With talks between the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association stuck in recess — and with no formal talks on the horizon — an afternoon on the course might be the last time Burke and the Leafs are seen together in close proximity for a while. And while Burke deflected discussion on collective bargaining, he did provide glimpses into how the uncertainty has impacted the off-season.
And, yes, he also talked a little about hockey.
Here are some of the highlights:
How confident are you that a deal can be reached on a new CBA?
“The league’s doing all the talking about the collective bargaining agreement. Obviously, I’ve been in on a bunch of the meetings, but not the last week or so. And I’ll let the league comment on it. I wish I could say more. I mean, you guys know me: ‘no comment’ is not something that comes out of these lips easily. But we’re not allowed to speak about it, and we’re not going to speak about it.”
Is it difficult for a general manager to operate, faced with this kind of labour uncertainty?
“It’s part of the business, you know? The NBA went through it last year. The NFL went through it last year. It’s part of the business. It’s not something that we can be overly worried about. We’d all like to start on time and, hopefully, we will.”
Do you find a lot of players are talking about it here today?
“I’m sure the players are talking about it more than we’re supposed to. So that’s fine. You can grab them. Probably get more out of them than you’d get out of me.”
What can you say to fans?
“It’s a part of pro sports. I mean, the players are represented by a players’ association. They have to come to an agreement with the league in question. It’s been done successfully in some cases; it’s been unsuccessful in others. There’s been work stoppages in all of sports. Hopefully, something will get done here. As far as what I’d say to the fans is: I know it’s hard for the fans to understand, sometimes, how the parties can’t agree on these things, but again, it’s happened in every sport. They’ve had work stoppages. And if one is going to happen here — and I wouldn’t predict that it is — it’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the process.”
Has that uncertainty stalled hockey decisions?
“Not a stall. I sense there’s not much activity. From talking to teams, I sense everyone’s sitting and waiting to see what the landscape’s going to be. But we’re business as usual right now.”
Do you anticipate making any more roster changes?
“Based on the lack of activity that I see out there, no. I don’t think we’ll do anything else right now. We’ll probably go with this group.”
Do you think that will change once a new CBA is signed?
“Well, it’s going to depend on what that landscape looks like. It might change for some teams. It might not. From our standpoint, it’s business as usual right now. We’ve made a couple of changes we think are important. We think adding James van Riemsdyk and Jay McClement are important additions to our team. And we’ll go from there.”
What was your reaction to ESPN ranking the Leafs as the worst franchise in sport?
“I don’t think ESPN knows a single thing about hockey. I think their hockey coverage stinks. I don’t think they know anything about Canada. I don’t think they know anything about hockey.”
Do you head into camp expecting James Reimer to be the starting goaltender?
“We believe in James Reimer. We have said, from the get-go, that if we get an opportunity to upgrade at the goaltending position, we’re going to do it. That’s still the case. But it’s not a frantic search for a goaltender. We believe in James Reimer. This is a guy that, last year, started off great and then got run from the side and struggled with injury trouble after that, and then some confidence issues. We believe there’s no reason that he can’t be ‘the guy.’ And we think Ben Scrivens put himself squarely in the hunt with his year. So if this is the group we start with — and I think it’s going to be — we’re comfortable with that.”