- Reflections on former Maple Leaf coach Pat Quinn, and our Leaf Matters podcast interview
- Some thoughts on Matt Frattin
- If there ever is a season, key questions facing the Leafs
- A chat with long-time Maple Leaf voice Joe Bowen
- A touching conversation with a member of the legendary Smythe family, Elizabeth Brinton
In the same breath, Burke has aggressively nudged the Leafs (and by extension the Marlie organization as well) toward being even more community-oriented, and has pushed them to embrace causes close to his heart. This is all to the good.
Now, when it comes to how he runs the hockey aspect of his job and the public side of how he does that part of his job—now more than four years into his tenure here—I remain puzzled and not nearly as captivated by his work.
I’m not talking so much about the actual pros and cons of his hockey-making decisions here. The short version of that, to most Leaf supporters, is that he has earned a high grade for his "trading" acumen (though the long-term impact of the Kessel deal, I’m afraid, is still to be felt…) while his free-agent selections have been, well, mediocre, at best. Many see his draft record here as spotty (if too early to really analyze fairly), though Morgan Rielly has perhaps tilted the overall assessment in his favour—at least for now. (Though I think you and I could have listened to the Leaf scouting staff and picked Rielly, eh? Getting fifth pick overall means one thing: you weren't close to being good enough the year before. You should be able to select a keeper at that spot and Rielly was clearly the best guy left on the board at the time. It is likely that any GM would have done the same.)
The bottom line is that the team, while younger and with more potential upside than when he arrived, has not made the playoffs even once in his time here.
But I’m talking about something beyond “results”, as important as those are. I’m thinking about his approach to being a GM in this market.
His initial hubris was overwhelming. He was absolutely vain in his repeated public declarations that, ”I have no patience for a 5-year re-build”. He spoke constantly of his supposed “philosophy”, claiming that he “always built his teams from the back end”. (Which made me wonder what he was doing all those years in Vancouver, with goaltending issues that he never resolved…)
But mostly, I was and am still stunned by his non-stop need to be heard, and to speak always about “me”, “my”, “I” and “mine”. As in, “My teams always…”, “I build my teams such and such a way…”, “When you play for me…”, or “I tell my players…”.
He comes across as though he feels he is more important, in his own mind, than the team, than the organization he works for, even. Could this be why his tenure ended so abruptly years ago in Harford, and so badly in Vancouver?
I’m always a little surprised that so many Maple Leaf fans seem to embrace Burke and his public bravado. Here is a guy that supports truly important causes, but his behavior with the media, for example, is off-putting. If anyone dares question him in any way, he is notorious—and not in a good way. He comes across as a bully. He had celebrated verbal fights with hockey commentators during his years with the Canucks, and that has not changed one iota in his time with the Leafs. We need only think back to last season when it was clear he was trying to have Don Cherry muzzled because of comments the Hockey Night in Canada legend had made during “Coach’s Corner” about Ron Wilson.
I know that many have written to me saying that they love that Burke “puts the media in its place” and doesn’t “take any crap”. But is that his job? And is it even necessary?
He is the one who built up the Leaf faithful into believing we would be far more advanced than the team is now. The current reality is that, for all the potential prospects and promise, this is a roster with little playoff savvy or experience, no recent history of consistent goaltending to speak of (that said, I still remain hopeful that Reimer will be what he can be), no real leadership, no overall team toughness and no first-line center. It’s not the media who set the bar so high four years ago, or said the past several off-seasons that the Leafs should be a playoff team.
But again, what I’m primarily talking about today is simply this: why does a General Manager spend so much time talking about.....himself? Should a GM really be the face of this franchise? If he is, what does that say about the team that he has assembled?
I mean, it’s bad enough that we had long-time MLSE President (or CEO or whatever he was), Richard Peddie, talking out loud all those years—a guy who clearly knew nothing about the hockey side of the hockey operation. Now we have Burke, certainly a knowledgeable hockey person (and not an inexperienced one at that) continuing to display the same hubris that has hurt him and the MLSE organization in the past.
In my view he has the best job in hockey—other than perhaps coaching the blue and white. But he rarely—if ever—allows himself to slide into the background and just focus on what he is paid so handsomely to do: produce a winner on the ice.
Is Burke a smart, shrewd hockey guy? Absolutely. Should he get credit for the Stanley Cup in Anaheim? Of course. That was a house built largely by Bryan Murray, but Burke added some key pieces to help make it happen.
Yet it grows wearisome for a fan, at least for one like me, to hear a guy talk like, as I’ve noted here before, he invented the position of General Manager. (As I've mentioned previously, though the point never seems to garner any traction, is that in his two re-build projects, Vancouver and Toronto, in 11 years at the helm his record is underwhelming- exactly one playoff round victory.)
Am I alone as a Leaf fan who finds this approach unnecessary and not at all helpful to the hockey club- or the fan base? I just don’t buy the theory/excuse that he does this to “take pressure’ off the players. How does heaping attention on himself help the players? This has not been a team in the pressure-cooker of a playoff series, or even a serious playoff hunt in his time here.
Has his "persona" lead to better results on the ice?
I raise this because I sense, in fact I believe I know, that this guy cares immensely about building a great team in Toronto. We all know he has made some eye-popping roster moves that have improved the club, though those additions have not propelled the Leafs as far as they need to get, to be to competitive in the East- much less contend for a Cup.
He has changed his flight pattern (meaning how he claims to be going about building this team) too many times for my liking as a Leaf supporter, but that can happen. I get that. There are pressures in this market and his initial impatience has now morphed into a much longer-term vision, although the hiring of Carlyle versus, say, Dallas Eakins (given the young roster on hand) leaves me a bit befuddled.
In any event, I want to believe he cares more about the team than his own ego. I’d like to feel that his hubris has not impeded his ability to actually do the job that needs to be done here.
The forum is now yours…