Brian Burke is infamous for his his “Christmas trade freeze,” which is the couple of weeks over the holidays where he won’t move any players (which is a nice gesture, of course). You can think whatever you like about that; whether he’s missing out on potential deals a couple months before trade deadline or not, we’ll never know. He’s likely not.

But that fact that he said he wasn’t willing to go to free agency this summer during today’s press conference struck me as a little bit odd.

It’s always tough to face the facts (and the media) when your season doesn’t go as planned, and to Burke’s credit, he owns the lack of success without backing down. Today he stood there in front of everyone and answered the reasonable questions, while Calgary’s GM Jay Feaster said he “won’t be answering questions about their personnel or head coach” in his presser. Great, thanks for coming out. Why are we doing this, then? So, credit to Burke there.

But, again, to come out today and say they’re not going to look at all of the possible ways to improve the Leafs is preposterous. There’s the hope that he’s bluffing, so as not to get everyone all riled up (and eventually disappointed when it doesn’t work out), but for argument sake, let’s say he’s serious. Let’s say he means it when he says the Leafs will solely ”look to the old-fashioned way, trades” to improve their team.

Why limit yourself like that? Fine, you prefer trading, but why impose any restriction that doesn’t have to be there? Why not embrace the fact that you’re a cap-spending team and try to get better? There are a lot of GMs who’s hands are tied around the league, while Burke is voluntarily holding his wrists together.

This off-season’s free agent pool includes Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Matt Carle, Bryan Allen and Alexander Semin. It would take some re-jigging of the Leafs’ cap situation, but they could get it done if they had the chance to add a quality player. It shouldn’t be hard to clear space for guys when you’re a lottery pick team.

You’d have to pay top dollar of course, but sometimes you have to do that to win. But that brings up another problem: Brian Burke also said he still won’t give a front-loaded deal because he sees it as cap circumvention. Maybe the Leafs can’t land a guy like that because of more self-imposed restrictions. Other GMs can do it, but he can’t, because….he’s morally opposed? It’s not exactly a thimble-sized loophole – Lou Lamoriello drove a bus through that thing to land Ilya Kovalchuk.

I’m aware the CBA may change, and that loophole may get tightened up, but all this time it’s just been an unnecessary hindrance on Toronto’s roster.

I’m an unabashed Brian Burke fan. I think some of the moves he’s made in Toronto have been great. And even in failure, I’m still a fan of the man himself. But if I were a Leafs fan, I’d be a little tired of having to play under different rules than other teams who can make deals over the holidays, who are willing to sign free agents in the off-season, who are allowed front-load contracts, and who don’t insist on only improving through trade.

The whole “red paperclip” game is fun, but not as easy as it looks.


Random closing tangent: that press conference was one more question from Burke devolving into Tom Smykowski from Office Space in his interview with The Bob’s.