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The ongoing Brian Burke Maple Leaf melodrama

I guess when you talk a lot, you’re bound to eventually say things that make people scratch their head.  Brian Burke, for me, falls into the category of someone who simply likes to hear himself talk.  He particularly likes to speak of his teams while using the term “I” and “my” a lot (as in, “when I build my teams…”).

To some he’s a hockey genius who can do precious little wrong as he runs the Leafs.  They love his bravado, how he supposedly “tells it like it is” and takes no guff from the media. And, how he is building a better team that will, someday, compete for the Stanley Cup.

For others he is a blow-hard who failed badly in Vancouver, caught a break with a good team in Anaheim and is all about pumping his own tires as often as he can. (It was revealing to follow his Carlyle-hiring press conference in Montreal while simultaneously tracking Twitter commentary.  Some loved him.  Others were obviously just shaking their heads at some of the statements Burke was making.)

Stepping away from hockey for a moment, the Burke family is doing tremendously significant work in a cause that meant a lot to the son and brother they lost far too soon.  That takes courage, which they all clearly have in abundance.  And, as the Maple Leaf President and General Manager, Burke certainly supports activities (around the troops, community things, etc.) that are thoughtful and important.  That should always be part of the perspective when we discuss the Burke.  He is more than a "hockey guy".

But when it comes to how he conducts himself as an NHL executive, criticism comes with the territory. 

In this forum, I always enjoy hearing how others see things.  I’m well aware we won't—and don’t—always agree on Leaf-related and other hockey subjects here, but I think those who visit here regularly know I always appreciate and respect differing views.

When it comes to Burke, it’s difficult not to point out certain public comments that just don’t connect (at least for me).  Maybe it’s because I see so many inconsistencies, so much blather and a lot of public obfuscation and a change in philosophical direction.  He would, of course, defend his actions as being anything but any of the above, I’m sure.  And he would be certain to add that he “didn’t care” what I—or anyone else—thought.

Fair enough.

That said, what are some examples of what I perceive as talking for the sake of it, or of his inconsistency, or a distinct change in direction from earlier strongly-stated positions?

  • He say he doesn’t watch Coach’s Corner, yet he was furious about Cherry’s comment about Ron Wilson not applauding during the salute to the troops night a few weeks ago (something I highlighted in a story here the night it happened…).  I have no idea if he actually tried to get Cherry fired, but it wouldn’t be, by various accounts, the first time Burke has used his “influence” to try to silence his “media” critics.
  • Burke says he doesn’t want to escalate things with Cherry, which is an interesting statement to make once you’ve reportedly already tried to have someone change the way they do their job, because you don’t like them being critical of your team.
  • He told a reporter, at least as reported in a QMI story that I have read, that he went about his criticism of Cherry and Ron MacLean “professionally” and “quietly”.  He was seemingly upset that his talk with the Board of Governors was “leaked”. (A talk where he reportedly spoke in terms of the CBC silencing Cherry and MacLean, if the Corporation wanted to retain the future rights to Hockey Night in Canada…)
  • It at the very least ironic that he is concerned with leaks, when he clearly has a well-oiled internal media machine that lets out precisely the information he wants to get out about his hockey club, and when he wants to get it out.  (The local media always dutifully complies.)
  • He had not patience for a “five-year re-build”, but that is the minimum we are looking at for the Leafs to be in the hunt.
  • He didn’t want to “blow up the team” to make the playoffs this year (Nash) or blow it up just to get (supposedly up to four) future first-round draft choices.  Instead, the team is seemingly left hanging for a fourth year in a row with him at the helm, perhaps yet again looking at the playoffs from the outside—and a team still missing hugely important pieces to be an elite squad.  (We have to remember that it’s not about building a fast team that can beat a good team once in a while during the regular-season; we’re supposedly building a team that can win four consecutive best-of-seven playoff series.  Call me when we’re there…)
  • He has long claimed to “always” build “my” teams from the goal out.  Yet in Vancouver, he won, what was it, one playoff round in six seasons?  And he never, ever dealt with the elephant in the room: the goaltending issue.
  • Burke has long claimed a philosophy of “no complaints, no excuses”.  Yet, there have been no end of excuses for why the Leafs have under-performed under his watch.  Most recently, we heard that other teams have lots of local guys who like to play hard in Toronto?  So what? (It’s been that way for decades.) The trade deadline upsets the players?  He’ll create his own deadline, even if it makes no sense when he should be trying to improve the team every opportunity he gets.
  • Fans booed, so he fired the coach.  (I of course realize that was not the reason.)  But the notion that he was “saving” Wilson from having to be behind the bench again at the ACC was, at the very least, a laugh.  The fans weren’t just booing Wilson, obviously.  They were booing the team that Burke had on the ice.  Should ownership have fired Burke to save him further embarrassment?
  • He claims the Leafs were “the best team” in the East earlier in the season.  I guess for a period or two, maybe, but c’mon.
  • He recently walked out of a radio interview because the host dared to ask a question about Burke's status with the club. (I missed the announcement that we weren’t supposed to raise questions about anything Burke says or does…is that in his MLSE contract?)
  • He did what all self-preserving GM’s do when the team they built doesn’t play well—they blame the coach.  Oh, never publicly.  But a firing equals blame.   Such moves generally mean: “It can’t be me, so it must be his fault…”  (We should not be fooled by Burke’s earlier public assertions that he had not given Wilson good enough players previously to make a determination as to whether or not Wilson was doing a good job.  Clearly, Burke began to realize that if he kept saying that, people would, three and a half years into his term, rightly begin to question what he has been doing as General Manager…)
  • He says he doesn’t like coaches who are “warm and fuzzy”.  Does he mean Mike Babcock, the former Ducks coach he let go to Detroit, where Babcock has done not too badly, eh?
  • And on that note, are we to believe that Wilson fell into that category?  After he fired Wilson, Burke admitted they weren’t on the same page when it came to how rough a team they wanted.  So on this fundamental Burke “platform”, we now have to believe that he kept a guy for three and a half years when they did not see eye to eye on this crucial philosophy of how you play the game?  Wow.
  • He says he doesn’t give a damn about what the media says, but he will try to get you fired, or silence you, by going to the bosses of the guys he doesn’t like.
For someone who says “he doesn’t give a damn what others say” so often, he is awfully thin-skinned, eh?

I noticed a National Post tweet the other day, where one of his sons said “He takes a lot of heat for himself, in order to save his team, or coach the hassle…”.  That just leaves me shaking my head. I guess we all see what we choose to see, and believe what we choose to believe—and portray.

When you live by big promises, big talk, act the bully, fans have a right to expect a few basic things:  not to be treated like fools; to hear your GM acknowledge mistakes, and not just in a “passing it off” kind of manner for which Burke is famous.  Fans also have the right to expect a guy who “doesn’t care”  can and will accept that performance criticism—just as it is with players—is fair game, and always has been.

As I said to someone the other day, I never knew that Burke invented the position of General Manager.  He sure makes it sound like he did.

If people like him, his approach, whatever—great.  We all like what we like.

But I pointed out here recently that he has won a grand total (as an NHL General Manager, in 13 seasons) of 7 playoff rounds.  So I’ll save the Lemieux-like statue for a later time.

As always, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts.  I realize many won't see things the way I have today, but by all means share your perspective.

47 comments:

  1. One word for you Michael, politician. To me what Burke has done or not done here in TO reminds me more of a politician than it does a competent GM. He came in making big promises, pumping his tires and now that he can't deliver it's everybody eslse's fault but his. From Cherry and MaClean picking on his coach to opposing players being from Ontario, to too much media hype about deadlines. Frankly I'm suprised he hasn't fired the equipment guy for sharpening skates all wrong because that is obviously what is wrong.

    The simple fact is Burke has failed at the GM single biggest responsibility a GM has, player evaluation. He has consistently overrated the players he has from going to get Kessel as the piece needed to move to the next step to todays gaoltending situation. This cost them a second overall pick because he thought the team he had was good enough to finish at least in the middle of the pack. In todays game a top ten pick is almost a given NHL player, a top 2 pick is as close as you can get to guarenteed star. Remember the reasoning behind giving up two first round picks? He tried to sell us that the three college guys they had signed were like having three first round draft picks. Of the three, only Bozak is even still with the team 3 years later Stahlberg and Hanson being the other two. That is abysmal player evaluation. He thought his goaltending was good enough to get through this year how's that turned out? He signed Kiomisarek and Armstrong to ridiculous contracts that are failures. In short he has been an epic failure since arriving here in TO.

    Like a politicain though he can BS and bluster with the best. I'll bet he can gladhand like a pol kissing babies amongst the money crowd. To bad he can't tell a back-up goalie from a number one. All hat no cattle as they say here in Alberta (not really but it sounds like an Alberta thing to say).

    PS. For all those who point to his rebuilding the farm system as a great accomplishment. In 4 years how much has the farm contributed to any signifigant success at the big league level? Potential is just that potential. Until we start to see results at the NHL level he hasn't done squat. You would think in 4 years someone would have made a signifigant impact at the NHL level. Other than a 1/2 season from Reimer, nothing, bupkiss, nada zilch.

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  2. Thanks for posting on this one, Willbur.

    I have the feeling we are in the minority on this subject- that is, my guess is Burke has way more supporters than those of us who are less enthused about how he has gone about things in his time here.

    Perhaps there will be success in the longer term. And maybe our perspective would be different if Burke had, in our eyes, earned more credibility. But that requires some connection between what a leader says, the results they achieve- and the decisions they make.

    Some will argue that it is premature to judge his player evaluation skills until more of the young players he has traded for (Colborne, Gardiner, Ashton, etc...) and his draft picks (Kadri, et al...) are much further along the development curve. I guess we'll see.

    But you cite things that are difficult to dispute.

    Thanks again.

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  3. Outside Leafland, as you point out, Brian Burke has done some wonderful things. And I admire him for that. However, I think the only fair way to judge Burke as a GM is to look at results.
    Most GM's, to some degree, inherit the work of their predecessors and either benefit or suffer from it. Without the Sedins, where would the Canucks be today? He added some pieces in Anaheim and built on the work of Murray there to win the Cup. And who knows how we'll look in four years when the prospects he's been adding blossom? By then he'll likely have moved on, and someone else will get the credit for a team spearheaded by Gardiner, Colborne, Ashton etc. Or not.
    Unfortunately, in the here and now, his stay in TO has been a bust results-wise. Honestly - if we'd kept playing as we were until February, would fans be as offended by his brusque and truculent nature? I think probably not. Heck, people seem to continually put up with Don Cherry, whose spots have become a weird mixture of blowhard bully-pulpiting and maudlin sentiment. And I kind of like Burke's refusal to kowtow to the media hordes who besiege the Leafs daily - which always upsets said media members, by the way!
    No - for me, it's about results. He's failed. If he doesn't resign, I'd give him one more year to show something significantly positive.

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  4. this is a very well-presented entry. the nhl is a tough market for finding on-ice talent, coaching talent, and management talent. those teams that acquire talent usually hold on tight. maybe leafs fans were as overly-optimistic about burke as the sabres fans were of pegula.

    the problem with burke & wilson is they were bosom-buddies for many years (godfathers to each other's kids etc). burke's claim he was firing wilson to save him from the criticism of the fans was just a diplomatic way for burke to maintain his personal relationship with wilson (as opposed to using wilson as a scape-goat for the lousy play of the team, which seems to me to be the typical way that management announces a the firing of a coach). hopefully carlylye isn't burke's second cousin or best childhood friend etc.

    burke walked out on a radio interview? wow.

    does brian burke (personality, massive ego, massive hair) remind anyone else of donald trump?

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  5. Burke has a credibility issue at this point. At this point, it is difficult to take him at his word. The thing I'm looking for in a GM is that the team is moving in the right direction. From the prospect pool view he has done some good things. From the player evaluation point of view (and especially goaltending) he has failed miserably.

    Also I feel some people get riled up about Burke conversations. I think there is a clear distinction between Burke deserves to be fired (I'm not in that camp) and that Burke has made some serious mistakes and blunders. People tend to equate the two conversations. If we can separate them, then maybe we can identify areas for improvement. If we can't then we are left with everything is shiny and rosy in leaf land.

    Great post as always.

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  6. Thanks Gerund O'....well said on all counts.

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  7. Alex C.....I hadn't thought of the Trump comparison! Thanks as always, Alex.

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  8. Anon...great post- thoughtful and on point. Thanks.

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  9. Longtime lurker, but I have to just add my voice to the mix and say "Amen!"

    I'm certainly not a Brian Burke hater, but I'm certainly a sceptic. He's a reasonably intelligent hockey guy, but certainly not infallible and CERTAINLY not one of the elite GMs in the league as his deluded defenders continually insist.

    And the list you've drawn up illustrates what I've long felt-that he's not a tough no-frills no-excuses kind of guy, but actually a bit of a prima donna.

    What Randy Carlyle is quickly finding out is that this, as constructed, is that Ron Wilson was not the main problem here. The main problem is that this is a poorly constructed hockey team.

    Having said that, I agree with the above poster that his draft record needs more time to be evaluated. But as for constructing a major league team over the past four years, he's failed (by his own standard).

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  10. Thanks Anon. Very fair comment. I appreciate your looking at all sides of this. I tried too as well, and give credit where credit is certainly do. Thanks again.

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  11. I have to agree about player evaluation. A lot of player changes but a team isn't musical chairs, and it isn't a recipe either, you can't keep trying to get the ingredients right by trial and errors.

    One positive is that we seem to have a better minor league system and more prospects. Or at least we think so. After 3 years his minor league additions are still in the minors and the guys he's brought in to fill in the gap in the meantime (Hanson, Dupuis, Armstrong, Irwin...) are mediocre to very, very underwhelming (I know, I'm not exactly creating a good list here). What is obvious is that we have almost no, to no, top line players coming through our minor system (unless you think Biggs/Colborne are top 3 players, Holzier is a Norris Trophy winner in the making, and so on). When people talk trade with us they ask about draft picks and young NHL players, rarely do our prospects get asked about.

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  12. Good post, Anon. It does sometimes feel as though the Leafs are making things up as they go along, and utilizing, as you put it, a "trial and error" approach...

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  13. Well, Burke is either loved or hated, and fans and media love talking about him, whether good, bad, or indifferent.

    To be honest, I'm less inclined to judge a GM, coach or player by what they say to media, but rather simply how they do their job. I could care less whether Cherry likes them or not, or whether they have difficult relationships with certain media types. Lets concentrate on getting results on the ice.

    Burke has made some significant improvements to this team and has assembled a quality group of management personnel and scouting staff. Has he made some mistakes, of course. What probably bothers me more is his hesistency to admit a mistake, and correct it promptly. His loyalty, and faith in his own decisions, sometimes gets in the way of the right thing to do.

    Example 1) Why resign Wilson in early December, when they could have easily waited till March?? Why reward Wilson for a good start when the goal was to make the playoffs, and the season wasn't even at the half-way mark?

    Example 2) In February the team was struggling and went into a horrible slide. It was pretty apparent Wilson could not get the team back on track. Many would say, he lost the room. Burke should have never resigned Wilson in the first place, but now he was loyally hanging on with Wilson hoping he could right the ship. Bad decision, and by the time he fired Wilson the ship had already started to sink.

    Example 3) Just prior to the trade deadline, the Leafs lost two very very imporatnt games, and dropped their chances of making the playoffs to something like 30%. Their remaining schedule was going to be extremely tough, and any playoff hopes were pretty much gone. So going into the trade deadline, what was Burke thinking?? He wanted to buy??? It was time to sell, or package players to get something useful in return. Instead they did a minor league deal.

    A lot of people have criticized Burke for not getting a veteran goaltender. Although the goaltending has been less than stellar, I don't blame goaltending for the Leafs failure this year. Team defence was horrible, and never got fixed. Here it is March, and Carlyle is attempting to fix the Leafs' team defensive system. That being said, Burke will probably go out this summer and pay too much to bring a veteran goalie on board, and eat away at valuable cap space.

    I just want to see Burke recognize his mistakes and try to be a bit more proactive in his decisions. His blind faith, loyalty, and confidence often get in the way.

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  14. Excellent post,Michael

    Heading into this season, you could have definetly counted me as loyal Burke supporter. However, as this season has played out, it's becoming increasingly clear to me that Burke is a fraud.

    From a strictly hockey perspective, he has been a failure. Has he made some good trades/acquisitions? Most certainly, he has. But, overall, reviewing the results of his teams here, you can't escape the conclusion that he has been a bust (so far).

    His UFA signings have largely been abysmal.He has consistently overrated his goaltending (Toskala, Giguere, Monster, Reimer), he has consistently overrated his blueline and he has not been able to acquire a centre to compliment his best player and most notable acquisition, Kessel.

    His run-ins with the media suggest to me that the he is having trouble dealing with the intensifying pressure in Toronto. I think the new owners of MLSE will give Burke another season to make some head way with the club. If the team is in the same predicament 12 months from now, I would hope that Burke is shown the door.

    And while it's premature, can I be the first to put forth a replacement for Burke? I'd love to see current Phoenix GM Don Maloney get the gig. He quietly puts together competitive playoff squads on shoestring budgets and under 'difficult' dircumstances. He is also very well spoken and personable and doesn't come accross as a pompous windbag like Burke often does.

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  15. TML__fan- you've laid out your perspective very well, as always. Good stuff.

    The goalie question will be debated, I'm sure. But your larger point is that the team has overall defensive issues that need to be dealt with, too.

    I'm guessing those who support his approach would say the Versteeg trade to Philly was an example of recognizing a mistake. (Through I'm not certain we couldn't use a Versteeg-type right now...). That said, your last paragraph is a key observation for me.

    To be clear, when I reference Burke's public commentary, I do so in the context that it is part of his job. It's not the central piece, of course. How he executes his "plan", what he actually does, the results on the ice matter most, for sure.

    I just believe that you can fall in love with your own bravado, and be held back by "sticking to your guns" or the "image" that you portray- in Burke's case, the tough guy who does things his way. But again, others don't give a whit about how he comes across, what he says...and I get it, they only care about bottom-line results. Fair enough.

    This is why I posted recently, detailing his actual record. Yes, he has won a Cup, but 7 playoff series wins in 13 seasons is not unduly impressive.

    Thanks.

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  16. I'm happy to hear from you, Carm. I want to see as many opinions as possible, and I appreciate hearing from someone who has been, for lack of a better term, a Burke supporter. You have an objective perspective and I appreciate that.

    Most would agree Burje has done some good things, and we are deeper, have more depth in "the system", etc.

    But it's also fair to wonder why, three and a half years into his time here, the team is where it is.

    I agree on Maloney. I'm a David Poile guy myself. Smart executive who has operated on a modest budget (like Maloney), uneven ownership and has built one of the best teams in hockey. (Yes, it took years, but from Day One, the organization has been so well run...and has always been competitive, even in the early expansion years.) Poile and Trotz have built a true "Predator way" where every guys believes in what they're doing. Very impressive.

    Thanks Carm.

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  17. Although a lot of Burke's moves are debatable, I am not sure that goal tending is the issue many want to make it out to be and if it is Allaire needs to be fired before any other goalie is brought in.

    Gus and Riemer may never be in line for the Vezna but they have been hung out to dry by a non existent defensive system. I don't know if there is a goalie in the league that would have posted good numbers with the way the team played in front of them.

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  18. I hear you, Anon...and maybe that's the thing. There are those who point at Gus and Reimer, others at the defensemen. My sense is it is, as you suggest, an overall issue of systems- and "will". Anyone can play "defence", but you have to be willing to pay the price.

    We have a team of pretty skaters, but not a lot who like to muck. Those who like to skate don't muck, and the grinders can't play much.

    There is talent here, yes, but Carlyle has a job to do, for sure.

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  19. Great read.

    The comment about his goaltending situation in Vancouver is something I have been weary about since before he took the job in Toronto. Inheriting Giggy (and Brz as a backup who he let go via waivers when 4 months earlier JFJ traded a 1st, 3rd, and took Mark Bell's contract always made me wonder about JFJ's GMing, but I'm now starting to think of it from Burke's POV and scratching my head) in Anaheim made his job easier.

    The Kessel deal was tough, we finished 7th back to back years, assuming that Bauch, Komi, and Kessel are added to the team, who expects us to finish 2nd last that year?

    Stahlburg was a JFJ draft pick, the 3rd '1st rounder' was the Monster.

    I think Wilson had to go, the in-zone coverage has been brutal for some time.

    The problem is that we're in the same place we were a few years ago. Sub out Stajan, Antropov and co (players who were not in the long term plan) and sub in Armstrong, Connelly, and the goalies. Lombardi, whatever, he was the cost of Franzen, no complaints. Likewise Lupul, great year, but I don't think he's a 5 year plan guy. Maybe the last comment was just frustration clouding objectivity, he's a top 6, 2nd pp unit guy.

    Rant over, Michael, I read your posts all the time, keep up the GREAT work.

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  20. I think much of the current venom and dislike directed to Burke results from in part staying with Wilson too long. Fan fustrations were building up with Wilson for years because of the lack of accountability after season of poorer performances. In fact, he even got extended without taking the team to the playoffs. Now I credit Burke for firing Wilson, but by the time he was fired it was too little too late. And now (some) leaf fans are still frustrated with the leafs and so the next person to direct their anger towards is Burke.

    Basically, if Burke was more proactive in his handling of the coaching situation he wouldn't be getting such a rough time now from loyal leaf fans now. And similarly, I think a similar situations exists with slumping or poor performing goaltending (and players like Komisark or Army) that have not been addressed for years. If Burke does not address it in timely manner then absolutely people will put the blame for that on Burke.

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  21. Thanks for the kind words, Anon. I appreciate hearing that.

    Your comments are fair, in my view. You're pointing out things that you have supported, and moves that have not worked out so far (including the reference to Burke's days in Vancouver). Fans can't do much else. It's not our job, just our passion.

    Thanks again.

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  22. Long suffering Leafs fanMarch 9, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    Haven't posted in a while, but have stayed in touch. As far as Burke being the GM, he has committed some carnal sins in rebuilding this team. Yes he has did a decent job in Vancouver, but only won one play-off round. In Annaheim he took over a team Brian Murray had built, and just added two key pieces. The carnal sins that I am going to state I take from two winning GMs of the past: Bill Torrey and Sam Pollack. Reading from an article from back in 1994, I believe, Bill Torrey said the grounds to winning a championship when he was building the Islanders was to never trade your 1-3 draft picks. It's through the draft and developing those young players that you win championships. Once your team becomes a contender, you can always use one or two of those pieces to get one of those parts that you need to get over the hump, as he did in 1980 when he obtained Butch Goring,in trading 72's first rounder Billy Harris, and third rounder Dave Lewis. Reading in an article in Hockey Illustrated in 1983, Sam Pollock said you only trade your first pick if you are getting a better player, or a leader that you can build your team around. For instance, He said if he was the Leafs manager in '83, he would've traded his first rounder and a top 6 forward and another piece for someone like Mark Messier. Going against some of the best hockey minds, Burke put high hopes in a team that dwelled closer to the cellar when he traded his two first rounders for Kessel. Second, he put high hopes in James Reimer and the Monster, who barely only played one and half season between them. Third, he overestimated the talent base on the team, and not to speak off that his free agent signings were terrible, which is a formula for disaster. Carnal sin number two: Bill Torrey says, When building the Islanders, he was looking for a goalie that can not only win in the regular season, but also in the playoffs. That was the reason why he selected Billy Smith over a much better goalie than he was at that moment on the advice of a friend. The friend told him that, yes, Smith's numbers didn't look good at the moment, but he was a battler. So, as you know, he had a winning combination: Chico Resch in the regular season and Billy Smith in the playoffs. They were a wonderful goaltending combination for those championship teams. Sam Pollack would chime in and says, "Yes, goaltending is one of the most important positions in hockey. It's not enough for a goalie to make spectacular saves, but they must make the routine ones too. Any goal that goes in on the account that the goalie cannot make a routine save hurts the confidence of the team." Most teams will not go into a season with two untested young goalies. You're just asking for failure. Carnal sin number three: Sam Pollack, "In building a team, the most important piece you need is a center who is a leader and can play big minutes, and play in all three zones of the ice. The second is to obtain a defenseman that is strong in his own end, he has to be a great skater, have terrific vision and a skill passer. The third to draft is the goaltender who can not only win games, but steal games also. the fourth piece to add is the sniper." Bill Torrey would add, "I agree in principal with all points that Pollack made, only I would put the goaltender first." They both agree it is important to have a coach that will teach the players to play good defense as well as having good communication skills. I have found that this is something Ron Wilson had lacked. So after viewing all of these three points, you can see the carnal sins that Burke has committed. When he traded those first two rounders for Kessel, he put too much hope on a team that finished near the bottom the previous season. They were not contenders, and they did not have a number one center-part one.

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  23. Anon (who referenced Burke retaining Wilson for too long...)

    Well said. Good stuff. Thanks for taking the time to post here.

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  24. Great stuff on Pollock and Torrey, Long Suffering. Thanks for that. Worth re-reading. Glad to have you back.

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  25. I, for one, am getting extremely tired of the way that this team is handled.
    Burke was brought in because this team stunk, it was his job to make it better. Instead of building a solid core through the draft he elected to do it his way.
    On the positive side, we have acquired promising players such as Jake Gardiner and built a decent group of prospects.
    After 4 years that is not nearly enough. He signed Martin Gerber even though we were hopelessly out of playoff contention and that ended up costing us at least a couple of spots in the draft. I still haven't forgiven Boyd Devereaux either.
    The Kessel thing was another head scratcher. One good guy on a crappy team. And who would you rather have now? I would take Seguin no question.
    It looks like we are going to do everything possible to screw up the draft this year as well. There is no hope for the playoffs.
    The Leafs have around 50 or so former GM's in the front office, they have no financial restrictions, and they still can't build a playoff team. I find that both amazing and damning. Not only have they built a crappy team, they have handed out crappy contracts that will handcuff us going forward.
    I bought a new car in 2004 and I proudly installed Leaf licence plates on it. They have not made the playoffs since. I bought a new car this year and ditched the Leaf plates. It looked like they were playoff bound for sure, I thought the last 8 years had been my fault. Turns out it was Burke.
    Thanks for letting me vent.

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  26. I think Burke is just making it up as he goes along, and will end up being a failure (if not already). All style no substance.

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  27. cbh747. It's not just venting, it's how you feel. That's fair.

    No one is saying Burke has been an abysmal flop here. But fans have the right to their own feelings, especially when there were such high expectations for the guy (and some of them brought on by himself, no question).

    I understand it's still "early", in a sense, in his tenure. But more was promised, so more was expected. It's only fair.

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  28. Style/substance Anon....thanks for posting.

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  29. Excellent post Michael, on a seemingly intractable topic. My thinking has become clouded by unexpected meltdown and I am frankly having trouble making sense of it all. Personnel-wise, even coaching-wise it does not really add up to performance that has turned out to be so fragile. Others clearly differ but I still feel that Wilson’s poor goaltending management was the source of the unravelling, his insistence on playing a not-ready Reimer in place of a then-hot Gustavsson who was winning at a 70% clip, causing to the entire house of cards to come tumbling down. I am with Anon, while the goalies may not be Vezina calibre, the team play in the defensive zone, combined with catastrophic “goaltending management” (presumably by Wilson) leaves us with an insufficient basis to pass judgment on the Leaf goalers.

    While I felt that the majority of personnel moves by Burke have been positive, at the end of the day performance must be judged on actual performance, not words. I worry that the intense pressure facing Toronto managers to produce results quickly has been historically detrimental, leading to rash decisions to mortgage the future. Up to now I have not seen Burke in full panic mode. He has seemed somewhat methodical, even if that methodology has led to a string of what could have been several fruitful draft choices (if he had not traded them to Boston). The fact is, from Burke to Cherry, no matter who is speaking, the results are simply not there. Barring a complete reversal of fortune, Burke will be feeling that pressure in spades as his tenure draws to a close. This situation sets up a potential doomsday scenario of Burke mortgaging the future for over the hill retreads in a last-ditch effort to save his own skin. I wonder if ownership will grant him an extension if the team does well in the early part of next season? I guess he could always tweet his good news next Christmas …

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  30. Thanks for your thoughts on this subject, Bobby C....

    With regard to an "early" extension for Burke, I'm not in favour, even if the team appears to be playing well next season. If MLSE is worried about losing Burke when his contract runs out, there are other outstanding hockey people out there who could do an excellent job in this market.

    That said, I think he'll be around for a long time.

    Thanks Bobby, Great post.

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  31. Toronto must be in a different timezone than the rest of the world. Not by hours but years! Your points are all correct, however the rest of the world realized this 2 years ago. Welcome to reality Toronto. Enjoy Hamilton/Seguin combo, thanks Burkie.

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  32. I think this sums up things perfectly.

    http://mapleleafshotstove.com/2012/03/08/the-hyperbolic-chamber/

    Everyone calm down.

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  33. this is a stupid article .. everyone wants to bash burke because of the recent slump it doesnt make sense.. The team has evolved so much over the past couple years and looks so much more promising now then it has in years and if this slump didnt happen everyone would be praising burke saying how good of a job he's been doing

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  34. Burke is 50/50. Part General Manager and part Barnum & Bailey promoter. He acknowledges he's in the entertainment business, and wants to ensure there are tickets sold, entertainment value and ratings.

    On the other hand, he's definitely done good work building up the Marlies and prospect pipeline. So he understands the need for long term player development.

    At the NHL level, he needed to bad mouth the previous roster and team as not acceptable and he cleaned it out. That bought him almost four years. His record over that time is WORSE that the previous Leaf teams.

    Now he's panicking and threw the first anchor overboard - Wilson. Carlyle is probably a step up in some ways, but it just exposes Burke and the roster. He's soon running out of stories, strategies and folks to blame. This summer and next fall will tell the story - if he's lucky, some of those prospects will make the jump to NHL regulars and he'll upgrade. If not, he'll be the star of his own final story - how the Leafs were right on the cusp of winning it all, if only they had stuck with him. At least he'll have stories to tell in the pub and to his grand-kids. Did I tell you about the time I nearly won a cup for the Leafs?......At this point in time, at the NHL level anyhow, his stories and blather are at a much more refined level than his hockey teams ability to beat other NHL teams.
    His record as of tonight this season? 50/50 Just like Burke.

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  35. Anon who referred to "Toronto being in a different time zone".

    If you had read my earlier posts on Burke dating back over two years, you would perhaps have a different response....

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  36. Anon who referred to this article as "stupid"....

    My observations relating to Burke date back to the time I started this blog two and a half years ago. I've been quite consistent in my view.

    My "criticism" has virtually nothing to do with how the team has played in the past month.

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  37. Most recent anon...(50/50)

    Well said. Thanks.

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  38. Can I point out to the guy who called the article "stupid" one thing. If you read the comments as well as the article you would realize that people have different opinions all the time. However, I have yet to read an article or a comment here that would qualify as "stupid", until now. Everyone here in the VLM community has thoughful and usually well written comments. Yours however, is the defintion of an ad homien attack. You call peopele's work names, tell us all how we would think if only things were different while ignoring the fact that every opinion here had reasons behind what the author was thinking. If you wish to debate the merits of the argument by all mean do so, but please come armed with facts not ignorance. BTW, people here have been pretty consistent in thier criticism of Burke for a while now not just during the loosing streak. Please grow up.

    I'm sorry that might have been more than one thing but the reason I like this site and visit every day is because the people here are thoughtful and even when disagreeing are polite and articulate. I would hate to see the comments degenerate into a ridiculous and childish round of name calling that permeats other Maple Leaf sites.

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  39. Willbur, sincere thanks for defending the tone and tenor (and the good will) of all of those who are part of the VLM site.

    When I responded, it was late, after an unusually "busy day", as they say, and I realize I mostly defended my own position. But in re-reading the comment, yes, it throws a much wider net over the opinions expressed here.

    So thanks again for having all of our backs. Like you, I would be sad if there was ever a turn in attitude here. A good long while has been taken to build VLM up into the site kind of site that people can, I hope, feel good about.

    I never want to shut down dissenting views, but don't want to go down that path, either.

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  40. I just had to dig your last take on BB out. I remember reading this, but didn't comment on it, because I basically had nothing to add back then. Dead on, I thought. But basically I'd like to hear your latest take on Burke. Mostly, I suspect your views haven't changed. And from my point of view, they shouldn't have.

    Basically, BB has a personality and charisma that certain types of people find easy to gravitate to. He's a fighter, I get that. He'll defend his crown to the last, that's not a bad trait in itself, either.

    But a great hockey mind he is not. Great hockey minds do not think in terms of "aggression", "size", or, the dumbest of all, "truculence". I think my English vocabulary is fairly decent for a Finnish guy, but I had to look that word up when he first used it. And that made me wary of the guy.

    In modern hockey, you don't need "size" to give you an edge. You need structure, to keep the puck. You don't need "aggression" to intimidate opponents, you need presence of mind, again, to hold on to the puck while the caveman is trying to intimidate you. And you certainly don't need "truculence", period. If a situation comes up, you'll be inspired when your Grabbo shows he'll stand his ground against the opposition's bully Chris Neill.

    Admiring the Flyers' teams of 70's won't get you anywhere in terms of winning today, nor should it. Watching the Red Wings since the 90's could get you there. I don't think Burke will ever understand this, because he thinks one Pronger trade him The Big Deal.

    Sure, he has shown he has the guts to make the big deal, having Kessel is great, even though the cost won't be acceptable without him becoming a true superstar. Still, there's no saying Kessel doesn't have the ability to dominate a game. Getting Phaneuf for spare parts was good, even if he's not quite the man his contract suggests. He's better than what was given up, anyway.

    Still, his genius doesn't seem to grasp the simple fact that modern hockey doesn't much allow for delayd hits or interferences and the like. What it does allow, is fairly skilled team whose game revolves around keeping the damned puck to win games, probably by, you know, keeping the puck. Anaheim Ducks were the last intimidation team to win the cup, I hope, in what was a fairly forgettable playoff year. And Burke's firing of Wilson (good call, year and a half too late), a man from the 90's, saw him hiring a man from the 80's, Carlyle. Who struggled for years since his coached cup before getting fired, with a very talented Ducks team. To be continued...

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  41. Continuing from earlier...

    Here's a newsflash. Esa Tikkanen never became a great coach, even though he was kind of awesome player to watch, even though you hated him unless you were rooting for the team he played for. He nowadays doesn't even understand the game like he used to, when he was playing. The game has changed that much. He talks about how players were more skilled back then. And yeah, you play with Gretzky, Kurri, Coffey and Messier, they sure were. And he realizes, that players are better on skates. He just can't see the math; which is, keep a tight five on the ice, keep the passing lines open, use the skating to hold the unit tight; if you lose the puck, you go take the counterattack on as a pretty tight unit. It's a lot less likely to get those dumb penalties when your team has the puck. So, controlling the puck is the best defence. When that fails when you're playing a structured game, you'll not be in a bad position to regain the control.

    Meanwhile, in the Leafsland, the Grand Master Burke wants to build a team team with size and truculence. It all seems so futile.

    Many people dislike Burke for various reasons, not all of them just, but most, IMO, are. People who like him, fine. He's a decisive, death before dishonor kind of guy. Which is great, if you're defending Troy. Trying to build a succesful professional sports franchise, I don't see it happening. I'll be overjoyed to be proven wrong, but, well...

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  42. I concur with your comments for a number of reasons. Not the least of which, the game has changed - yet again - and requires a management style which not only recognizes this (surely Burke does) but can respond appropriately.

    Stubbornness and bravado do not win championships very often. You site the last of the intimidation teams to win- the Ducks, in an off year for the NHL. True.

    There is tremendous logic in your assessment. Personally, I've struggled with the Burke hubris, and when I comment on it here, some find it upsetting that I criticize him, as though the subject should somehow or for some reason be avoided. As you say, some love that about him, others, like myself, do not.

    He is a "good" GM, in my mind. He is there with many other "good" hockey people, no more, no less. He is simply louder and as a result, gets way too much air time for his views. I'm a fan of GM's along the lines of Holland, Poile, Chiarelli, Tallon, even Regier- guys who just quietly go about their business and build good teams year after year.

    Burke has been in charge of two major re-builds in his management career- Vancouver and Toronto. So far, in those tow markets, he has won a total of, what is it, one playoff round?

    So again, yes, he's a good GM...just like many others and not as capable as others still.

    Great post, thanks CGLN. (Thanks for the Tikkanen reference...he was exactly the kind of player you hated on the other team....)

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  43. I agree that BB, while a bull(y?)ish person, is a good director when it comes to business. He'll make the trade that see the masses fawning over him. I like those trades as well.

    But, and it seems to me, he talks to Leafs players. No good can off that, as he is really not a great mind when talking the game itself. His views are simplistic and outdated. He means well, I know that.

    A GM should communicate with the players only while talking contracts. It just seems to me, that on any given Leafs game, there's a player who wants to impress Burke. A player needs to impress his coach, and that is it. Burke has hired like a gazillion assistant GM's to help him handle things, why? Meanwhile in Detroit, Ken Holland seems to have a fairly good grasp of his business, even if he doesn't win the cup every year. At least his team get to compete every single spring.

    Unless Burke has a big ace up his sleave, he seems to be lacking in most on that which he wants from his players; TOUGHNESS. I mean, if you go crybaby about Don Cherry, how tough are you? Really?

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  44. CGLN, your reference to toughness and Burke's response to Cherry evokes similar memories for me around the notion that is trotted out that Burke "doesn't care" what anyone else (media, fans, etc.) think. If that were the case, why does he constantly respond to and complain about any negative commentary?

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  45. Spot on, Michael. There's being tough, and acting tough. I don't think BB is tough. If he was, he'd shrug it off and move on. Of course, Toronto is the craziest market in hockey. But if you can't handle it, move on. Don't make us "crazies" watch as you "rebuild".

    BB isn't cut out for this, not really. If he was, he'd say "bugger off", not notice the existence of Don Cherry, who doesn't seem to mellow with pressure, by the way, love him for that, and go about his business as usual. But he has been put under pressure like he's never seen, and he obviously doesn't function that well under the said pressure.

    He's a soft cell under a tough crust, and what we need is a soft crust with a sharp mind. I'm not the most patient of fans, as I've never seen my team lift the cup. I was born exactly 37 years ago. I wasn't there when it last happened. And the franchise is the best in all of hockey.

    I want to see playoffs. I want to see my team competitive on the ice, and I hate to see GM loud on press conferences while his team is losing. Burke's right about Toronto Sun, but hey, unless that bothers you, why even mention it.

    I must say, your type of reporting is what it should be. You own up for your comments, even if you have to respond to the ignoramuses. You are an inspiration, even when you think BB is a "good" GM, even though I think he's just gotten "lucky". He's a good firestarter for a good thing, then he changes to elswhere, where he won't be caught in the backdraft of his own doing.

    Always a pleasure, Michael.

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  46. I appreciate your comments and the conversation, CGLN. The genesis of this site had to do with wanting to create a space for hockey people who enjoy the game (and the Leafs) but who also appreciate the team's history- and like to discuss it thoughtfully and passionately.

    We can disagree, and that's great, because otherwise, it's not much fun if we all spout the same views constantly.

    When I get discouraged and begin to think that continuing the site is not worth the time investment, receiving comments like yours today make it worthwhile. Thank you.

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  47. I would not last a single day doing, what you are doing. And, no need to publish this comment as this has nothing to do with hockey. But putting out your perceptions about the game you love, the team you love, that's a great thing to do. So, no need to thank me, I thank you.

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