I want to be clear right up front today. I think every guy who has ever been the General Manager of the Maple Leafs has been determined to win a Cup. They obviously haven’t been successful in the sense of bringing the Cup home, but whether we’re talking about Jim Gregory, Gerry McNamara, Cliff Fletcher, Pat Quinn or John Ferguson Jr., I am of the firm belief that each of those individuals did everything they could to bring a winner to Toronto.
I wrote a piece here some time ago called “The Leafs haven’t always been lousy” in the last forty-some years. And I will argue forever that that is true. There have been many incarnations of this team that have been very good over the past 45 years. Not good enough, I realize, but entertaining, talented, gritty, etc. They all came up short but they gave us thrills.
And everyone who has helped build those teams was trying to win it all. So Brian Burke, bluster aside, is no different. You might think he is better than some of the people who have been in charge of the franchise in the past, but he hasn’t proven that to me as yet. He won a Cup in Anaheim, yes, building on a tremendous foundation that Bryan Murray had left for him. And that’s great. But his actual record of delivering in the playoffs beyond that is sketchy, at best, in his four stops (Hartford, Vancouver, Anaheim and of course, Toronto), covering 13 years, I think it is, as a GM.
That said, Burke has brought the Leafs back to some semblance of life. He is now well into his fourth year on the job. When he came, and for some time thereafter, he boldly stated that he had no patience for the classic “five-year re-build”. Of course, that’s precisely what we are in the midst of. And that’s fine for most of us, I sense, as long as he ultimately gets the job done.
But that’s my question for today: what is “getting the job done” in modern-day terms for our Maple Leafs?
I guess what I am really interested in hearing from you is, what will constitute enough “success” to make you feel happy—or satisfied—as a Leaf fan? I realize people are coming at this from their own perspective and through a very personal lens. If you are 22 and have your “life ahead of you”, as it were, you may be happy if the Leafs simply contend for a Cup here and there over the next ten years.
If you’re at my end of the scale (pushing 60), you may be in a bit more of a hurry.
So here’s the thing…just with regard to this season for the moment, is making the playoffs good enough for you? Do they have to make it and win a round, or just make it?
Is it enough that they get close to a playoff spot but play entertaining, energetic hockey through the rest of the season?
Longer-term, is it Stanley Cup or bust? In other words, do they have to win a Cup in Burke’s tenure for his era to have been successful? Or will it be sufficient that he brought the team back from the brink of irrelevance?
Perhaps finally, if you feel a Cup is a must, when does that have to happen—in two years, five years?
Is getting to the finals down the road sufficient to make being a Leaf fan (in addition to the already-present inherent joy that it provides) what you want it to be?
I just thought that, with the break in the schedule and the team playing “OK” heading into the break, most Leaf followers should be in that mental “place” where they are neither feeling grim or too “heady” about the team's prospects. I think most of us see the progress, but also acknowledge the often-present (and usually hard to miss) gaps in their game.
Using the above questions as a bit of a guide, let me know where you’re at.