I saw a headline from a mainstream media article this week that caught my eye (not enough for me to actually read the column, in truth, but it did catch my attention). I believe the gist of the headline is that the writer believes strongly that Burke is doing the right thing in free-agency this time around by not bidding or at least over-paying for somewhat marginal free-agent players. (The headline appeared before the subsequent signing by the Wild of both Parise and Suter...)
Hey, as I’ve said here many times, we all have different opinions, and that’s the fun of being a fan. When I hear a mainstream media columnist suggest on July 3rd that Burke is doing the wise thing, I kind of wonder, though, how do we in fact know that Burke has the “right idea"? (I’m not criticizing the article, which I believe was from a columnist at TSN or Sportsnet. I'm just making an observation that any such assessment seems to me to be rather premature…)
I mean, again, if people—fans, media people, “insiders”, whoever—want to venture an “opinion”, no problem. Opinions, as the saying goes, are a dime a dozen. Mine are often worth less than that.
But for me, the bottom line is: we don’t know if what Burke is doing now will in fact turn out to be a smart thing. We don’t know it will help the team be successful in the years ahead.
Was acquiring James van Riemsdyk a good thing? We can hope. We can guess, play with “advanced stats” and whatnot, but again, we don’t know. It’s the same with drafting young Rielly. I’m thrilled we grabbed a well-regarded young defenseman. (I wanted the youngster the Jackets drafted, but this kid is pretty darn good too, it seems.) But I can’t say I know he’ll be great. Too many things can go off the rails.
He looks, we’re told, amazing at the Leaf prospect camp. That’s great to hear. Now, if looking great at a summer camp has been a historical indicator that a kid will be the next big thing, I’m in. The young rearguard may in fact be a game-changer, and I hope he is. But we thought Schenn would be, too, and he also looked “fantastic”, “physical”, “dominant”, and like “the best guy on the ice” when he was in the same situation four years ago. Schenn made the team as an 18 year-old (a mistake, to me, in retrospect) but has slid backwards somewhat since.
It’s all just words and hype until the games start to count, and we have watched the players in question perform over time. Then we can make a reasonably informed assessment as to whether a draft, a trade or a signing was “great”. And I’ll add a layer that makes assessing even harder—can that player perform at playoff time, the ultimate determining factor. (Does anyone think teams would not be running after Roberto Luongo if he had actually delivered a Stanley Cup in Vancouver, as opposed to melting down every spring. Would his massive, long-term contract matter to anyone if he had "won" already? Playoff performance matters, big time…)
So by all means let’s exchange opinions on what we think is happening in Leafworld. I do it all the time here. But we can only truly assess Burke’s moves (and ever-changing game-plan) over time. And here’s what we can assess: the team, almost four years into his tenure, is not good enough. Better, but nowhere near good enough.
We know free-agent signings likes Komisarek, Armstrong, Dupuis and Connolly have not worked out. Overall, his UFA work has been well-intentioned but awful.
On the trade front, the Kessel deal looks good, but we know what’s coming as Seguin and Hamilton begin to really make their mark. The Phaneuf deal was a winner, though I’m disappointed Aulie has subsequently been traded away. (Hey, I may end up being wrong on that front—again, only time will tell.)
Goaltending is not really consistently (or demonstrably) better than when Burke took over.
Those things we can “assess” because we’ve seen the results, over time.
But to say he is doing the right thing by not mis-spending on guys like Prust or Hudler or whomever, well, do we really know? Much like assessing how “great” or how “lousy” a team did on draft day, the real ability to determine success comes with time. Until then, we’re all just speculating and giving opinions, informed or not.
Right now, when it comes to Burke and his newfound reluctance to (over?) spend on third-tier free-agents, we can say with certainty his previous track record with the Leafs in this regard is pretty poor. We don’t know if his current approach will make the team better. And for that reason, the best I will say is– I think I understand what he’s doing, and hopefully his current moves (or non-moves) will work out.
But regardless of what he does or does not do this summer, I will be watching for the bottom line in this results-oriented business: actual outcomes—and results. If the Leafs improve appreciably under Carlyle this coming season and beyond, then Burke will get credit for his current “patient” approach (and for "successfully" building up the prospect pipeline) from a very patient Leaf populace. If the Leafs don’t, well, it will be a very different—and much more stinging—assessment.