A lot of the discussion about the Toronto Maple Leafs these days concerns general manager Brian Burke's plans to trade up in the NHL entry draft later this month.
Actually, that is one of several plans Burke is juggling at the moment, according to those familiar with his actions. He is also considering how to land the No. 1 centre the Leafs badly need, the most likely route being a trade that would require giving up some or all of his three picks in the top 40, which would mean no moving up at the draft. There is also the possibility of signing centre Brad Richards as a free agent, although that is less likely than the previous two scenarios.
At this point, Burke has the 25th overall pick, which he received from the Philadelphia Flyers in the trade for Kris Versteeg, the Boston Bruins' first pick from the Tomas Kaberle trade (which will be 29th or 30th overall depending how the Bruins do in the Stanley Cup final) and the Leafs' second-round pick, which is 39th overall.
Trying to move up in the draft is standard operating procedure for Burke, even in a draft like this year's, which is not considered a bumper crop. However, while scouts say there are no potential superstars they do think the talent projected from the sixth overall spot down through the 25th is as good as any year.
Since Burke does not have the high picks needed to trade his way into the top six, he is willing to package what he has to get into the top 10 or even 15. Ideally, he would trade just one of his first-round picks and his second-rounder in order to draft twice in the first round.
He is working the phones with his fellow GMs to lay the groundwork for such a move but it is no certainty. The trouble is, there is lots of competition for those top 15 picks. The Chicago Blackhawks, for example, have two second-round picks and could nose Burke out.
So the Leafs GM is working several fronts at once. There is the possibility of trading for the No. 1 centre but at this point there is no clear target. He will not be trading for Richards' negotiating rights up to July 1 since it is clear the Dallas Stars centre plans to become a free agent. The other obvious target, San Jose Sharks centre Patrick Marleau, is also unlikely to land in Toronto because Leafs head coach Ron Wilson is not considered a big fan from his days coaching the Sharks.
The Richards situation is interesting. He will no doubt be looking for a multi-year contract in the range of six to eight years for upwards of $8-million (all currency U.S.) per year. Even though Richards is coming off a great season with 77 points in 72 games, he is also 31, had a serious concussion late in the season and also has had trouble with his hip.
During the frenzy of the annual free-agent auction, there is always a chance someone will lose his head and offer Richards an eight-year deal for many millions of dollars. But it is worth noting the New York Rangers, always cited as Richards' preferred target because of his relationship with head coach John Tortorella, have not tried to trade for Richards's negotiating rights. It is also interesting respected New York Post hockey writer Larry Brooks recently wrote a column suggesting the Rangers are not about to give Richards whatever he wants because they have their own salary-cap worries.
No one will discuss the situation since Richards is under contract to the Stars until July 1. But a quick read of the tea leaves shows the Leafs do have some interest in Richards but only for fewer years and fewer dollars than the numbers being tossed around right now.