Maple Leafs Better Under Brian Burke?
The sad sack Maple Leafs, a team that last won the Stanley Cup in 1967, was getting more than your average hockey man.
They were getting one that had sipped champagne from the Holy Grail, a bona fide mover and shaker who showed he had a knack of making something out of nothing, and one that spoke in terms that impressed the dickens out of the members of Leafs Nation.
"We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence," Burke said then. "That's how our teams play."
That's a lot to live up to.
Two years into the Burke era, the affable GM is still trying to make chicken salad from ... well, definitely not that bad but you get the picture.
Two years into the Burke era, Leaf fans are still waiting for the turnaround to happen. They have seen players come and go, watched as Burke tried to change the culture, to bring in winners.
And the reward has been ... just check the standings.
The fans should be applauded for the patience they have afforded Burke. But when you have not had the ultimate success since the end of the era of back and white television, what's another year or two going to matter.
As Burke heads into his second year at the helm, his team in on pace to finish out of the playoffs, again. The last time Toronto made it past the end of the regular season was before the 2004-05 lockout, back when teams could spend recklessly.
Even worse is how Burke's team is primed to hand the Boston Bruins a second straight top five overall pick in the June draft. There is every chance the Leafs will be bad enough again to be in the mix in the NHL draft lottery because of the Phil Kessel deal.
Kessel came in a trade that saw Boston get Toronto's first-round picks in 2010 and 2011. The '10 pick wound up being Tyler Seguin, who had four goals and eight points for the Bruins. Eight points would have him seventh on the Leafs scoring chart so far this season.
Like it or not, but Kessel is the poster boy for the Burke era unless the GM is a magician.
Burke has made some astute moves. The Maple Leafs have more prospects in the system than ever. They can be used as bait for trades before the deadline, or the Leafs can hope these players develop into something.
The trade for Dion Phaneuf was interpreted as a theft by Burke, but Phaneuf has not lived up to the billing as the next great player in blue and white. Jean-Sebastien Giguere shored up dodgy goaltending, but "Giggy" is getting older and starting to break down physically.
Because of the Kessel deal, Burke has said the NHL's free-agent marketplace is his draft. It is a chance to add significant players.
But his peers are locking up young players, giving them contract extensions that remove players who can make a difference from the bidding wars.
Burke like things to be in motion. That's how his teams have played and that's how he likes to manage. Burke likes it when things are in play, when he can wheel and deal. He says he has a play for the future of his team, and he is confident it will work.
That remains to be seen.
So far, the plan has made the Boston Bruins a better team, and unless the Maple Leafs have their own version of a Miracle On Ice, the Bruins stand to benefit again.
So happy anniversary, Brian Burke.
Best of luck because you will need it.
So far luck has not been in your side.