Former Leaf GM reveals how he'd deal with the Core 4 issue this summer

Ryan Smitheram
May 30, 2023  (5:37 PM)

Yesterday, former Leafs GM and recently fired Penguins executive Brian Burke joined Nick Kypreos and Justin Bourne on their radio show "Real Kyper and Bourne" to discuss all things Leafs. They not only discussed how Kyle Dubas handled his final days in Toronto, but also discussed potential roster moves, including which of the "Core 4" Burke would trade first.

"I've always been candid about the 'Fab 4' and the contracts they received. I spoke up as it was happening, questioning the sequence and the substantial sums they were offered. I scrutinized the no-trade clauses and the term lengths - I didn't shy away from any of it," said Burke regarding the current situation Kyle Dubas has put the Leafs in regarding new contracts for Auston Matthews and William Nylander and the difficulty they face if either of them says they won't resign.
Burke further explained that the Leafs need to figure two things out. "The team has two major decisions to make. One is deciding what to do with Mitch Marner, and the other is seeing if Auston Matthews is willing to re-sign with Toronto." If the Leafs decide to trade Marner, they likely won't "win" any trade, regardless of the return. That is why Burke discussed what he would do if Matthews decided to stay. "If Matthews decides to stay, my suggestion would be to consider trading Nylander first from that group."
Like Matthews, Nylander has just one year left on his current deal, but at a very friendly cap hit of $6.9M. The issue however, is that the Leafs likely won't have a definitive answer from Matthews before July 1st when his no-trade clause kicks in. The only saving grace is that Nylander has a limited no-trade which means the Leafs can still trade him to a handful of teams without his approval. Given they won't have a decision from Matthews before July 1st, let alone before the draft means that the return for Nylander may not be that great either despite his production and his performance in the playoffs.
Burke ended his rant about the "Core 4" by defending John Tavares saying, "Tavares is a great player and an exceptional individual. I don't see him leaving, he's committed to the team and consistently performs well." While he is right in that Tavares does continue to perform at a point-per-game pace, his skating has declined in recent years and he is much better suited for the wing now, which creates a massive hole at center on the Leafs' second line.
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