Leafs likely to go trade route

When you have missed the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season and are void of high draft picks, there’s not much hope to sell in an NHL off season.

So many Maple Leafs fans will buy into the notion that Canada Day truly could be free-agent frenzy for the team and that their wheeling-dealing general manager will somehow do something to spin this thing around.

Reality, on the other hand, is considerably more sobering.

The inherent problem with such optimism (desperation?) is that even if Burke has the best free-agent day in the history of NHL general managers, miracle fixes are not forthcoming.

Burke showed late Wednesday his willingness to belly up to the table when he acquired forward Kris Versteeg from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in a deal that must be scored as an immediate upgrade.

As for the big day, the bold Leafs president has wisely stayed away from tipping his hand regarding free agency. If the consensus speculation is true, however, Burke has next to no interest in the one true impact player available.

That would be Ilya Kovalchuk, who is not a Burke player on a couple of crucial counts.

For one, he is expensive, both in terms of money and term and for another, his Euro diva act doesn’t seem to mesh with the type of character he is trying to create in the Leafs’ dressing room.

That said, Burke has maintained he will be active Thursday and, as we saw the previous night, you can take that to the bank.

He can still have a big day too, but given the state of his current team and the dearth and depth of quality available on this year’s bear market, don’t expect the world.

Rather than the highlight appeal of Kovalchuk, it is expected the Leafs will go for more little victories like the Versteeg acquisition, consequently upgrading the quality of the roster.

For sure, Canada Day 2010 promises to be a quieter affair than a year ago. You will remember that Burke spent the first day of free agency in Sweden in a futile attempt to nab the Sedin twins.

That didn’t stop Burke and Nonis from making a splash, however. Desperate for help on the back end, Mike Komisarek was signed as was fighting forward Colton Orr. Five days later, former Anaheim D-man Francois Beauchemin was added and some $10 million later, Burke’s first free agent foray as Leafs GM had to be considered at least a modest success.

This year, his options are limited, which is why Burke and Nonis seem as focused on possible trades as free-agent signings.