Kessel deal and a goalie swap that netted Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft.
This may be the most active Burke has been in the weeks leading up to a trade deadline, but it's nothing new for Burke to stay ahead of the deadline rush.
"I think people know this, we try to get out in front of the trade deadline," Burke said. "I think it's easier to make the deals you want before it's gets confused and before the aisle gets crowded. We've made a couple of deals and Nashville made a good-sized deal with Ottawa, so I think you'll probably see more activity in advance of the deadline for that reason. It just gets confused. It's like a cattle stampede at the deadline."
Toronto got first- and third-round picks for Versteeg, while Nashville gave up a first-rounder and another conditional pick to acquire Mike Fisher from Ottawa. That's set a high price tag on the limited number of scoring forwards available, but the prices are likely to go even higher as supply dwindles closer to the deadline.
"People keep popping off the board and all of the sudden you're left with a lesser alternative that you're not crazy about, but you do it anyway because you think you want to do something," Burke said.
Burke avoided that with his early moves, and he hopes the dominoes will continue to fall as he tries to rebuild the struggling Leafs on the fly.
"We're trying to add a forward," Burke said. "The deal with Anaheim was made with some sequence involved that we thought we would be able to move Kris Versteeg and we wanted to get a scoring presence and a right shot, and I had Joffrey Lupul in Anaheim. I know what he can do and I think he's a real good player and a dangerous scorer. That kind of set this [Versteeg trade] up, and now we're trying [for another deal]. We put the third-round pick in play as soon as we had it. We're trying to get a forward back. We're not throwing in the towel here, and we're not done yet either."
Beyond the issues of the past history between the clubs that could make it difficult for Chiarelli to work out a deal with Burke without overpaying, there's also the question of how well the teams match up as trading partners.
The Bruins' best assets to move are their draft picks, as they own both their own first-rounder and Toronto's first to complete the Kessel deal. But Burke appears to be in the market for more immediate help, and is looking to shed draft picks for NHL-ready players rather than acquire more than the 10 picks he already holds for the 2011 draft.
"We're not going with 10 if I have my way," Burke said. "We're going to try to do something with some of those picks. Most draft picks you don't see the player for three years. If we can do something shorter term we're going to do it."
Kaberle, an unrestricted free agent after the season, could be the perfect short-term fix for the Bruins' blue line. But can the Bruins meet Burke's demands to fill his club's immediate needs in return?